Last week, as I sat and watched the events unfold in Ferguson, Missouri over the death of Michael Brown, I went through a range of emotions: rage, grief, depression. Even without the full details of the case, it was upsetting—horrifying really—to see another unarmed black body slain in the broad daylight for the entire world to see. For days and days, I tried to express the emotions that I was feeling, but my fingers went limp.
Perhaps, I thought, I was angry that I had to write another piece about an unarmed black man being killed in the streets. Perhaps, I was upset that once again a black man was being framed as a thug rather than a victim, or perhaps I was sick of being reminded that the brown bodies of my friends, cousins, and brothers are perpetually marked as prey by the very people who are supposed to protect them. Looking back, however, I can see it wasn’t any of that—it was guilt.
In the 12 days since the shooting of Michael Brown, I can’t help but think that I’ve failed him and the many young black men and women like him around the country. In a media culture that often portrays only the grimiest black characters or the ace students, I’ll probably never get to know who Michael Brown really was. I most likely won’t ever understand his complexities, his contradictions, or the myriad things that made him unique—the things that made him human—and some of that is my fault. Sure, I didn’t pull the trigger, but I worry that my lack of understanding—my lack of relationships with black youth, particularly poorer black youth, may have contributed to the disconnect and invisibility that surrounds so many black bodies in America.