Fighting Racism at Sixteen: Rage and Despair

How do you fight racism or other isms without allowing the fight to define you?  What do you do when the terms of the debate and the criminal justice system put you on the defensive?  Below is a guest post by a sixteen year old African American. Please make comments on Facebook and share.--Amanda Kemp

People ask me why I fight against problems that aren’t going to be solved anytime soon. Specifically, they’re referring to the fight against racism and racial bias. Often, I tell them that if I don’t fight, who will, and who else is going to give a damn about by son’s future if I don’t? People don’t understand that I really don’t have a choice but to fight. For some reason people react to my fighting as cool and admirable, as thought I have a choice about whether to not to fight. What people don’t realize is the impact fighting can have on a human being. Fighting even when you’re not conscious you’re fighting. It changes you.


I used to love to fight when I was young. It was fun and it was a way where I could get the attention and respect I craved. As I grew older that slowed down for me. My pops explained that I was getting too old to fight, and that if I kept it up I’d find myself in trouble with the police one way or another. He said I was big enough now that I could do serious damage to someone without wanting to, and someone could do serious damage to me. As I found myself more as person and had less of a craving for attention and validation from the people around me, my fighting ceased.

Well, I thought it ceased until recently. I’m still a fighter. I definitely fight more now than I did before. It’s not that I like to fight; it’s more so that I have to fight. There is a piece of me that doesn’t allow certain things to slide. That piece is embedded in my soul and I can’t figure out how to control it.

The fight has shifted to being internal. I usually don’t fight people. I fight their ideas and or their opinions. Lately, just pounding ideas has become harder and harder. I find myself getting upset and wanting to dismantle the ideas but also dismantle things. I want to hit things and break them. I want see people hurt because they don’t give a fuck what’s going on around them. They don’t give a fuck that I am in pain every single day because my humanity isn’t valued. I want them to feel a fraction of the pain I feel daily. I want them to look in my eyes and see the hurt. I want them to know that in this society my body and my mind is lesser than theirs, and because of that I’m disposable. I’m just another Nigga that can be shot and killed without any consequences.

At least once a month I see a video of a Black man beaten and or killed by police. My parents and loved ones tell me to be careful. They tell me to do things I shouldn’t have to do, but if I want to survive I have to listen. I have to make sure I’m not a threat because if I make someone scared or uncomfortable they can shoot me. They can shoot my ass and get away with it. I’ve been internalizing these messages for the last four years, and it’s changing my body. It’s changing my brain and my emotions. It’s making me go into survival mode, where me, a human being becomes an animal because that’s what I’m constantly told I am and what I see people like me being treated It is beginning to be too much to cope with at times. People say things, or I watch a video of a handcuffed man’s head being kicked like a football by a white dude with a badge. These things flip a switch. My body feels like it’s going to detonate when it’s reminded that where I live I’m not safe. I don’t have the same human experience as white people. I have to be on the lookout constantly, like prey in the wild. When I’m triggered I don’t have control of my body. When an animal is running from prey it’s not thinking about anything else except survival. I am sixteen years old and I’m a human being, and I know that feeling. I know what it feels like to only care about surivival.

I had the feeling a couple weeks ago. Someone said something about another black person being taken to a secret police interrogation site and tortured to death in Chicago. I had a mug in my hand and my hand starting shaking so badly that I dropped the mug. My heart began to beat furiously and my face got tight. I ground my teeth and couldn’t be still. I went into a mode where I felt like an animal that had had enough and was going to try and destroy my predator. In this situation it felt like my predators were white students at this school saying racism is not a thing anymore. I can’t just go and hurt little innocent white children that don’t know that they just hurt my feelings. I ran and starting punching and kicking things. I hurt myself. I punched until I couldn’t feel my right hand and my arm was covered in blood. It was raining and I was muddy and bloody. I sat down in the mud, and just cried. I didn’t cry because of any physical pain to anything like that, I cried because I knew what was happening. I cried because I knew it was just going to get worse. I don’t know how much longer my human body and brain can take feeling like an animal.

I am being reconfigured as a human being. Humans adapt to survive. I feel like I’m adapting to become an animal, an animal in constant danger. I don’t know what to do about it.