COMMENTARY: I Want Black People to Grow Old
“These recent tragedies remind me one thing: I want Black people to grow old.”
Yesterday, Carolyn Bryant died at 88. She was Emmett Till’s accuser and an accessory to his murder. After the news was announced of her death, many noted that she was able to make it to old age, while Till’s life was cut short at just 14. As these reflections came in, I reflected on another grim reality: many Black people do not get to make it to old age. The reality is, systemic violence is killing Black people.
This is not news, but it is alarming to hear about so frequently.
Ten days ago, trans actress Koko Da Doll was murdered in Atlanta. Koko, whose chosen name was Rasheeda Williams, had just made headlines for appearing in a documentary called “Kokomo City,” which debuted at Sundance Film Festival, GLAAD reported. Williams was just 35. As news of Williams’ death hit social media, many took to social platforms to express grief for the short lives of transwomen.
Black femicide is a global health crisis, and Williams’ death is a reminder of that. Earlier this month, federal prosecutors announced that they won’t pursue charges in the death of Shanquella Robinson, another young victim of Black femicide. Last October, Robinson and friends vacationed to Mexico, and Robinson died under mysterious circumstances.
Yet, due to lack of evidence, according to CNN, federal prosecutors will not be seeking charges for Robinson’s death. Like Williams, Robinson’s life was taken at an early age. However, Black femicide is not the only community epidemic affecting Black people.
Another story that hit headlines this month was the story of Ralph Paul Yarl, who was shot twice after going to the wrong house. He was trying to pick his siblings up and arrived at the wrong location, and it almost cost him his life. By some miracle, he survived a gunshot wound to the head.
Nonetheless, the attempt on his life is a reminder that systemic racism still pervades the Black community. Thinking of Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin, young Black men too face systemic violence that, at times, costs them their lives.
When put against the backdrop of sudden celebrity deaths like Chadwick Boseman, it shows that Black people’s risk factors are two fold: we are overrepresented in young deaths due to health complications and also due to racism, misogynoir and transmisogyny. These tragedies remind me one thing: I want Black people to grow old.