This body: black/brown/endangered discovered Michael Brown’s death the second day it returned to the United States. I spent most of the summer as a glorified TA/RA for gifted kids, and I was so respected I forgot my body. It’s possible, ya know, until there’s a man on the news that looks too much like myself.
Michael Brown was 18-years old when he died. Two years younger than myself. But, this has happened before, my parents reminded me when I told them. My parents grew up in place where walking outside made them a target. I did not. I went to prep school. I love Wes Anderson films. Something about my childhood and parents convinced me that I will always be safe.
Somehow, I could never be Michael Brown.
I truly believed this. That is, until news media outlets began their storming across the internet/tumblr/twitter. The weeks that followed the Michael Brown shooting taught me that anything–even death–can be politicized. Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, these Black men seemed separate somehow, they seemed like abstractions. However, the Michael Brown media coverage turned him into more than an abstraction. It turned Brown into a specter. He’s a ghost, not a person really, but a name that now describes police militarization, southern histories, violence, protest, activism. This is because of media.
While I feel blessed for the in depth coverage of the event, the dissemination of information, it still made the entire event less and more than what it was. If we consider media a conduit, something that allows the world to participate in an event for which they aren’t physically present, we must direct our attention to the kinds of media which seem most reputable.
This, unfortunately, brings me to the scathing profile of Michael Brown published by The New York Times near his funeral. Where it was made clear that Brown was “no angel.” What I found concerning is that the profile actively destroyed his humanity–again. This is a dead man. Let me repeat, this is a dead man. He is not a politic, not a martyr. This conversation should revolve around the fact that a White police officer named Darren Wilson shot an unarmed young Black man. This is not a discussion of militarization or race–though they are implicit and important parts of the conversation–this is a discussion of why this happened and how it can be avoided again.
I think my problem here is the way Brown is being used. The fact that he is being used.
At one point, when discussing the case with my parents, they asked what my rage could accomplish, and I responded with a James Baldwin line: “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” And this is my essential conflict. How can one engage in conversations about Furgeson or Michael Brown or race in a way that isn’t comparable to drinking paint thinner?
I have no answer.
The closest I’ve come is deciding that when I discuss the events in Missouri from August until this unreasonably cold day in November, I will discuss people–not abstractions. This is the way I’m staying sane. These are conversations about death and trauma, a specific set of conflicts fueled by race, but not about race. And while we all interact with these kind of conflicts differently we must respect that Michael Brown is still a man. A man with a favorite food and specific feelings about the LA Lakers.
Lastly, I’ve been reflecting on the twitter trend #whichpicturewouldtheyuse, in which Black Americans posted two photos of themselves in very different scenarios: (A) possibly partying, rocking streetwear or (B) wearing a suit or receiving an award. It poses an interesting conflict. Suppose my number comes up one day, walking into Bronxville for Chinese food and I get shot by a police officer. If my death is to be politicized how will it be treated, and by whom will it be shaped? I consider this often. Like last week monday when a car full of white men threw urine on me from their window.
This body is not safe. This body courts danger. I just hope that if one day it courts too much danger, we can have a media system that keeps me a person. Not a beacon, not a flashpoint.
Bio: Kamden Hilliard tries to study writing and psychology in New York. He succeeds. Sometimes. He is: a poor sleeper, recipient of fellowships from Callaloo and The Davidson Institute, contributor for Elite Daily and an avid hiker. He tries to keep busy. In the past he’s been a poetry editor and editor-in-chief at The Adroit Journal, Dark Phrases Magazine, and other lovely places. His poems have appeared (or will appear) in Requited Journal, *82 Review, Bodega, Specter, and other exotic spots. If Kamden wasn’t writing, he’d be very sad—or a scientist.