The black experience cannot be defined by a singular story. Every black life is different, but we all carry the same cross.
It is confirmed to us, time and time again, how unimportant this country thinks we are. I am a biracial young man. You may think I have it easier because of my lighter complexion, but it only adds more confusion.
What group do I fit in? The black group? Dominican? White? This lack of social clarity led to years of changing my personality rapidly depending on the peers I was with and being OK with living a chameleon’s life. Nonetheless, I still identified closest with black culture and do to this day.
In 2017, I graduated from McCaskey High School, packed up my bags and went to study at Temple University. My dad is from Philly so it was nothing foreign to me, but living there was something different. Seeing all the life in Philadelphia, being surrounded by black people and seeing how proud they were to be black, made me feel so quickly at home.
Those same feelings led to my distaste for Lancaster. I was embarrassed of a city that prides itself on being a melting pot of cultures, but doesn’t seem to truly appreciate and value them.
In Lancaster, I was surrounded by so many white classmates, co-workers and friends that I couldn’t help but feel out of place from time to time. I couldn’t always do the same things as they could because I knew I would be treated differently. The last thing I ever wanted was to be in a situation where a cop would pick me out of a crowd. Not having to wrestle with these kinds of feelings and worries is the definition of privilege.
At the same time, I often felt like a token. I was the minimum, the one person of color you needed to prove that you aren’t racist! Those feelings never left me. They fester inside me, and I still experience them every day. But what can I say?
I can, and will, say this: Black Lives Matter. Yes, every life matters, but the Black Lives Matter movement is about acknowledging that black lives have the same value as all others.
For hundreds of years in this country, black people have been senselessly killed, beaten, ignored and disregarded, diminishing the value of their lives. This reality doesn’t make black lives more important than any other; rather, it places a priority on changing the way we treat black people and abolishing the inherently racist systems this country was built on. The U.S. Constitution was not written with black people in mind, and the same goes for so many documents that the U.S. stands by. It’s time to change that. It’s time to ensure that the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection of the laws” is extended to black Americans, too.
The responsibilities that white people and nonblack people of color hold are of the utmost importance to attaining justice. We must remember that, while we mourn the death of the innocent — George Floyd (killed by a Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes), Breonna Taylor (shot and killed in her own home by police in Louisville, Kentucky) and so many more — their deaths were just the needle that broke the camel’s back. There is an endless list of instances of police brutality turned murder that haven’t even received a small sliver of justice.
This fight was a long time coming and it is far from over. We need white people and nonblack people of color to be allies, to constantly educate themselves and those around them. Go out of your way to learn and spread information. Learn about the importance of intersectionality, about the deaths of people such as Tony McDade, a black transgender man who was shot to death by police in Florida. He may have been suspected of a crime, but he won’t get the chance to defend himself, because the police acted as his executioner.
Check in on your black friends. Donate to whatever organizations you can. Support black businesses. Vote. This fight will only be won if we are well-equipped and stand together.
Being in Lancaster, I did not expect anything when the horrible news of George Floyd’s death flooded the news. When I heard there would be a protest on May 30, I did not expect much of a local response. Wow, was I surprised. So many people marched the streets I grew up on. I watched my city, with masks on and signs in hand, stand up for the principles of justice and equality.
There is so much life in Lancaster. People from every city block stood at Penn Square, and at the city police station on West Chestnut Street, to demand change. I was so pleased to see my black classmates stand in front of huge crowds speaking clearly and intelligently about the horrible injustices perpetrated on the black community. To see former McCaskey students, who grew to be allies, vocalizing and standing with their black peers. All this made me incredibly proud of this city. I am proud of you, Lancaster.
You took a big step, but there is still a lot of work to be done, and this is far from over.
Zuhri Wayman is majoring in music studies at Temple University.