Yesterday morning, I woke up to the news blaring on the television.
Shooting. Concert. Dead. Injured.
As a journalist, I'm numb when it comes to tragedy. And I have been since Biggie and Pac were killed six months apart. So it takes a lot for me to do more than shake my head in disbelief and then grab my laptop and get to work on covering the latest harrowing news story.
But yesterday was different. I was still haunted by something I’d read about people dying in the ICU at hospitals in Puerto Rico. I needed a minute to absorb that and figure out how to write about it. But then I heard another detail from television...
I sat up straight in my bed and turned the volume all the way up. I didn't yet know where it had happened and if there were any known suspects.
I closed my eyes and said a silent prayer.
Please don't let the suspect be Black.
I feel gross even typing that. What difference does it make? Lives were lost! What does race have to do with anything?
Well, that's the thing. It has everything to do with everything.
Like many have noted since news spread of the horrific events in Las Vegas, a white man with no outward external connections is just a white man. But I know that a man of color would not be just that. There would be an intensive reach to find a way to connect him to ISIS, to Black Lives Matter, anything for a breathtaking story. A friend of mine joked: they would have my first grade teacher’s photo flashing on screen just because she’s Muslim — and she’ll say on camera that she liked me.
Right now, it doesn't take much for a Black man to make the national news cycle in a negative way. You can take a knee and the president will call your mom a bitch in front of a crowd of adoring fans. If a Black person were the suspect, every Black person within a 10,000-mile radius would stop answering the door for fear that it's the FBI with some questions.
Of course, whoever is responsible is horrendous. And it doesn't matter what they look like. But there are layers to this.
No matter where you live, what you do for a living, how you identify — it doesn't matter. I knew that if that suspect looked like my dad or my brother of my best friends, they’d be judged accordingly.
A perfect example: as I got pulled into the coverage, I heard a talking head wonder if O.J. Simpson could have a connection to the shooting because he will be living in Las Vegas.
So, the best this guy could do was see if O.J. Simpson, freshly out of a nine-year bid, could have something to do with a “lone-wolf” mass shooting. If the suspect is not African-American, try to link him to someone who is? These are the types of things that make me hope that perpetrators of large scale acts are not people of color.
I've felt that way throughout my life. In 1993, when I was a senior in college, Colin Ferguson opened fire on a Long Island train, killing six. I mourned the loss of life — but I also hoped that my entire culture wouldn't have to get the side-eye. Especially since Colin’s crime seemed to be racially motivated.
In 2002, unknown gunmen terrorized the Washington, D.C., area with sniper attacks. Ten people were killed. During the three weeks that the attackers were at large, I remember also thinking the same thing — and being mortified when hearing that the snipers were African-American. As if it were my fault or that I was somehow responsible.
This isn't a new concept. Black folks have always been warned that everything they do is a reflection on the entire culture.
Years ago, the expression was Be A Credit To Your Race. For centuries, Black folk have been reminded to go into the world as a reflection on all Black people, for better or for worse.
I need to let go of that thinking. Black people are not a monolith. The problem is that the rest of society still lumps people of color together.
So far, Stephen Paddock is being judged as one person with unknown motivations. White people writ large can separate themselves from the crime.
If I had awakened yesterday and heard the suspect was Black, in addition to mourning the loss of life, I would have mourned the idea of someone not being a credit to the race.
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(Photo: Splash News)