Make it legal to be Black in America

Illustration by Roe Gassett | The Signal

Here we are again! Yet another unarmed black man, shot in the back by police. I bet you all thought of a different person. Some of you might have thought of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Or maybe of Trayford Pellerin in Lafayette, Louisiana. Or Dijon Kizzee in Westmont, California. All three men, shot by police within days of each other in late August.

And it’s an ever-increasing pattern: Black people being shot and many times killed for doing nothing more than existing in their blackness. I say people, because it’s not just Black men; it’s also Black women, such as Breonna Taylor.

This is a fight that has been raging for years. Some of us have been here, exhausted from the murders being committed in broad daylight. Some are just now joining in the fight. And it only seems to be getting worse.

My feed is often flooded with pictures of murdered black people. My social media is full of videos of literal murders being committed and then clips of lawyers and chiefs of police deflecting. George Floyd cried for his mother in his final moments, a sound that shook our entire community. 

But it’s not just the illegal and unjust murders that has people frustrated. Blatantly ignoring the constitution is also problematic. 

Peaceful protesters are being arrested, assaulted and sometimes murdered on a seemingly regular basis. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Take voter ID laws; while it may seem simple to provide a photo ID, for many Black, Latinx, poor and elderly voters, it is not. You have to have the proper papers, your birth certificate, Social Security card and more. 

Take my grandfather for example. In order to get a new driver’s license, he needed to provide his birth certificate. Seems simple enough, right? Well, South Carolina had no record of his birth. Why? Because he wasn’t given a birth certificate. Considering he was a Black baby born in the 1930s, this isn’t surprising. 

He had to prove that he existed in the state of South Carolina, meaning he needed his Social Security card. Except for one problem: he never got one. Okay, so now we need a Social Security card. Except, the Social Security Administration had a different birthday than the one listed on his driver’s license. 

He’d have to prove his birthday, but he doesn’t have a birth certificate. So, how do we do that? We go to the Veterans Administration and get his honorable discharge papers. 

It took three months. Once we got that, it took us another six months to FINALLY get his driver’s license so that he could vote. 

All in all, it took him and me over a year to get everything in order. Now, imagine all of the people who don’t have anybody who knows how to work through the mess that is American bureaucracy. 

This is just one way being Black in America is illegal. A veteran, a man who fought for this nation, can’t even easily get an updated ID. Imagine the thousands of citizens who have never had an ID. 

We have to do better. We have to be better. It’s time to legalize Blackness in America.