As I write this, a mostly white jury is hearing the evidence in the case of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery committed by Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William "Roddie" Bryan Jr. These three white men saw Ahmaud jogging, chased him down, and shot him.
While many of us became active in social justice after the murder of George Floyd, for others (like Future Cain and Cholia Johnson, to name just two examples), it was the shooting of Ahmaud, earlier in the year, that caused them to join the anti-racism fight.
Perhaps it was because he was doing something so normal and everyday, and was killed because of it. (Though really we should say Ahmaud was killed because of racism, as he wasn’t doing anything wrong.)
People could put themselves in his running shoes, and imagine what would happen to them in the same situation. White people knew they could jog through any neighborhood, and not be in danger. Black people knew they could face danger in any neighborhood, and had a new fear about the possible consequences of jogging while Black.
Ahmaud was doing something tens of thousands of people do every day. But as a Black man, he didn’t get the benefit of the doubt. He was judged to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he paid the ultimate price.
There’s a tremendous irony in the fact that the project of whiteness and colonization happened in spaces where Black and Brown people, Indigenous people, and people of color were already living. White people inserted themselves into those spaces and took them over where they could, promptly making rules about where those same Black and Brown people could live and breathe.
White people followed the same patterns after trafficking and enslaving Africans in the Americas. Even after the end of those periods of enslavement, there continued to be spaces in every village, town, city and country where Black people couldn’t go. In Barbados, some Black people still won’t go to the Barbados Yacht Club because, until the 80s, Black people couldn’t go in unless they were staff. In fact, to this day, the demographic of the customers is predominantly pale. And that’s just one example.
The question I keep asking myself is: in the 21st century, is it right for white people in America (or anywhere) to determine where Black people should be, based on the color of their skin? The answer is a resounding no. Most right-thinking people agree that South African apartheid was wrong. How is this any different?
And I’m also wondering, as many others are, whether this jury will give Ahmaud Arbery and his family the justice they deserve, convict his murderers, and put them away for a long, long time. As with similar cases, there’s no way of telling. There is a video of the shooting, so conviction should be a foregone conclusion, but it isn’t. And that really hurts. Because yet again, it tells Black people that our lives don’t matter. Not to the system, and not to the people who feel free to hunt us down and kill us.
How long must we wait for justice for Black people to look like justice for white people? If the past is anything to judge by, we could be waiting a long, long time.
Thanks for reading,
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.