Do you ever see something so horrifically tragic that you just sort of laugh?
Not a genuine, joyous laugh, but more of an astonished, incredulous outburst. A noise that kind of tumbles from your lips and falls flat on to the floor because it’s not funny.- but it’s so absurdly un-funny that it’s actually hilarious. That- and you don’t know how else to respond.
The last time I can remember laughing like this was on Mercer County Community College Field after getting scored on four consecutive times by Lawrenceville in the Mercer County Tournament Semi-Final Game. My teammate and I just looked at each other and started cracking up. Not because it was funny, but because it was tragic. We felt a little bit hopeless, and sought humor in that. It felt good to laugh, even though we were losing the most important game of the season. It was relieving, because despite getting our butts kicked, at least we had each other; at least we had our team.
I think that’s how the black kids at PHS are going to feel tomorrow, when this picture has already been seen by all of us, and by all of our classmates. We’ll laugh and roll our eyes and mumble, *sigh,* “White People,” beneath our breath and move on with our lives.
We’ll do this easily, as though we’d been practicing- because quite frankly, we have. We practice every time one of our peers says something offensive or our teacher looks our way when discussing slavery. We practice when people assume we got into college solely because of affirmative action, and feel comfortable to remind us of that fact right to our face. We practice when we’re the first to get into trouble and the last to be remembered; when we’re skimmed over and misrepresented. We’ve got practice. We’re good.
And yet, despite our years of seasoning, we will not be okay. Normalization of bigotry does not equate justification of its existence- whether that be in school, at work or, yes, on the bus.
I’m saying something right now, just as I have before and as I will continue to do in the future because this is wrong. It is hurtful and astonishing to see one of our peers so violently shaken by the presence of black people that she had to send out an SOS to her friends.
Not only the fact that she’s calling us niggers- that’s old news- and not that she felt comfortable posting it on social media- also old news- but the fact that she genuinely felt displeasure in the utter presence of black kids. That’s terrifying to me. To see that there are people, my peers who can’t stand me, or people who look like me, purely because we’re black, scares the living daylights out of me.
I thought we were moving on. I thought this was all over, that the racists were dying out. I didn’t think about the back of the bus until this girl promptly reminded me that’s exactly where I belonged. And now, as I think about it incessantly, I can’t help but laugh.