Grief is a powerful thing. Anyone who has lost someone has experienced grief, and many people are well aware of the five common stages of it. In case you aren’t, those are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. So then, how many of our own do black people have to lose before we’re allowed to experience these emotions? Following Philando Castile’s murder, I felt denial. I felt like it couldn’t be real; I thought, “this isn’t happening.” At least not here. As a Minnesota native who in two months would be moving five miles from where Philando was killed, I felt a deep sense of denial. That denial was quickly torn away when I had to concede that the murder of black men and women by the people who have sworn to protect them is is not new, nor is it regional.
My denial was replaced by anger. All of us were angry. We were angry at the officer who murdered Philando, and angry at the system for allowing police officers to play God and decide who lives and dies without consequence. We were angry at the people who saw Philando’s murder on the news and changed the channel. We were angry at the people who had the privilege of not being so f—ing angry. Obviously, that couldn’t openly last long. We know what happens when too many black folks get too angry: at best we’re seen as irrational and at worst we’re seen as a threat.
This brings us to bargaining, and when discussing grief, bargaining means asking yourself what you could’ve done to prevent the loss, and thinking, “what if….” For us, that meant asking ourselves how to prevent our brothers and sons and fathers from becoming Philando. For us, that meant thinking, “What if my brother is shot and killed by a man who is afraid and threatened by his very existence?” For us, bargaining meant being careful of appearing, “too black”.
Of course, it’s vital to come to the realization that being respectable while black does not make you less black, nor will it save you.
That’s f—ing depressing. Despite the fact that portrayals of mental illness are rarely inclusive of people of color, black people do in fact struggle with them, especially in times of mourning. However, we are not granted bereavement when black men and women are murdered, though the loss cuts as deep as any other. We have to shower, plaster on a smile, and go to our jobs. We have to continue living.
Do not mistake this for acceptance. Do not trick yourself into thinking that we have finished grieving when the losses have not stopped happening. You see us at work, or at school, or with friends, and we are going about living our lives, but do not believe that we accept this. Would you?