Javon Johnson reciting "cuz he's black"

“cuz he’s black” — National Poetry Month 2018

by Cleopatra Parnell & Gabriel Valdez

There’s a meme going around that shows what proportion of your life the U.S. has been at war. We’ve seen it before; an update circulates every year or so. If you were born in the 80s, it’s about half your life now. Later in the decade and it’s almost there. Yet that’s not true for everybody who will look at the chart. For many, they’ve never known a United States that isn’t at war.

The United States is not officially at war with Black communities. The country just poisons their water in places like Flint. We don’t get invested in that. We’ll post about it here and there – but years on and are we still making noise? Yet an article that shows the quality of water in your own neighborhood, or across the U.S., will make you worry and share and maybe even contact your city hall.

We marvel today at the dilapidated conditions of schools in Oklahoma as teachers strike. We pay attention because some of those schools serve communities with large white populations…yet teachers in Black communities have been trying to show you the conditions of schools in places like Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland for years. We celebrate the teachers striking for student resources in Oklahoma, as we should. But where was our celebration for the teachers in Black communities? Where was our support? Where’s the media?

We celebrate the students from Parkland, Florida, as they protest gun violence. As we should. The media gives them platforms to speak – as they should. But we should have for Black Lives Matter and black students fearful for their lives. I write this on the heels of another Black man being shot by police just yesterday, for holding a shower head. On the heels of the Black man shot before him, on the other side of the country, for being in his back yard with his cell phone.

We celebrate and give platforms to these issues…once they impact white people and white communities. Once we have white leaders to stand and talk about them. We understand their anger and why it’s legitimate.

Yet we’re always conveniently elsewhere until then, when these things impact Black people and Black communities, when Black leaders stand and talk about them. We debate whether their anger is legitimate.

War has been such a condition of our lives that we’ve trained ourselves to treat wars in far-off lands as immaterial, intangible, not truly real. That’s bad enough. Yet even when war’s waged in our own backyards, on our own neighbors, we fall back on that training. We only concern ourselves when it might touch us, instead of the person standing next to us.

We should expect much better of ourselves, and acknowledge that we fail until we do.

This is Javon Johnson’s “cuz he’s black.”

The feature image is from the YouTube video here.

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