Because it is a social construct, race can often be a complicated matter. However, racism – notably, as it works in America – is a much easier issue to comprehend. If you don’t appear White, you are classified as “other,” making you susceptible to every form of prejudice associated with otherness. If you do not appear White and have even a smidgen of African blood running through your veins, you are often classified and treated as Black.
America was built on the hatred of Blackness and all those who embody it.
This is a longstanding American recipe that is easy to follow, so although I respect multiracial people identifying however they choose to individually, aesthetics determine how are you are classified racially by the community at large. That’s why I was uneasy with how the family members of the 19-year-old who was fatally shot by a police officer in Madison, Wisconsin went above and beyond to argue against making a connection between Tony Robinson Jr., known to his family as Tyrell, and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Speaking for the family, Tyrell’s uncle Turin Carter explained, according to ABC News: “A lot of his identity was formed because of his racial ambiguity. Tyrell felt a misfit for most of his life and that’s why we became close.” The personal tales humanize Tyrell in a way the news media could never, but the conversation turned unsettling once Turin added, “We don’t want to just stop at Black Lives Matter. … Tyrell is a mixture of everything. You can’t look at him and say he’s Black.”
It’s perfectly fine for an uncle to grieve, but it’s a problem to dilute the importance of a movement that is inclusive of anyone under the wide spectrum of what constitutes Black in this country — a movement that has brought attention to Tyrell’s death, which may have been otherwise largely ignored. Moreover, if you look at Tyrell, you see a boy of a darker hue with hair that is coarse and twisted into locs. Like Tyrell, celebrities such as Mariah Carey and Rashida Jones are biracial; Black people manage to see themselves in those stars all the same.
So did those White police officers, who described Tyrell in the following way: “Look for a male, black, light-skinned, tan jacket and jeans. Outside yelling and jumping in front of cars.”
Tyrell might’ve been many things, but his appearance is described one way by the police. That one way likely has a lot to do with why he died at the hands of a White male police officer, like Michael Brown, Jr. and so many other Black men. And like those Black people, the media narrative has turned to questioning the character of the unarmed teenager, as opposed to questioning the actions of the White officer who took his life.
The problem in aligning with the sentiment “All Lives Matter” is that those three words are redundant. Everyone’s life matters, but some of our lives are in far greater danger than others. And when Black lives are stolen by White police officers, the onus is largely placed on us in a media landscape that is mostly under White control. To say “we don’t want to just stop at Black Lives Matter,” is to embolden those who do not want to focus on how state-sanctioned racism continues to threaten people of color.
Whatever identity issues Tyrell had are irrelevant to how he died. That police officer didn’t see a biracial teenager. He saw a Black man. That proves Tyrell’s mixed-race reality did not alter other people’s perceptions.
His uncle can try to clarify all he wants how Tyrell was not like the rest of us, but don’t we know better?
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty