I have only met Natalie a few times, but I have known her parents for nearly 30 years. Yep, we’re that old. Her mom, Cindy Cushman, has guest blogged here in the past, so we thought this English assignment, penned by her 16-year-old daughter, was a powerful continuation of their family’s story.
The Common Ground between Black and White is Red by Natalie Cushman
Throughout the entirety of American history, there has been but a bit of common ground between those with white skin and those with black skin. That common ground is the color red. The red of the stains on the slave master’s shirt that came to be when he whipped his slave and there was spatter. The red of the pools growing underneath the bodies of soldiers who were forced to fight against their own freedom in the civil war. The red that exploded out of Emmett Till’s head when he was shot by white men. The red of the blood of a black person, always a black person. It is the same red that we see more than enough of today, and yet nothing changes.
Time and again we see or hear or read in the news that yet another black life has been taken by the hands of a white one. There must come a time when the utter injustice of it is fully realized by the whole of America. We cannot simply accept these deaths. By now, I’m almost scared that I’ve become accustomed to the constant horror when I hear that another black boy has been murdered. There are times I wonder if those feelings of horror and of disgust in the system will begin feeling a lot like numbness. I can’t let that happen; if I do, the system wins.
Law enforcement plays a terrifyingly crucial role in this system. The neglect and/or prejudice of an officer has led to many terrible and completely avoidable and unnecessary deaths. The law favors those who decide to take their vision of justice, which has been impeded by hatred, into their own hands. The law is never on the side of the victim, who is investigated more thoroughly than his executioner. The law never favors those who have lost, only those who stand to gain.
I am their older sister. I should be able to protect them with advice and sheer willpower. How do I protect them from something that I do not know how it feels to face.
I have three brothers, all of whom are black. Before the age of five, my brothers got down low in their seat whenever a cop car was in view. I was young as well, so I didn’t understand all of the implications of it. Now that I do, I am conflicted. My head is so full of the arguments I make one way or the other. They should know the reality of the world they live in, so at least they are aware of a danger that faces them. But then I remember that those same dangers do not apply to me. I am their older sister. I should be able to protect them with advice and sheer willpower. How do I protect them from something that I do not know how it feels to face. I doubt my little brothers, even now, realize fully the implications of the cover they still take in the car, today. If they did, I wonder how unfair they would think it is that I don’t feel the need to do the same.
I cannot teach my brothers the rules of Survival 101 for a Black Man in America. I don’t want to either. I don’t want to acknowledge the fact that they will be treated any differently than I am. But I must, because that would do them and black America a disservice. It would discount all of the extra effort and care it takes for them to live among white people. My heart breaks every time that effort proves not to be enough.
Even if I wanted to become numb to the horror I feel at these unjust deaths, I couldn’t. I hear or read or see in the news that another black boy has been taken too soon and I am scared. I fear that one day my brothers won’t come home, by no fault of their own. Every day I know that one or all of them could be the next victim of a white person’s prejudice. And I know that this sorrow for the lives lost will never be gone, but I do hope that it will never turn to a grief as of yet unknown to me.
I wonder what it will take for the injustice to be realized and for changes to be made. Will it take an officer overstepping his bounds just a hair more than countless others already have? Will it take an especially gruesome and horrifying act of murder? Will it take the image of my white mother crying and grieving for the loss of her beloved black son? I hope not. But perhaps it may. Because every time a black life is taken, there is an undeniable uproar, but no change comes, and eventually everything calms down to the point of manageable. But then another life is taken, and the cycle repeats. How many times around until the right changes are made politically and culturally to get us all off of this carousel from hell?
How long will it take before there are no longer protests, but convictions? How long until the norm no longer becomes death too early? How long until the common ground between us is no longer the color red?
Natalie Cushman is a 16-year-old high school sophomore at Atherton High School in Louisville, KY. She is one of six kids in her family, one of the two biological daughters, while the other four siblings were adopted from foster care. While her time and social life surround school and soccer, she is also very passionate about social issues faced by many today. She welcomes commentary and critique, as long as the opinions expressed are not disrespectful to anyone’s existence.
If you wish to offer her comments directly, you may reach her at natjrcushatgmaildotcom where she and her parents will monitor all communication.