Adam McGee Can't Breathe

I can’t breathe because my grandmother was raised by a black woman yet hated black people.  That is America.  Black folks were forced here by whites on both sides of the Atlantic with the idea that they would provide boundless and unidirectional benefit to whites: that they would tend our crops, make our wares, raise our children, cook our food, fight our wars—love us, even—all for nothing in return except to finally die silently and without protest when at last their bodies were wrung dry of anything exploitable.

I can’t breathe when I think how little has changed.  How we still expect poor blacks to do the jobs white Americans don’t want, miserable jobs, dangerous jobs, jobs that pay too little to afford a dignified or secure life—then blame them for “stealing” jobs from whites or opting not to work under such terms.  Yet still expect them to entertain us, to make us laugh, to allow us to slip into their skins in our imaginations, to sacrifice themselves to save us in the stories we make up.  Yet still expect them to accept that the racist structures which rob them of their houses, ruin their health, poison their communities, and incarcerate their loved ones are all just so much bad luck or—worse—their own faults.  Yet still expect them to want nothing in return.  Yet still expect them to speak to police only in the racist fantasies of obedient “yessuhs” and “nosuhs” and then say nothing when they are killed by agents of our State for having the audacity to occupy public space, or ask a question, or demand a right, or run some harmless grift, or delight in the teenage pleasure of walking alone in the street at night.

I can’t breathe because we are evil.

Adam McGee is the editorial assistant for Transition.  He is a scholar and poet.


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