Aiyana Stanley-Jones’ grandmother loved her. This was evident as she tearfully recounted the horrible night Aiyana, then 7 years old, was killed while sleeping on the couch. When overzealous cops bombed their way into her house, Mrs. Jones reached for the granddaughter whom she loved, but could not save.
Charles Kinsey loves his job as a behavioral therapist so much that he literally laid his life on the line for his distraught patient. Doing everything “right,” he was still shot in the street by a cop who said “I don’t know” when asked why. To add insult to injury, he was handcuffed in the street while bleeding from his gunshot wound.
Many Black parents love their children and try to protect them by having “the talk” as soon as they begin to be more autonomous. Not the birds and the bees talk, mind you, the “this is how you act in order to make it home alive” talk. A set of rules for interaction with police designed to minimize the children’s blackness, and by extension, their perceived dangerousness. Just do as they say, pepper in a bunch of “Yes, Sir” and “No, Sir” responses, don’t make any sudden moves and be sure to let the nice officer search anything he wants so he won’t kill you on the side of the road. This is what we have been taught for generations, yet nothing has changed.
Society (and religion) tells us to love our enemies, be the better person and “spread love instead of hate.” Platitudes about love being the only thing that will help us abound as we literally fight for our lives. Some Black people with their heads in the clouds proclaim they will just keep on loving everyone in an effort to change the hearts of racists as if that will make systemic racism disappear. Many whites, uncomfortable with real change, encourage this idea.
It won’t work. None of these tactics will even begin to topple the centuries old system of white supremacy in this country and secure our true freedom. Not one of them.
Loving our enemies does nothing more than encourage them to continue to oppress us as if we like it. With basically no consequences to be had for targeting and killing Black men, women and children, there is no reason for them to stop doing it. There is no impetus to stop and think before pulling the trigger since they are already protected by each other and we are just going to keep bathing them in love. While we keep loving, our neighborhoods crumble, our schools remain underfunded, and our people continue to suffer and die, as well.
I do not care what is in a person’s heart. I care about dismantling a system that says I am disposable. If a system relies on “good personhood” for my life to matter, that system is already broken and no amount of love will fix it.
Loving our children means being honest with them and truly preparing them for the world they live in. When we lie to them and say they won’t have any problems if they do all the right things, we are not helping them, we are actually making things worse for them. We are sending them into the lions’ den with nothing more than a smile for protection. Many of us have been shocked and confused by our first ugly encounter with police, despite saying “yes, sir” one hundred times in our most timid voice. Some are so caught off guard they experience a nervous breakdown because they never imagined they would be in such grave danger. Why set our children up this way? They not only need to know the truth and how to move in such an environment, they need to be ready to dismantle and replace the system that would treat them as less than human.
I have written about the ridiculousness of respectability politics, the futility of forgiveness and the cluelessness of some in the Black Middle Class, so I won’t belabor those points. Please understand, none of those ideas will save us, and neither will love. We cannot love our way into full citizenship in a country that was built by trying to destroy us at every turn. We cannot love our way into economic empowerment. We cannot love resources into our neighborhoods that have literally been stolen. Love in our eyes won’t stop police brutality. All love does for us is make us easier targets. We don’t need love, we need action.