by Christian Colon
I fear for the lives of my friends and my family. One day any one of us could find ourselves a target of racial profiling. Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice. Like them, we could go from being a person to a name on a list. It hurts to know that we live in a time where you can watch a man get murdered and a grand jury won’t call it a crime.
Didn’t they protest in Selma, and Washington, D.C. fifty years ago so that we wouldn’t have to march in the 21st Century? Teachers told us the Civil Rights Movement achieved great change, and I believed it and in American racial solidarity.
But when I became a teenager and ventured out beyond school and my community in Brooklyn and New York City, I learned that racial tension still exists and that we get judged and profiled on the basis of our color and ethnicity.
The grand jury decisions in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases brought this home in a powerful way.
I’m a light-skinned 23-year-old Hispanic and I know that people don’t necessarily see me as a threat. I’m less likely to get targeted and stopped by police. But I do not identify as white person.
Growing up, my family didn’t make racial distinctions. I was entrenched in diversity at my public school in Brooklyn. My mother’s parents emigrated from Cuba and my dad’s from Puerto Rico. They did not allow me to adopt an “us vs. them” mentality, because they faced prejudice when they grew up.
Our family understands Blacks and Hispanics share a history of discrimination, poverty and inequality. People of color live in some of the roughest, most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the country. Many Hispanics are black, or have black family members and the same blood runs through our veins. People of color inherit more than just physical traits. The long and dark history of racial disparity marks our DNA.
I am proud of my Hispanic heritage, but I’m also a proud American. Yet, I will never be viewed on equal footing as the Americans depicted in Normal Rockwell paintings. I will never be as American as apple pie.
So even though I am American, I am still an outsider in the country I call my home.
This art project by Shirin Barghi really got to me. She uses the last words of young black men killed by police. The work dropped my heart into my stomach. It reminded me that one day, my son or daughter, a cousin, nephew, niece or friend’s final words might end up in a work of art that commemorates their lives.
I want my faith restored.