By Nicole “Nikki” Y. Williams
I Guess I’ll Have To Play Pagliacci And Get Myself A Clown’s Disguise
And Learn To Laugh Like Pagliacci With Tears In My Eyes
I’m Afraid The Masquerade Is Over
And So Is Love, And So Is Love
-Allie Wrubel, Herb Magidson
It’s become a morbid tradition in the Black community to acknowledge anniversaries of death by state sponsored violence. Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and as we approach May 25 – George Floyd.
These morbid milestones are reminders in the Black community that the country we’ve loved so fiercely, that we fought and bled for, that we built for free, doesn’t love us back. It’s like an abusive relationship. We give and give only to once again endure the deepest hurt.
Though the trial of Derek Chauvin is over, George Floyd and so many other countless victims of police violence remain lost to us. They were fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. For them and the collective Black community there only remains a void that can never be filled.
In college my ethnomusicological studies led me to fall in love with jazz. One of my favorite songs was “The Masquerade is Over” performed by Cannonball Adderley and Nancy Wilson. The brooding lyrics say…
“I Guess I’ll Have To Play Pagliacci And Get Myself A Clown’s Disguise
And Learn To Laugh Like Pagliacci With Tears In My Eyes”
These same feelings creep in every time these anniversaries of death come up. These lyrics encompass so much, the hurt, the anger, the sheer exhaustion of being Black in America. Daily we wear the mask. Smiling through tears. Hoping that one day white people will see our humanity.
Even with the guilty verdict in the Derrick Chauvin case, it took less than an hour after the verdict for another name to be added to the list of Blacks killed by police – Ma’Khia Bryant – who had called the police for her own protection. Then a day later Andrew Brown Jr., and on and on.
More pain. More hurt. More tears.
With every murder, every injustice, every heartbreak, the masquerade of this grand American experiment nears its end, and any love we had for this country dies a little more.
Some ask – we even ask ourselves – how do we make it day to day, living through (and reliving through) these atrocities on our communities. In the face of so many indignities and dangers how do we continue to create and find joy? How do we smile through the tears? The truth is a piece of us dies every time a member of our community is senselessly killed. Those traumas remain with us. They manifest themselves in our high blood pressure and diabetes. We smoke them away, we fall prey to addictions. We take them out on the ones closest to us through abuse. We pass them on to generations yet unborn.
Yet, like Pagliacci, we put on our disguise and in the midst of hurt, we continue on. We don’t storm Capitals, brandish guns, perpetrate mass shootings or enact unjust laws. No, we continue on. Pushing for justice, and praying for peace.
But everyone has their breaking point. When the tears are so constant that there is not enough makeup in the world to hide behind and put on fake smiles. When going to work and handing in our TPS reports is just too hard – because we’ve been beaten down by simply being Black in America.
There are no simple answers to this problem. Some are calling to defund the police, while others believe the system can be reformed. Perhaps redirecting the very large budgets of an over militarized police to social programs is the answer or even de-licensing bad cops. By far the best start to correcting years of police misconduct is the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, but as of right now we are ten Republican votes or a Senate filibuster rule change away from its passage.
What is clear is that we can’t go on like this. Black people are tired. We’ve reached our limit. Something has to change. Radical change to policing in the country ultimately benefits all people but, for Black people, it allows us to simply live. If we’ve learned nothing over the past year it’s that our democracy is fragile and the same can be said for our communities.
The best way we can honor George Floyd is to ensure that others don’t suffer his same fate. If not, the masquerade will truly be over.