I’m going to break a cardinal rule of mine. It is a personal pet peeve when people compare grieving or coping over one or more deaths. I find it infuriating when people try to act like their grief is worse than another person. We all grieve differently. With that being said, I am going to (kind of) break that rule.
First and foremost, I want to say this: death is sad. Sure, there can be a sense of relief when a sick person dies, knowing that they will no longer experience pain, but it is still sad. Unexpected death can be a much sharper kind of sadness. Most of us don’t go about our day to day lives interacting with others thinking, “This might be the last time I talk to [insert someone here].” I firmly believe that no parent should have to put their child into the ground. When I read about anyone losing a child, I tear up. I’m not a parent, but I cannot imagine the feeling of emptiness in the loss of a child.
This weekend, the deaths of two young men made national headlines. Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, was shot numerous times by a police officer in a St. Louis suburb. Kevin Ward Jr., a 20-year-old sprint car driver, was hit by famous race car driver Tony Stewart and subsequently died at a dirt track in New York. I don’t know about you, but for every one post I’ve read about Michael Brown, I’ve seen three about Kevin Ward Jr.
I’m not saying that Kevin’s death isn’t a tragedy. I want to know why we, as the masses, are not talking about Michael Brown? In tweeting with a colleague this afternoon about the coverage of both tragedies, I came to a realization: Race car drivers take a risk every time they get in a vehicle to race. Young, black men shouldn’t be taking a risk every time they interact with law enforcement.
I should have probably said this earlier, but for those who don’t know me, I’m from Upstate New York, near where the sprint and NASCAR tracks from this weekend’s accident are located. I’ve been to the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen numerous times, and I’ve watched enough NASCAR to know that Tony Stewart among many, many other race car drivers is a hot head. In videos from the sprint track Saturday night, Kevin Ward broke what some believe to be safety rule #1 in racing: Stay in the car unless you absolutely have to get out.
My youngest brother raced for year. I’ve been in the stands when he’s flipped a vehicle. It’s horrifying, and the first thing you want to know as a spectator (and sister) is whether or not he’s okay. I’d rather wait the extra 8 seconds it takes for a crew to get to and safely remove him than have him step out onto a track. I say that, but I’ve sat in the stands and watched drivers (Tony Stewart and others) exit their vehicles after crash and do any number of things: charge at someone, throw their helmet, or move to safety in the event that the vicinity of the car isn’t safe. Have we allowed NASCAR to make it “okay” to be a hot head and storm after anyone who knocks us off coarse, as Kevin did?
What I haven’t experienced is being black–specifically, being a young black man–in America. I grew up in Wonder White Bread Upstate New York, but thankfully have parents that let my brothers and I discover the world for ourselves and see life outside of our hometown. I cannot say I’ve experienced being black. I will never be able to claim that. I see the media reporting the cases of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Michael Brown, and so many other young men who lose their lives in more-than-questionable situations. . Eric Garner and Renisha McBride are two more names mostly glossed over by the media. Even when justice weighed in Renisha’s favor recently, she was still portrayed as a “drunk black woman” who a “white homeowner” shot on his front porch.
I don’t have the answers to why we’re not talking about these things, but that’s the only answer I want: WHY DON’T THESE THINGS MATTER? I fear that in the wake of Robin William’s suicide (a loss felt by numerous generations who appreciate solid acting), Michael Brown is going to be swept under the rug. My heart is heavy just thinking about it. I wish I had the answers, but I don’t. I just needed to get my thoughts somewhere out of my head. As I was finishing this up and scrolling through facebook, I saw the video below and thought I’d share it. If you’ve read this far, thank you for listening to me process my thoughts.