This column first appeared on Latino Rebels
They killed that black boy down in Georgia—Ahmaud Arbery—because he was beautiful.
They killed him because he was so beautiful, they couldn’t stand it.
Racism is the toothless child of envy.
They killed that black boy, not because he was the exception to their racist rule, but because he proved the rule is full of shit. And even dead, Ahmaud still came out golden. Because although he’s dead, the beautiful potential of his life buried, it’s that racist father-and-son duo, what’s their names—no one will remember their names, only Ahmaud Arbery’s—it’s they who came out looking ugly, like monsters, less than human. All we’ll remember is that photo of a smiling Ahmaud in his shiny tux, and the video of him striding beautifully in the sunshine down a country road, that racist father and son waiting for him with a shotgun and .357 Magnum, apparently with nothing better to do than destroy humanity.
They had no lives, and they couldn’t stand it.
I was stopped once while running home, late one night. It was the summer after eighth grade. My friend Andy Sanchez and I were fucking around at someone’s house, and all of a sudden it was a quarter to midnight and we had to get back to Andy’s house—I was crashing at his place for a few weeks. We ran home in our street clothes, cutting through the parking lot across from our former middle school, toward Heritage Park, when a police car rolled up on us honking like a big dumb goose and cherries-and-berries flashing.
Funny thing is we weren’t even scared. This was back in 1999, before we knew police shot boys who looked like us for any reason. We didn’t own ID’s so they asked us for our names and addresses. We asked them why we were being stopped. They said we looked like we’d just robbed some house and were trying to get away. I was 14, weighed about a buck-10, and Andy had to be skinnier than I was and with glasses. Still, we had brown skin, and brown skin plus youth plus midnight automatically makes you suspect, even in a town where a third of the people are Latino—particularly in a town like that.
Dying never crossed my mind that night. They ran our names and nothing came up, so we were allowed to go home, with not so much animosity or even resentment against the law enforcement officers of our town, but at least the understanding that we fit the law enforcement officers’ description of criminals—an important discovery for a young brown boy.
I take Ahmaud’s murder personally, more so than the other murders of black boys in America. Because he was just running. I’m a runner myself. I was on the cross-country team in high school all four years, and I’ve been running ever since. It’s something I like to do, both for the physical and mental exercise. But I’m not naïve—I know the country I was born in. I know how I look running through some suburban neighborhood, all dark and broad-shouldered, scruffy beard and mustache, bushy eyebrows, 165 pounds of me now. I know how I must seem to some timid white person who watches too much news. And for the past 15 years, whenever I’m out running, different scenarios race through my mind: What if some white person asks me what I’m doing in that neighborhood? What if some cop car pulls up alongside me and asks me where I live? The answers I’d give, the snowball, one thing leading to another, then… BANG.
Mind you, I’m not worried about being mugged by some murderous psychopath or otherwise desperate person at the end of his rope. I’m worried about the so-called good people of the world.
So I take that black boy’s murder in Georgia personally. That could’ve easily been me—too easily. Maybe you don’t feel the heat of that murder how I do, and maybe that’s because you don’t look as much like Amhaud as I do. Maybe you don’t think my picture looks anything like Ahmaud’s—maybe you think I clearly don’t look black but Latino—but then maybe you’ve never been looked at like you were nothing on a beautiful sunny afternoon, like people who look like Ahmaud and I do every day.
What was the point I was trying to make with this? Who can tell? The point is that a boy who looked like me was murdered for doing something I do all the time, and I can’t help but take that personally, and because I’m a writer, I feel I have to write about it. Maybe because Ahmaud can’t write about it.
Those pieces of shit shot him dead in the road because they were jealous. And I know I’m supposed to be magnanimous right now, always. I’m supposed to turn the other cheek like Jesus says, suffer peacefully like Martin says, or take the high road like Michelle says, whenever someone who looks like me is shot dead for some made-up excuse. But fuck that. That father and son shot Ahmaud because they’re racist, so let’s just be real about what racism is—it’s jealousy. They were jealous of Ahmaud. They, and people like them, think black people aren’t worth more than minimum wage, if that. They think—or they say, at least—that black people can’t be beautiful. But while they’re fat grizzly asses were polishing their instruments of death on a sunny afternoon, here comes gorgeous Ahmaud, perfecting his physical perfection, floating down the road like a gazelle, like they could never look in their lives. So they had to shoot him, you see. They had to get rid of him—he was making them look bad.
But as much as I want to hate them, the father-and-son racists, I pity them. I pity them worse than I do Ahmaud—which seems crazy, I know, practically racist in and of itself: how can I feel worse for two living human beings than I do for a dead one? But Ahmaud died a man, a human being, beautiful. You and I will hear the name Ahmaud Arbery and be flooded with tender feelings. We’ll feel nothing but love for him.
But that father and son—they’re animals. Less than human now. They’ve killed their own son, their own brother, not knowing that’s what they did. Too dehumanized by their own blind hatred to know. And why? Because his skin is a different color. Because that’s supposed to mean something. What degraded, corroded, gutted, warped soul can believe such a thing? What happened to that racist father and son, that they could believe something so inhuman?
February 23 in Georgia looked like it was a beautiful day, according to the video. Ahmaud was enjoying the day—he knew how to live. And yet, that father and son had nothing better to do on a beautiful day in Georgia but stalk a black boy and shoot him dead in the road. What losers—and I say that with immense pity, truly.
We only go out of our way to hurt other people when we don’t love ourselves. You can’t love life in all its glory and see a boy—black, white, whatever—running down the road and think, I need to end that. Something is already dead in you. I know from experience: I used to be a pyro when I was a kid, but only because I felt burnt up inside, all ashes.
Who knows what’ll happen to that racist father and son. They barely arrested them. Supposedly the DA or somebody released the video thinking it would actually exonerate the two. Who can think that, seeing the video? What is wrong with people? Racism isn’t a sufficient answer; it doesn’t make me feel any better, doesn’t make me feel as though I understand the ways of the world. Racism might as well be magic.
There’s something missing.
The problem is that, to explain why that racist father and son killed Ahmaud Arbery would take one too many sentences to help anything. I know why he was shot—people who look like me and Ahmaud are forced to know why too soon in life. But too few people will read this, and those who do almost certainly already know why he was shot. The people who don’t know but need to know, those people will never read this.
And so people who look like me will keep getting killed for doing things we like to do all the time, like going for a nice run through the neighborhood on a beautiful sunny day. And I’ll always be worried I might not come home from a run, that someone might see me and feel too jealous to let me just float by.