This story is part of a column series focusing on race. The Opinions desk is taking a moment to pause, reflect and share different perspectives on this issue.
I have recited your poems and sung your praises for so long now. I forget my words are spoken in vain. Because while I was taught to love you, you learned to hate me. And everyone knows that when America hates you, you are sentenced to irrelevancy. Whether it is a six-by-eight jail cell or a six-by-six casket, irrelevancy is to death as brown skin is.
Everyday the sun rises, you remind me that I am nothing without you. When you dance to the rhythm of black pain, I am forced to join you. I am told to ignore the struggles of my people if I want to be successful enough to help them.
You take a step. I take a step. That is how being a shadow works. I am everything to you and nothing at all.
And like apple pie or Johnny Appleseed or baseball on a Sunday afternoon, staring down the barrel of a gun is just as American.
Everyday , the black man is like Jesus — he is paranoid of crucifixion at the hands of those sworn to protect him. He is always more animal than human and more human than hero. He always dies like he expects to. His final moments are recorded and even in his death, he is made irrelevant. He becomes a hashtag. A headline. Another name added to the list of our men who are treated like problems before they are treated as people.
And what about our women? She is always more animal than human and more human than hero. She dies like she expects to. In her death, she is made irrelevant. She is a hashtag. A headline. Another name added to the list of our women that we tend to forget the names of. We are an entire race of people that are hunted for sport.
But still we are expected to worship you. We are expected to give ourselves to you. We give to you and you give nothing in return. We learned your language. We learned your history and every leader of this country. We assimilated without questioning you, and you have not learned anything about us.
Maybe this is too much to ask of you considering how we first met. Chains and shackles like jewelry covered our bodies and you deemed us worthy enough to tend to land that was never in need of fixing. No first date. No easing into relations with each other. We got married at first sight and from that moment, we belonged to you.
We are only visible to you when we give you a reason to celebrate. We are admitted into your universities and colleges to sell tickets to games and meets. You pat yourself on the back for taking interest in us but this is just another form of slavery. Profiting off the hard work of the individual while they are unfairly compensated. This is who we are. We are here for your entertainment.
Just as slaves danced for their master’s, we dance for you. We play for you. We sing and praise you.
We are everything to you and nothing at all.
“For liberty and justice for all.”
I mumbled the last few words to the Pledge of Allegiance because I know it is not true. I know that even Lady Liberty has shackles around her feet, alluding to the notion that liberty cannot exist if slavery does. And just as I sit down, it occurs to me that I pledged allegiance to a country that could never love me. Because when America hates you, you are sentenced to irrelevancy. Whether it is a six-by-eight jail cell or a six-by-six casket, irrelevancy is to death as brown skin is.