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How Many Black People Can You Mourn In One Week?

To be black in America is to exist in haunting, mundane proximity to death at all moments.

Posted on July 7, 2016, at 3:24 p.m. ET

Ben King/BuzzFeed News

By now you have seen the videos.

By now you have heard the piercing wails of the wife, the girlfriend, the mother, the sister, the husband, the brother, the son, the daughter, the neighbor, the loved one, the loved one, the loved one. The tears stream thick and often; the screams fold into each other.

By now you know the names. Always preceded by a hashtag, a pound sign, a mark denoting connection even as it severs its bearer from brethren, from breath. Always heavy, always hanging, always haunted. A tombstone in tech.

Today you learn the prematurely departed is Philando Castile, the 559th person killed by police this year. Number 558 came two days earlier, a man with a bright and welcoming smile. “Alton Sterling,” you conjure quickly, his name so fresh and full on your tongue it cannot quite make room for the weight of Castile. Names so strong their bearers should have been impenetrable.

“I want my daddy.”

By the time the cries of Sterling’s son have stopped ringing in your ears and burrowed into your gut, there is a new refrain etching itself into your memory.

“It’s OK, I’m right here with you.”

The voice of Diamond Reynolds’ 4-year-old daughter rises clear and comforting above the quiet pain of her mother’s Facebook Live stream: “It’s OK, I’m right here with you.” The man her mother loves is dying, a senseless and standard death. Her mother is in danger and cannot yet grieve. A senseless and standard grief.

To be black in America is to exist in haunting, mundane proximity to death at all moments. 

How many people can you mourn in one week? Today you learn. There is no right way to eulogize black people in America. There is always the means: the bullet(s), the Taser, the chokehold, the spine-severing ride of a police van in which all safety protocols become irrelevant upon the introduction of a black body. But there is no right way to die black in America.

It’s OK, I’m right here with you.”

“Being black affected one’s life span, insurance rates, blood pressure, lovers, children, every dangerous hour of every dangerous day,” James Baldwin wrote in 1977. “There was absolutely no way not to be black without ceasing to exist. But it frequently seemed that there was no way to be black, either, without ceasing to exist.”

I have watched too many black people cease to exist.

To be black in America is to exist in haunting, mundane proximity to death at all moments. There is no reprieve, no mute, no block, no unfollow that can loosen us from its shadow. And yet, we must live. We must carry on as though nothing is wrong, as though video of our death is not both the trailer and feature film.

This is normal, in the way the ache of a migraine pulses painful but familiar. You feel numb, or you don't, or you swing back and forth in the breeze. There is no protocol, and yet there is a convention. Tweet. Text. Act. Speak. Stay silent. Does it really matter anyway?

I have written too many versions of this, too many reminders that we too bleed when bullet-ridden, too many justifications for the sanctity of human life for a people whose humanity has always been conditional. I am tired of begging. I am tired of bearing witness.

There is no making sense of the way we are taken from this planet without ceremony or reason, but we can care for each other while we are here.

“I didn’t do it for pity, I didn’t do it for fame,” Diamond Reynolds said in a live stream this morning. “I did it so that the people would know that the police aren’t here to protect and serve us. They are here to assassinate us. ... A good man has been taken away from his community.”

“I have not been able to do anything besides hold my daughter, tell her I thank her, how much of a super-shero she is,” Reynolds continued. “Because she is a angel, she knew that he was gone before I knew. And she said, ‘Mom, the police are bad guys. They killed him, and he’s never coming back.’”

That a small child was thrust out of her youthful innocence and made to bear witness to the death of a man her mother loved guts me in the way only a well-learned pain can. That she was the only one there to comfort her mother should be unthinkable, but instead felt inevitable. Black people must perform the unthinkable to carry one another. Black people must perform. Black people must carry one another.

Diamond Reynolds’ daughter is her super-shero. A 4-year-old black girl is a super-shero. A 4-year-old black girl must be a super-shero.

Black people must perform the unthinkable to carry one another.

It’s OK, I’m right here with you.”

We are, as poet Gwendolyn Brooks said, “each other’s harvest ... each other’s business ... each other’s magnitude and bond.” If our untimely deaths are imminent and our postmortem virality inevitable, perhaps the only comfort we have in the interim is each other.

There is no making sense of the way we are taken from this planet without ceremony or reason, but we can care for each other while we are here. We can be generous with our affirmations, with our reminders that we see one another. We can say “I love you” and “you matter to me” without hesitation, before we are reminded we do not matter to this world. We can text and call and DM and email and WhatsApp and Viber and and and.

Today I sit alone in a Toronto hotel room, working far away from all the people I love most. But my friends are my anchors, and I am not alone. From every corner of the continent, of the world, black people hold me. We hold each other. We carry our community with love, with a commitment to disregard every message that says we are unworthy.

Every super-(s)hero I know reminds me that our lives matter. When we are wearing hoodies, when we are selling CDs, when we are driving. Our lives matter and we are worthy of love, if only from one another. We’re all we got, so let’s make sure we got each other good.

By now you have seen the videos.

It’s not OK, but I’m right here with you.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.