Am I an Opressor? Notes on the murder of Janese Talton-Jackson

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A few months ago I was on BART headed to San Francisco when a gorgeous young black woman stepped onto my train. She knew she was gorgeous too, as did everyone else on the train that evening. She had a brightly colored flowing scarf wrapped around her neck and lipstick that made her lips look wet and loud, reminiscent of a jolly rancher. She was a bit of a contrast in terms of style. She was like a mash-up of India Arie and Trina with her conscious side just barely beating out the ratchet. I dug her from a distance.

Every single passenger in our car, male and female alike, stared at this sister and then quickly looked away. They tried to remain focused on their newspapers or the old structures that passed right outside the window barely lit by the streetlights. The gorgeous young lady also tried to pretend as if she was completely engrossed in the screen on her smart phone but every now and again she would look up to see who was looking at her. I was looking. I swear I wasn’t looking harder than anyone else but I was definitely struck by her beauty. The sister saw everyone else looking at her and appeared to be charmed. She saw me looking and became uncomfortable, if not agitated. I could almost read the frantic thought that pulsated in her head: “Please don’t talk to me. Please don’t try to talk to me.” We were the only two black people on the car.

 

Her body language hurt me and my attitude immediately became morose. I did not want to talk to the young lady. I did not want her phone number. OK maybe I did want to tell her she was beautiful but I was not going to harass her or compromise her regality in any way shape or form. I did not understand why I caused her so much consternation and how was it that she seemed to want the attention of everyone in the world except that of a black man. I did not understand. But now after the murder of Janese Talton-Jackson I get it. It makes sense why the young lady sat as far from me as she possibly could and why she all but ran off the train once her stop came. For I have come to realize that as far as she is concerned, I am her oppressor.

 

Janese Talton-Jackson was a 29-year-old mother of three who was murdered last Friday morning in Pittsburgh, PA because she would not talk to a man after leaving a bar. Apparently his ego was so fragile that after being rebuffed he felt the need to shoot Janese in the chest. Both Janese and her murderer are black.

This is why so many of our women fear us. Why they see us talking amongst ourselves on the corner and cross the street. This is why we say hello to them and they say nothing. This is why young black women would rather fall in love with one another than to let us come anywhere near them. This is why so many of our women hate us.

I think about how I respond when I am walking down the avenue and I look up and see a police car. Or when I’m driving down the street and see a squad car in my rear view. I get nervous even though I haven’t done anything because I know that the police have the power to harass me anyway. That they can take away my dignity for their amusement. That they can beat me up because they don’t like my attitude or that they could even kill me. For one to have a forced interaction with the outside entity that has power over one’s life is always visceral and intense. Janese Talton-Jackson chose not to have this interaction and was killed for her decision. In the same way that Oscar Grant was killed. In the same way that Trayvon Martin was killed. In the same way that Laquan McDonald was killed and in the same way that Mario Woods was killed. Janese Talton-Jackson was murdered because she had enough pride to resist.

If only coming to terms with Janese’s murder was that simple. The fundamental difference between her murder and the murder of black men at the hands of white male authority figures is that Janese’s murderer will spend the rest of his life in jail while police officers routinely kill black men without consequence. However even as I live in this truth I am still left to ponder the questions; To what extent are black men the oppressors of black women? And to what extent do black women have the right to be deathly afraid of us? I know not the answer and I have no solutions. I do know that the young lady on the BART train was a stunning example of flawless three-dimensional art. Her surface was impeccable but on the interior she was wounded. If I could I would apologize for all of the pain that black men such as myself caused her and pray that she could internalize the message. And If I could I would bring Janese Talton-Jackson back to life and tell her that she was beautiful and assure her that I wanted nothing in return.

-YB

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2 thoughts on “Am I an Opressor? Notes on the murder of Janese Talton-Jackson

  1. Back in the early 1970s, I lived on campus in one of the women’s dormitories when I was a sophomore at Florida State. There were four black women on my floor who hung out together and didn’t socialize with any of the white women. That wasn’t really unusual for this dorm, most residents didn’t socialize. But these four women were known for cooking these great meals for themselves and I would see them in our common kitchen area. There was one in particular who I thought might be interesting, maybe someone to talk to once in awhile. One day she was cooking by herself and I tried to strike up a benign conversation. She wasn’t rude, but she clearly didn’t want to talk to me, not then, not ever.

    I believe it was during one of our final exam weeks that I saw her again, just passing by in the hallway of the dorm. I said, “Hello, Becky.” She turns around to look at me and said, “My name isn’t Becky.” “Yes, it is,” I replied. Then she just looked at me for a long moment and waited for me to realize that I said the most stupid thing imaginable. When I got it, we both started laughing. Then she said, “My name is Beverly.”

    I wish I could say this was the beginning of a great friendship, but I never saw her again. And I understood why she didn’t want to talk to me, why none of the black women wanted to socialize with any of the white women. We were in northern Florida, almost in the panhandle, in a place culturally identified as the Deep South. Yet, it must have hurt because I remember it all these years later. I suppose that I was ready to deal with the fear or whatever obstacles kept me from having a black friend, and she either wasn’t ready or she didn’t choose me, but I believe it was the former.

    I never had a black friend until I moved to California in the late 70s. A black man who shared an office with me, eight years older, went to college on football scholarship, served in Vietnam, and had no fear of me at all.

    It really is sad, how things like this happen to us.

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