It took me several days to finally bring myself to watch the footage of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder. The images keep replaying in my mind.
Did he feel a cold rush through his spine once he realized these men were pursuing him?
Did his mind race with fear and strategy and confusion… Why is this truck following me? What should I do? Should I keep running?
Did he know he was moments away from dying?
As he was lying on the road, blood pouring from his body, was he begging his God for life?
I’ll never forget the image of Ahmaud Arbery. His lifeless body now placed into the carousel of my mind, with too many other black and brown lives gunned down by hate.
It never escapes me that I am fortunate enough to be here today. I survived the brutal hate of white supremacy. I know what it feels like to be sought out based on the color of your skin. I will never forget seeing myself on the edge of life and death, the images of my loved ones fading in and out, struggling to stay awake, fighting to stay alive. I continue to carry the scars of hate – physically, mentally, and emotionally. While I continue to make peace with my pain, I won’t ever forget what it’s like to be seen as inhuman, unworthy of life, a heartbeat meant for extinction.
I will never understand how seemingly easy it is for people like Ahmaud’s killers to take a human life, but also how acceptable it is in our country. Though I grew up in Bangladesh, I learned about American history, culture and its topnotch educational system. While I was familiar with America’s tangled, racist, violent beginnings, I couldn’t truly understand the magnitude of hate on marginalized communities until I migrated here. I am extraordinarily proud to be an American and there is so much I love about this great country. It is why, after being shot in the face from point blank range, I remained here, rebuilding my life in the very place that tore it apart. And so, it is as a hate crime survivor and an American, that I keep Ahmaud (and all those before and after him) in the forefront of my mind, trying to give them voice through my own.
In addition to sharing my story, advocating for human rights, and speaking out against hate and violence, it is imperative for me and for all of us to keep learning about our country, its history and its people. How can we save black and brown lives from senseless hate, violence, and death if we don’t commit to fully understanding the root cause? How can we create change if we don’t rectify our past first? We must try to imagine ourselves in Ahmaud’s shoes, but we must also deeply reflect upon the slave origins of our country too. Picture yourself for a moment – innocent and free and then captured, beaten, shackled, and shipped across the ocean to a foreign land, forced into hard labor – that is, if you even survived. Abolishing slavery seems so righteous, but if America had truly freed our black brothers and sisters, wouldn’t more of them be able take a leisurely jog in a quiet suburban town without losing their life on the middle of the street?
We cannot change the past. But we have the power to shape our future. Those who are guilty of this tragic, barbaric murder must be brought to justice. As a nation, we must collectively demand action – not for a few days or a week – but until equality and justice has prevailed for all. Even then, we cannot stop talking about Ahmaud or victims like him. We must stop thinking that we have the luxury of moving on. Ahmaud’s family doesn’t have such privilege. I can’t simply stop the nightmares or wish away the bullet fragments embedded in my skull. Instead of forgetting, it is high time for us to be brutally honest with ourselves. America suffers from its racist, intolerant, and hateful past; a history that continues to take the lives of innocent, unarmed black men, but WE have the power to repair it.
With empathy, and our sincerest intentions, we have the power to eradicate racism, intolerance, hate, and violence from our communities, and truly move forward as one, united and peaceful nation. It’ll be far from easy and it won’t be swift. But, if we fail to finally rise up and protect the sanctity of life, how can we possibly call ourselves the land of the brave and the home of the free.
~ Rais Bhuiyan, Founder, World Without Hate