New York. -- Iam standing on sand.
I am crying, and I have no right to cry. The tape has been shown. The trial is over. A travesty of justice. No justice, no peace. So why be surprised by the riots? I, for one, was unsurprised by the verdict: You can choose to believe or disbelieve me. But it still has impacted me as few things ever have before.
After all, I am one of the lucky ones. With our Afrocentric hair, our braids and our beads, the Talented Tenth of black society stands, watching. We have become expert at watching, the black middle class. Not hating. Not letting bitterness envelop the soul. Because we have so much.
I am standing on sand. Being black in a white society is a life of a thousand papercuts. A life of assumptions about intellect, morality and qualifications. You got your job because you are black. Your presence on a street at night is a presumption of guilt that must be daily challenged to be changed. It's a slow sapping of the spirit, a slow death by anemia of the soul. But this is different. Immediate. You can feel the blood spurt.
An incident like this -- and incident is right, so singular is its impact -- strikes to the very core of the black double consciousness, the daily wrenching of black intellect between two societies' pulls. White society is more than a mantle we wrap around us on the commute into our jobs. It's a part of us. Of everyone. It's what we aspire to, or what we hate. It's the arrow North on the compass of American culture. Our guide. It is our community which is the needle, slowly rotating.
And we have turned to violence, again. But let's break it down, let's look at the constituent parts. Who is being looted? Who is being killed? Who is paying for no justice and no peace? The same people who have done so always.
''We are moving to cordon off the area,'' says L.A. police chief (he is still the police chief) Daryl Gates. That's been the aim all along. To cordon off. To separate. To segregate for law and order. Segregated, we are scapegoats for our own anger. Looting continues in black areas because the fences are too strong in the white ones, the psychological fences in the black community are too strong. The anger is too quick, too unplanned, to wait for a suitable target.
White lives have been lost -- a few, though that loss is not to be underrated. But let's make no mistake, the bulk of casualties have been black, will be black. Because the system does not work. And if some people, some few -- yes, unlawful -- people, do not do something, they will explode.
''It makes no sense whatsoever,'' says Chief Gates, nexus of this catastrophe. ''The good people are at home. [The looters] wanted an excuse to steal.'' And what a good excuse we've given them. This society has branded vast segments of people as having no future. And by the lack of adequate education, jobs and, simply, respect, it ensured that it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some people like it when you live up to expectations. When you live up to the title of Lawless Nigger simply by dint of being born black in South Central L.A., and allowing yourself to be angry.
Do we have to explain, the 99 percent of us, that we want no one dead? No one. We just want justice. No justice, no peace.
I am standing on sand.
The jury system has failed, again. How can a mostly white, suburban jury representing, of all melting pots, Los Angeles, not be a travesty? ''Some people want to see racism there. And it just isn't there,'' says Daryl Mounger, the lawyer for the police.
But we know that black criminals are more often incarcerated, more harshly sentenced than whites would be for a crime. We are pursuing justice selectively. And we are pursuing law and order in a country with the highest incarceration rate in the developed world. Higher than South Africa. And these riots bring more fodder for the system, more justification for its existence, more contents for the jails.
I doubt that Rodney King was a saint. But this country has made him a martyr. Do you need to be saint to be protected by the law? Do you need to be a virgin to have been raped? Or perhaps a policeman to deserve justice on your side.
Being black and middle-class, being a journalist, means being impartial. If not impartial, at least being reasonable. Reasonable in an unreasonable world. Belonging to the Talented Tenth also means never being able to say ''I hate.'' Even if I do hate. Because the constant, conscious act of not hating, ever, is what your whole existence is predicated on. And most of the time, it works. Most of the time, I mean it. Most of the time I don't feel as I do now, wanting to do something parapolitical, something supralegal. Because the system does not work.
I am standing on sand.
Farai N. Chideya is an editorial assistant at Newsweek magazine.