PerspectivesNikesha Elise Williams Jacksonville Today Contributor
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A gunman opened fire around and inside the Dollar General in the Grand Park neighborhood on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023. Three people died during a rampage fueled by racial animus. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

OPINION | This American life

Published on September 13, 2023 at 7:48 pm
Jacksonville Today seeks to include a diverse set of perspectives that add context or unique insight to the news of the day. Regular opinion columnists are independent contractors who are not involved in news decisions. Want to submit your own column on a matter of public interest? Email pitches to jessica@jaxtoday.org.

Disenfranchisement or death. Those are the two options, I feel, are the lot of most Black people in America. Rather, those are the options some would want to be our lot in life, and when we have the audacity, the gumption, the unmitigated gall to want — no, demand — no, strive for and achieve better — it comes as an affront to the immoral imbalance of white supremacy. 

If we cannot be slaves then we must not be citizens. If we insist on citizenship then it must be separate and unequal and without the right to vote. If we insist on equal facilities and living conditions and the right to vote, then it cannot be for candidates of our choosing. If we vote for the candidates of our choice, then those candidates, once elected, must remain in the minority, unable to attain or maintain power to legislate actual change. If change perchance slips through a council or legislature or Congress to somehow lift the floor from which the bottom feeds, then it cannot last long. 

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If such change does not last long, then we must protest, petition, organize and fight. But when we dare to protest, petition, organize and fight, then surely we must die.

Freedom for Black people is forged in blood, and liberation still lingers a long ways away.

We are not free in our homes. 

We are not free in our cars.

We are not free at our jobs. 

We are not free on walks.

We are not free in parks.

We are not free in church. 

We are not free…

What we have is the ability to move as long as no one takes offense to that movement even if it is simply to sleep. And when someone takes offense to our movement, even our quest for rest, our lives can be taken, because raised hands in surrender don’t signal anything more than a large open mass upon which to take aim. There is no such thing as a pass or grace or mistake or accident or apology. There is only threat. There is only disenfranchisement. There is only death. 

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Angela Michelle Carr, Jerrald De’Shaun Gallion, and Anolt Joseph “AJ” Laguerre Jr., were not murdered in a vacuum of racist hatred especially endemic to Florida. Just as Congressional District 5 was not obliterated and redrawn by an especially discriminatory and bigoted governor. 

There is a long list of names of Black people who have been murdered for offenses only apparent to racist people. There is a long list of politicians at every level of government all across this country who stake their futures on the gerrymandered disenfranchisement of the Black and Brown voting populace.

What we are witnessing, what we are living through is not new or special. It is unremarkably ordinary. And that is what hurts the worst. What is justice when a killer takes their own life, or is arrested and sentenced to death, or even life in prison? What is justice when centuries of murder, of massacre, of brutality, of discrimination, of systematic disenfranchisement at the polls, in housing, in education, in job opportunity, have left us with feudal caste systems we can’t shake and tiers of citizenship no one in power has a willingness to recognize? What is justice when everything remains as it was, as it is, and perhaps is to come? 

We do not have a justice system. We have a legal system that is quick to condemn easy targets — Black and white — under easily spun narrative monikers of racist, white supremacist, savage, brute, or thug. 

And still, we demonstrate our humanity, our deservingness for equality —at the very least, for life — by winning the U.S. Open and NBA championships and the Olympics, and by opening businesses and working in essential services and reading and writing and correcting the record on history and drawing and painting and dancing and breathing and dying of natural causes in old age, because it is our right, our true lot in life, disenfranchisement and early death be damned.

Lead image: Caution tape around the Dollar General store where three people were shot and killed on Aug. 26, 2023, in Jacksonville in what’s believed to be a racially motivated mass shooting. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today


author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

Nikesha Elise Williams is an Emmy-winning TV producer, award-winning novelist (Beyond Bourbon Street and Four Women) and the host/producer of the Black & Published podcast. Her bylines include The Washington Post, ESSENCE, and Vox. She lives in Jacksonville with her family.

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

Nikesha Elise Williams is an Emmy-winning TV producer, award-winning novelist (Beyond Bourbon Street and Four Women) and the host/producer of the Black & Published podcast. Her bylines include The Washington Post, ESSENCE, and Vox. She lives in Jacksonville with her family.


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