These days, being black on the internet feels like drowning. The age of digital media has made black death a continuous loop of trauma and terror that has left me feeling trapped in a world that tells me every death was somehow justified. In the wake of all that's happened this week, I asked my dad if 40 years ago—when he was my age—black people were killed at the same rate. He said, "Probably. We just didn't see it as much."
Now we see EVERYTHING.
Every retweet and reblog is a mark on the digital tombstones that make our mourning a universal process but also one that can't be avoided, and becomes so incredibly draining to see.
As a writer my work is largely influenced and inspired by my personal experiences and identity. As a black woman trying to archive the myriad ways black bodies are vilified, criminalized, and discarded, the race beat has become my own kind of daunting and hazardous mountain.
Sitting at home last week weighing the odds of which team was going to win Euro 2016, I remember logging onto my Twitter feed and seeing the trending names: Philando Castile, Alton Sterling. I felt my body tense up with the familiar feelings of a racing heartbeat; frustrated, bitter tears; and helplessness. As someone who is often called by media outlets to write about these tragedies, I could feel my mind desperately trying to remain calm and not entirely lose my cool. I stamped out the feelings of rage rising up inside me so I could at least get through the next few hours of learning their names, listening to the similarities of their deaths, and finding a way to tell their stories. Sometimes I would much rather throw in the towel and walk away from a story, but I want to make sure the world never forgets that these days it has front row seats to the executions of black men and yet does nothing but watch.
Social media used to be my carefully curated escape from the woes of the real world, and now Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook have turned into virtual graveyards. Dodging these reminders is a battle when I am trying to do my job and not see another image that's going to send me into a spiral of fury and hopelessness. I can try indifference but with the constant tide of hashtags and videos, I usually succumb to my feelings of despair and resignation. Imagine mourning every day, sometimes twice a day, for the people whose names you know and those that will never turn into hashtags because there are just too many to remember. This makes it so hard to imagine my future because the present seems hellbent on letting me know that black people are living on borrowed time.
In Canada covering race feels like screaming at the top of my lungs and having no one listen because Canada is content to simply not be the States. It seems as though the more racial violence escalates in the US, the more Canada holds firm to the belief that "at least we are so much better off here." In this multicultural haven, "inclusive" and "diverse" are the buzzwords used to quiet any dissent that might say all is not well for black people living in Canada. Investigations into the deaths of Andrew Loku, Jermaine Carby, and Kwasi-Skene Peters have been met with a fierce reluctance to ruin the "immigrant-friendly" myth of this peaceful nation. And writing about it means making myself vulnerable to the trolls who would much rather I go back to my country, or listening to the vacuous white pundits who have no business writing about the painful nuances of living while black.
We STILL do not know the name of the officer who shot and killed Andrew Loku, and we have STILL not seen the video taken from his apartment building that might shed some more light on his final moments. This week will also mark a year since the death of Sandra Bland in Texas, and as black people continue to reel from an emotional spectrum that spans anger, disbelief, confusion, and debilitating fear, the dominant defence continues to be mind-boggling, self-serving explanations that attempt to justify our deaths. Keeping a vice-like grip on maintaining that status quo that says, if at any moment a police officer feels threatened by an unarmed black person, they have the liberty to shoot and take from us our life, our inalienable rights, and our ability to pursue happiness.
The race beat is more than just writing down information and making the public aware. It means always putting forward obituaries and drafting opening arguments so that when you're drawn into the court of public opinion, you are as mentally prepared as you can be to deal with the racist cross-examinations. It means talking to people in grief, paying attention to their agony, and not letting your own stop you from delivering your best story. The race beat is just all levels of fucked up. All the time, every day, with no sign of ever easing up.
The most infuriating part is that I find myself offering the same arguments that were used 50 to 60 years ago. Not because I have none of my own, but because the realities of our subjugation are exactly the same as of that time. This is made all the more difficult by the maddeningly redundant, "Look how far we've come" statements, which always seem to arise after one of us is screwed over by the law—almost as a disclaimer of some sort.
In the judicial system the rates of incarceration for black people both in the US and Canada remain higher than those of white people. Black people are surveilled/carded more than white people. Racism and prejudice make it harder for black people to find jobs in the workplace. Gentrification and biological hazards such as the Flint water crisis disproportionately affect black people. And you know you are living in your very own Hunger Games when parents feel the need to tell their children to be careful when they step outside, so they don't get shot and can return home alive.
A much circulated but heavily debated statistic says that every 28 hours a black person is shot and killed in the US by a policeman, gun-wielding vigilante, or a security guard. During the 4th of July week, this stat was made tangible by the names and faces of the victims we saw online. Three black men were killed by police days apart. Delrawn Small on July 4, Alton Sterling on July 5, Philando Castile on July 6. Three days later, Alva Braziel was shot and killed. These are the names we know.
An encyclopedic knowledge of the names is one of the worst parts of the race beat, but it's the not knowing that really hurts.
Follow Tari Ngangura on Twitter.