When the police killing of a Black person makes the news, I call off work the next day.
It’s not anything I announce or work out with my boss. I don’t go on social media and put my foot down. I simply commit to watching as much verifiable news about the story as I can stomach, go to bed, and when my alarm goes off the next morning, I call or email to say I won’t be working. That’s the rule.
It doesn’t matter where the Black person was killed. It doesn’t matter if the officer’s body cam was working. It doesn’t matter what the Black person was doing prior to being shot, since the perilous list of “[fill in the blank] while Black” activities is long and constantly growing. The gender of the Black person in question is irrelevant. The age of the Black person is irrelevant. The contents of the pockets of the Black person are irrelevant. I am calling off work however that story breaks.
If an important deadline falls on the day after the killing of a Black person by the police, I’m sorry. If it throws the schedule out of whack, it is what it is. If I was slated to bring the primary dish on a staff food day, you should make lunch plans. If a big meeting with the director was scheduled that day, I’ll be catching that meeting on a replay, because, like Magic, I’m not gon’ be there.
The day after a nationally publicized police killing is treacherous territory for Black folks. Many of us are just trying to make it to the part of the day when we’re not a raw nerve. On those days, the smallest thing can aggravate the pain. Too much news about it and you drown. Too little and your hunger for justice is multiplied but unsated. Going to work only exacerbates the problem — a touching of the loose tooth, the familiar pain shooting through you with every microaggression or flippancy. If you brought your lunch to work, you should probably eat it in your car, because the break room is going to be a minefield of good intentions and questions.
If an important deadline falls on the day after the killing of a Black person by the police, I’m sorry. If it throws the schedule out of whack, it is what it is. If I was slated to bring the primary dish on a staff food day, you should make lunch plans.
The last thing a Black person should have to do the day after the police kill a Black person is serve people. The customer is not always right on a good day, and their chances of being wrong on a day like this are even worse. Mind you, they need not actually be wrong—they can do plenty of damage just by being ignorant of the importance of the moment. Their ignorance isn’t necessarily their fault. America is composed of several Americas, all trying to live their best lives at the same time. You can’t know what you don’t know, and America makes it really easy to not know your neighbor’s pain. Black people who work in service industries should absolutely be allowed to take a day like that off, unless you want a flippant customer to be wearing their carefully prepared foie gras.
No one can experience another person’s pain, so not only is it none of your business what I do with the day off, but it also doesn’t matter. It is my trauma to process, my self-care to apply as I see fit. I’m not taking the day off to cook out in a public park, but you should also understand if a Black person feels the need to pull their child out of school that day, hold them tight, and go have a cookout in a public park.
I can hear White co-workers everywhere sucking their teeth, wondering why they, too, can’t take the day off. It is a similar energy they exhibit when asking why they can’t say the N-word. White people: This is not a vacation day. This is sick time. I promise, you do not want the prerequisite condition — the grief, the fatalism, the predestined exasperation — that would qualify you for such PTO. Besides, it’s not like we’re taking time we haven’t earned. You could split that qualifier any way you want and it would still be valid.
On the heels of major protests in my city last summer, as of June 1, 2020, racism was officially declared a public health crisis. Civic leaders met about it, drafted some incontestably safe statements about how bad racism is, and made the appropriate announcements. Vague recommendations and action steps were presented with the veracity of a subtweet. Businesses and organizations trumpeted support for the measure. Media outlets broadcast the announcement far and wide, and so on.
All this pomp and circumstance belied the fact that no one really knew how to apply the designation, but I can confirm that such a ruling was necessary. I live in Columbus, Ohio. We made national press (again) because police killed two innocent and unarmed Black people — Casey Goodson Jr. and Andre Hill — six months after the declaration. We are the home of Tyre King and Henry Green, and now, Ma’Khia Bryant. As you can see, we haven’t got a handle on the racial pandemic we’re experiencing either.
I need to make clear that despite my potshots and shade, I do not disagree with the idea that racism is a public health crisis. The belief that one race is superior to another on the basis of skin color is clearly a mental health issue and ideally would be treated as such. Neither the Franklin County Board of Health or Columbus City Council will hear otherwise from me on that count. My concern is that declarations do not go far enough, and so a step in the right direction would be to make taking off work after police killings a nonpunitive benefit. Consider it a down payment on the reparations I will not live to see.