I recall the first time I decided to take a cross-country road trip. I was young, full of energy, and a confidence bordering on arrogance. I had a 2-year-old Volkswagen Beetle and filled it with most of my worldly possessions. I had a fellowship to the University of Washington and I was headed from Philadelphia to Seattle and I thought the world was my oyster.
On the first leg of my trip I sped through the Allegheny Mountains on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to the Ohio Turnpike, to the Indiana Turnpike, and up toward Chicago searching for highway 90 that would take me through the northern tier states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Washington. I was singing happily along through day 1 that landed me comfortably in Chicago after 12 hours on the road. By the second day we navigated through very unfamiliar landscape. All of a sudden I experienced something I had never known—FREE highways! From Wisconsin to the west coast I would not pay another toll. That kind of blew my mind. And, those highways were beautiful. But, somewhere after I crossed into Montana another more ominous thought entered my mind. Montana is the land of big sky and the skyline is spectacular. The mountain ranges are also breathtaking. And, as beautiful as Montana is, it is also rather desolate. You can drive for long stretches and not see another soul. At that moment I remember thinking, “I could disappear out here and no one would never find me.” Indeed, I wondered who, besides my mama, would come looking for me? And, that is the question I pose to my readers today. Who will come looking for you? Or, more pointedly, who will come looking for the dozen or so Black and Brown girls missing from the streets of Washington, DC?
Two things trouble me deeply about these missing girls. The first thing is the police response that the girls are not “missing” they are “runaways!” So, does this mean when you run away as a child, adults have no obligation to go looking for you? With what authority does a 14-year-old get to walk out of her home and decide not to return? Yes, kids run away all the time. But, when some kids run away the police, parents, and entire community organize search parties to bring that runaway back home. I will even concede that kids runaway for legitimate reasons. Life can be hard at home. But we know that life on the streets can be downright dangerous. The DC police insist that there is no upswing in the number of missing Black girls. What they are not saying is they NEVER really look for our girls. Nobody looked for the more than 200 missing girls in Nigeria and nobody is looking (seriously) for the more than a dozen missing girls in DC.
The second thing that troubles me about the missing girls is that when members of the DC community came together at a town hall meeting to demand that the police become more aggressive in their search for the girls ONLY Black people showed up. The “missing presence” of White people spoke volumes. These are the same White people who want Black folks to ride for their every cause. These are the same White people who flood my in-box with requests for $5 to help fund their campaigns. These are the same White folks that insist we must march in solidarity against Donald Trump’s sexism and misogyny. These are the same White folks who will swear day and night that they marched with Dr. King and that gives them bonafides to tell Black people what they ought to think, say, and do. When young Black folks began declaring that “Black Lives Matter,” they were speaking volumes. They were responding to the unspoken yet clear message that the society was sending—Black lives do NOT matter!
You cannot tell me that you endorse a notion that “All lives matter” when you are not the least bit disturbed by what has become business as usual in the nation’s capital—Black and Brown girls regularly turn up missing. What will it take for White America to have the same level of compassion for Black and Brown children that they have for White ones? When will they be troubled that our children are horribly and regularly mis-educated? When will they lay awake at night worried that Black children are expelled and suspended at rates 2-3 times that of White ones? When will they demand that the juvenile detention centers empty of Black and Brown youth? Things will not be better with race relations in this nation until the question, “who will come looking for you” is answered with our saying, “EVERYBODY!”
Stay Black & Smart!