By Alan Palaez Lopez
In 1993, my mother gave birth to her first child in Mexico City. Because he had a faulty lung system and developed so slowly as a fetus, the doctors weren’t sure than he’d make it through his first year. But, he made it. He cried when he was hungry, drooled when he slept, laughed when her curls touched his cheeks, and yelled when his 3-inch feet were lightly tickled. In 1993, my mother didn’t know if her child would live.
In 2015, she’s still isn’t sure.
I’m healthy now, but my mother closes her eyes and prays for me every time I walk out the door. She’s never sure if I’ll get sent to prison for being Black, hate-crimed for being queer, or sent to a detention center for entering the US, at the age of 5, without a visa. She knows that the first time I was stopped-and-frisked, I had continuous nightmares of being shot. What she doesn’t know is that, sometimes, men chase me down the streets of Harlem and Brooklyn with a pocketknife because I’m queer, or because I won’t have sex with them.
We are stuck in a system where Black lives don’t matter, where Black queer lives don’t matter, where, especially, Black transgender lives don’t matter. In this system, our lives only matter when our existences are extensions of slavery.
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As a person with PTSD, the recent non-indictments in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have me on fight-or-flight mode. Now, I eat every meal knowing it may be my last, wake up screaming from nightmares of being gang raped or shot by the police, scream when anyone touches me, and cry from anxiety when strangers approach me. As an undocumented, queer, Black man, I am terrified for my life, my safety, my freedom. Aside from my value as a minimum-wage paid worker, I feel unseen and unprotected in this system—the same way that Michael Brown and Eric Garner were unseen and unprotected.
In the epoch of slavery, if an enslaved person died while being punished by their Master, the Master would be protected under the law because it was an accident. When the Grand Jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting an unarmed 18-year-old Black male to death, they leaned back into this Master-Slave law. Michael Brown was big and Black. Michael Brown was not complacent. Darren Wilson was White. Darren Wilson was scared. The murder was valid.
If I were to be murdered, the person who killed me may be applauded and encouraged to hunt more Alan’s. What I mean to say is, the Grand Jury would have more than my Blackness to judge—they’d judge my “chosen” lifestyle, they’d judge my “chosen” migration to a country that enslaves me to work just so I can (barely) afford a shack on the plantation and the coffee beans imported from my home country every couple of months.
Michelle Alexander—in The New Jim Crow— argues that “Slavery defined what it meant to be black (a slave), and Jim Crow defined what it meant to be black (a second-class citizen). Today mass incarceration defines the meaning of blackness in America: black people, especially black men, are criminals. That is what it means to be black.” The prison system and capitalism are America’s legal slave plantations, where police forces take on the duty of the Master and send the insubordinate to prison so they can “reflect” on their behavior; so they can’t run when the master needs them to bow down and work.
America needs the police to target Black people. America needs to convince the public that Black people are thugs, criminals. This way, we won’t question incarceration rates. In my family, three of us are male: my stepfather, my brother and I. One of us is deemed to be imprisoned before we die. Check the statistics.
The state demands inmates because for-profit prisons are hungry for money. The state is a machine looking to acquire cheap(er) labor through undocumented bodies, Black bodies, queer bodies, trans* bodies, female bodies, and bodies with disabilities. These people, when imprisoned, become slaves. They become the state’s property, the state’s income.
The day the police stopped-and-frisked me, they let me go because I had 4 books in my backpack and a folder with a syllabus bleeding through the cover. I was the Black kid that somehow made it to college. If I had my gym clothes in my bag instead, they would have kidnapped me for saying “no” when they demanded I spread my legs, and sent me to a plantation so far away my family would have never found me.
The police do the exact job that slave owners and catchers did. Through racial profiling and gender policing, they enter communities, turn people against each other, break up families, and ship children and parents to prisons. Then, they “accidentally” kill us—legally—when we run away from them or resist arrest.
Masters did not protect slaves. Masters conditioned slaves to be so fearful that most did anything and everything asked (as the consequence for disobedience was death).
The protests and outbreak of #BlackLivesMatter are calling out these Master/Slave ideas. Our human limits—of being put on slave boats/jail busses, of forced labor, of broken families, of rape, of fallen children, and of not indicting those who murdered us—have been met.
The police, with the approval and authority of capitalism, have recreated and replenished the slave plantations of 1662. And to the young man who didn’t play the role of prey, the police choked—no whipped, no lynched—him 11 times. The police have done their duty: they have created a system that puts us in a state of violence and subjugation, that makes us invisible. Our invisibility built this country. Our invisibility allowed this country to grow into a capitalist nation that refuses to recognize exactly how much Black lives matter; how much Black trans* lives matter; how much undocumented Black queer and trans* lives matter.
For those who fail to see us—we will continue to fight for ink in history books that make our experiences forgettable; we will not bow down to prisons and capitalism; we will not apologize for our forced migrations; we will not give up our seats in life; we will continue to hold you accountable until you realize that we are beautiful and that our lives matter.
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Alan Pelaez Lopez is an AfroLatin@ that grew up in Boston via La Ciudad de Mexico, documenting his existence as an undocuqueer poet, jewelry designer, and bubble tea addict. Latest projects include teaching grade school poetry and exploring healing methodologies of PTSD through art. He is a member of Familia: Trans*, Queer Liberation Movement.