A Tale of Two Cities: What Minneapolis and Paris Taught Me About the Value of Black Lives
I walked into my office the Monday after the attacks in Paris. No sooner had I sat down than a coworker found her way to my desk to spark up a conversation about my weekend, which segued into where she was when she heard about Paris. She teared up talking about explaining to her kids “what happened with the terrorists,” speculating how a similar attack could happen here. I’m not much for socializing at work, so I listened for a couple of minutes and then turned to my computer to log in and get to work.
As soon as I logged into Outlook, I saw an email from the HR Director concerning the “great emotional toll such tragedies cause.” The email urged anyone who felt they needed it to use the company’s employee assistance program to seek grief counseling. She reminded us that we’re all one and that we should pray for Paris. She ended by offering to help us deal with this tragedy in any way she could.
I walked up to the break room to get ice and drink. CNN was playing on the TV as usual, and coverage of the aftermath of the attacks was heavy. As coworkers walked through and past the glass doors of the room, each stopped and stared at the TV for a few seconds. Those who walked in all had some generic comment. “Wow, so sad,” said one. “I still can’t believe this. Unimaginable,” said another.
That entire day, the atmosphere in the office was somber but supportive. It seemed not much work got done as everyone chatted about what happened and checked the Internet for updates. The staff seemed a little friendlier than usual. I suppose tragedy brought them together.
I walked into my office the morning after white supremacists in masks shot five unarmed black people at a protest in Minneapolis, to the usual calm. My coworker asked me about my plans for Thanksgiving. She, who had so passionately discussed the terrorist attacks in Paris a week before, had not one word to say about what had happened in Minneapolis, on America soil, the night before. She asked about turkey. Nearly half a dozen unarmed Black people were shot with dozens of police on site, and she asks me about cranberry sauce and travel plans. I’m not much for socializing, so I told her I wasn’t big on Thanksgiving and turned to log into my computer.
I logged into Outlook and found various replies to emails I’d sent the day before. Then I saw an email from HR reminding us about the office potluck for Thanksgiving. I scrolled mindlessly through them all unable to focus through my anger and rage about white terrorists shooting five of my people in front of the police.
I went to the break room for ice and a drink, and watched CNN as they talked about the shooting in Minneapolis the night before. My Black coworkers stood around talking about what happened. They hushed when white coworkers entered. They’ve been trained and conditioned to mute their pain. They’ve learned to never bother white people with it. Their pain is ours and our pain is ours.
The parallels are telling. I work for a company in which at least half the staff is Black. We make this company millions. They tell me we’re a family. Yet, when five of my people are shot unarmed, the family says not a word. The family all but closes the office for the day when a terrorist attack happens thousands of miles away outside U.S. soil, but when a Black body drops every week, no one asks if we need grief counseling. There are no French nationals on the payroll, but we stop and mourn Paris. There are hundreds of Black American citizens on the roster though, and they can’t be bothered to discuss the routine state-sanctioned execution of Black people very much like the ones who balance their books, answer their phones, design their marketing materials and keep them in the black.
So goes the existence of Black people in America. We literally watch our kin executed the night before, crying and raging through the night, only to wake more broken and more aware of the imminent threat we face. We dry our eyes, find something to wear and drag ourselves into the office, the store or the warehouse. We punch a clock, running the lines, creating the spreadsheets and selling the lattes that finance white supremacy. We update the websites with #prayforparis while we mourn Minneapolis, Baltimore and Ferguson among ourselves. We joke about calling in Black on the days it’s too much, but never do.
We just keep using our Black bodies to make the green money that finances the spilling of our red blood.
I’m LaSha, a writer and blogger passionate about black people. I’m committed to using my writing to deconstruct oppressive ideologies and systems, particularly misogynoir, racism, patriarchy and elitism. My work has been featured on Blavity and For Harriet, and I am the founder of The Kinfolk Kollective blog.
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