Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Atatiana Jefferson. Rayshard Brooks.
The list, unfortunately, runs long, and it begs the question, “What’s going on?” For America, the answer is past due.
When I first heard the Marvin Gaye hit, “What’s Going On,” I was around eight years old and unaware of the atrocities this world would offer me—but as I grew older, I came to know the way Black bodies are brutalized. Before live-streaming technology made it possible to view racism on a global scale, I witnessed many micro-aggressions and instances of outright racism and police brutality in my childhood neighborhood.
I trembled when the police pulled me over for the first time. I still tremble. I place my identification on the dashboard and my hands on the steering wheel. I roll the window down before they arrive at my door. I do not jerk away from the blinding lights that they flash into my eyes. I remain calm when they call for three squad cars for my one broken taillight.
I stay alive.
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
I understood this song’s sentiment with a familiarity that a non-Black passerby might not possess. I am a student of the art form that has no classification, the one in which marginalized people create frameworks that shimmer and glow so they can place the truths of our realities in the center of them. The contrast is stark, but the message eventually gets across.
Maybe it has taken this landscape, wherein we are all stuck at home, wherein a global pandemic threatens all of our lives, wherein there is no football or basketball to distract us, wherein there is nobody to say, “It’s okay to look away now,” for us to come together and ask, “What’s going on?”
If so, we should also come together to strive for the B-side of that verse:
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some loving here today
We are all responsible for answering Marvin’s question, “What’s going on?” If our answer is not love, respect, and mercy, then we’ve utterly failed each other. We may tremble while we move toward justice, but we must not stop moving.
(Editor’s note: Please enjoy this bonus live version of “What’s Goin On.”)
Jarika Tucker is pursuing her MS in Computer Science. She develops apps during the day, writes at night, and directs a short film once every blue moon. She spends her free time reading anything she can get her hands on and traveling as far as her family’s budget will go. She is a member of the AWP and was a Mentee in their Writer to Writer Mentorship program. Jarika recently read an excerpt of her speculative manuscript about magical Black mermaids, The Drowning Crown, at AWP’s 2020 conference; she is seeking representation for this and other speculative fiction works. Visit her website jarikatucker.com for updates on writing and film. She is also on Twitter @jarikatucker and IG @lovejarika.
A donation has been made to: The Equal Justice Initiative
The Equal Justice Initiative is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.