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Black Voices

I Do Not Need My Freedom When I’m Dead

I wish I was a poet; Langston or Sonia Sanchez would know just what to say. They would be eloquent in their simplicity. Poignant. Powerful. I don't possess those skills. I can only haphazardly throw words together and hope that someone finds truth and meaning somewhere within them. This morning, the man I love paced the floor while I slept. This non-black man expressed anguish, despair and anger over his inability to keep me and our future BLACK children safe. He grieved for sons that we don't yet have. He thought of my 19-year-old cousin and the likelihood of something happening to him, just because. Just yesterday, we laughed as we walked through the airport because he was once again "randomly" selected for additional security checks. My olive-skinned, Lebanese man is keenly aware of the role ethnic and racial profiling plays in his life. People watching his every move, especially while flying. Fearful of what he might do. But since he made the questionable decision to love a Black woman, his awareness has shifted. He now knows that for my people—people who share the skin I'm in—"innocent" profiling is no laughing matter because it too often leads to death by execution, just because. Carmita with George. It's a burden my people carry daily. Don't walk through a store with your hands in your pockets. Smile to make people feel more comfortable around you. Wear nicer clothes when shopping so you don't get followed. Keep your hands on the wheel and turn off your hip-hop when being pulled over. Highlight your pedigree as quickly as possible to establish respect among those who will still discount you anyway. I'm tired. My people are tired. And now my man gets it...well, as much as anyone who doesn't share this skin and this experience can. And among all the other crap swirling in my head, I'm thinking, I'll bet he wishes he had picked a bit more wisely. Because this shit won't end when the names Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are no longer hashtags. It's our lives. It's a burden passed through the generations. And with no other words to express my current hopelessness, I'll just remind you all of the words of the great Langston Hughes.
Democracy will not come Today, this year Nor ever Through compromise and fear. I have as much right As the other fellow has To stand On my two feet And own the land. I tire so of hearing people say, Let things take their course. Tomorrow is another day. I do not need my freedom when I'm dead. I cannot live on tomorrow's bread. Freedom Is a strong seed Planted In a great need. I live here, too. I want freedom Just as you.
—Langston Hughes (1949)
Carmita Vaughan is founder and president of the Surge Institute. Surge was established to address issues of race and class in urban education through leadership development, technical assistance and advocacy. The Surge Fellowship, the Institute’s signature program, identifies and develops emerging education leaders of color. Carmita’s commitment to empowering our country’s most underserved young ...

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