A few months back, I sat across from a prosecutor, a black woman of self-worth and enduring spirit, a person I admire for her compassion and drive. She told me of a tragic break-in at her home that took place on the weekend prior to our meeting. She seemed distressed over what was lost and simultaneously thankful for what the perpetrator failed to steal. A couple of weeks later, however, she sat across from me again and said:
“I got a knock on the door, and a man told me they had caught the thief responsible and he had been taken care of.”
She enquired as to what he meant.
“He was captured and burned in the street by civilians, then the police took his remains away when it was finished. We told you we would capture him mah’dam, no need for you to move. You’re safe now”
I asked her what she was going to do as an Officer of the Court, and as a human being of mind and heart?
“What can I do? I can’t have a mob of unknowns arrested with no evidence as to who lit the match.”
It was that simple.
The young man reduced to ash by the bloodthirsty mob was in his mid-teens, and at the mention of this I suddenly couldn’t breathe. A nervous smile began to creep across my face as I unsuccessfully attempted to make peace with her words, and shame met my desire to disconnect from reality. I pictured how he must have screamed and ran in source of hope only to find a celebration of his agony at every turn. How many nerves were swallowed by flame before his body realized its final moments and his soul accepted an invitation to escape the earth. I got home feeling so despondent, and so angry—how do I share a history of enslavement and oppression with a people who don’t recognize the tone and look of reprehensible conduct? How do I rationalize illegal capital punishment when I cannot so much as silently acquiesce to court ordered death sentences?
I found it hard to respond to my mother as she asked me how my day was, and I could not so much as look into my father’s eyes as he tried to address me. All I heard were words of apathy:
I know the legal system needs work.
It’s such a shame.
Tell me, what are these words our parents say to us, knowing what they have raised us to believe yet failing to acknowledge when we hurt over the contradictory reality we are forced to inherit. That’s what it is, at least that’s what it seems —an inheritance. It appears we inherit our parents’ choices because society will impress upon us a responsibility to maintain the current order. So this boy, this young man, inherited the desperation of a malnourished conscience, and yet here we will sit, a society that justifies the callous removal of his existence without reservation.
It hurts to know what our parents have chosen for us, and as a member of the Diaspora it terrifies me to think that this will someday be what I refer to as normal. Most days, since I have returned to Africa, I am certain I am not living, but then I feel something and I am denied the safety of that fantasy. We cannot go on like this — those of us who know better, who have seen more of the world but who have somehow found ourselves condemned to the regressive societies our parents’ refuse to abandon.
According to Tavis Smiley’s Death of a King, when Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize, and with it $54,000 he “… put the entire amount back into the movement [SCLC]…” rejecting Coretta’s plea to “… use the funds to set up a $5,000 college fund for each of their four children”.
I don’t doubt that I will likely never understand why a man would refuse his children opportunity in favor of the reckless ambition of his own convictions. That is what makes my heart ache, that for some of us there is no celebration of heritage because we are so disconnected from what it inadvertently allows in refusing to adopt a higher standard.
So where do we go from here, when do we become more than our parent’s bad decisions?
Author | Kagendo Mbogori
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