Yes: Black Lives Matter (3)


Black lives lost are swept up in the busy-ness of life: a sad shake of the head, a purse of the lips (“He should have known better than to pull out his phone/ run at night/ hit a cop/ drive there/ live…”) before the name fades. But the entire planet now knows the name George Floyd, whose “counterfeit $20 bill” death beneath a white knee may have triggered, at last, the world’s revulsion against that knee. Then mere days later Rayshard Brooks, instead of being told to walk home and sober up, ended up shot. As Breonna Taylor, instead of being handed a search warrant, was invaded and shot.  As Ahmaud Arbery was shot for being out for a jog. As Freddie Gray was slammed to death five years ago, in a police van. As Walter Scott was shot in a park over a broken tail light, also in 2015. As Eric Garner was choked to death for selling individual cigarettes in 2014. As Trayvon Martin was shot for being a teenager in a hoodie in 2012. As in 1955, Emmett Till, another teenager, was brutally lynched for speaking to a white girl.  As in 1895, Emmett Divers was taken from his jail cell—

In 1619, Antonio” and “Isabella” “Tucker arrived in what would become the United States. Their actual names, those they were given at birth in what is now Angola, are lost in time.  Antonio and Isabella may have been kidnapped and enslaved, or their presence may have been more voluntary—their status as “indentured servants” during that era makes the distinction less than clear. Certainly their son, William, was born a free man, and not every Black person in those early days was enslaved—some were landowners, and even owned slaves themselves, as plantations grew and intensive labor was needed.

The “Tuckers” were not lynched or shot: that response to perceived Black transgressions grew up after their time, when laws and institutions reinforced the cruelty of the slave economy—when the sugar/rum/slave trading triangle became a direct back-and-forth between Africa and the New World.

This is an animated history of the slave trade. Every dot represents an entire shipload of men and women ripped from their homes.  That endless stream of dots into the Caribbean bears testimony to the short lives of those working on sugar plantations. The dots hitting America’s coastline carried men and women from whom George and Breonna, Freddie and Eric, Trayvon and Emmett and all the other victims, named and nameless, descended.

And as I say the names Antonio, Isabella, and William, I have to wonder how early this country might have chosen a different path to walk down.

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