The Real Reason You’re Not Saying Ma’Kiah Bryant’s Name

“Me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow.” ~Toni Morrison, Beloved

Ma’Kiah Bryant via TikTok

As I watched 16-year old Ma’Khia Bryant’s TikTok video, I quickly realized she had a talent for making short videos with bursts of teenage-girl flavor. As her eyes dazzled with joy, Ma’Khia showed us how to lay her edges just right, as she styled her hair into two charming pigtails. With a smile that was beaming with confidence, Ma’Khia smiles directly into the camera, clearly proud of her TikTok masterpiece. I was first introduced to the video on Instagram, as I viewed a close friend’s IG story, something I do often, as she constantly pushes my thinking when it comes to solidarity across racial and ethnic lines through an intersectional lens. It took me a few seconds to realize who she was, as I had already been bombarded with the gruesome and dehumanizing video of a police officer gunning her down within approximately 12 seconds upon arriving at the scene. And this is essentially what Black young girls and women are constantly taught, day in and day out: that we are disposable, unworthy of life.

The news of Ma’Khia Bryant’s murder occurred shortly before George Floyd’s murderer was convicted on 3 counts. There was a collective radical consciousness across various Black communities nationwide as we waited for the verdict. Something shifted within me before the verdict, as I was in a meeting at the time and my mind was preoccupied with work responsibilities and Black folx being murdered for existing by those who are chosen to protect and serve. When I finally heard the verdict, I was calm. That’s what should happen. He deserves much more, if you ask me. Those were the thoughts consuming my mind. I did not feel liberated knowing that George Floyd’s murderer was convicted, rather indifferent, because there is always this lingering feeling of: who will be next? And sure enough, somebody, a 16-year-old Black girl, was next before the verdict was read, according to news reports.

Ma’Kiah Bryant’s mother, holding up a picture of her daughter on her phone.

In Marc Lamont Hill’s insightful and radically honest book, Nobody: America’s War on the Vulnerable, From Ferguson to Flint and Beyond, he meticulously paints a picture of anti-Black racism and state-sanctioned violence, noting that, “for the powerful, justice is a right; for the powerless, justice is an illusion” (p. 28). In the eyes of the state, Ma’Khia Bryant was “nobody,” which Hill names in his book as Black people who are disregarded by state officials and medical establishments, while constantly denied the most basic aspects of humanity, like expendable lives blowing in the wind. Ma’Khia Bryant’s life was ignored as the officer exited his car and fired 4 shots within seconds of arriving. Although I have come to a personal space of not thinking about what white folx think about me, in an effort to intentionally push against sociologist W.E.B. DuBois’ conception of double consciousness, this time I did wonder. I wondered for someone other than me, for Ma’Kiah, a Black girl I did not know. What exactly does a young, white cop see, upon witnessing a group of Black girls fighting, and with one who has a knife in her hand? Does he see his news propaganda dreams of supposed Black women anger clouding his vision? Or does he see “Blue Lives Matter’’ flags waving before his eyes, defending anything he may or may not do, in the name of “self-defense?” It is not my job to analyze what this white police officer may have been thinking, because that is the very role of white supremacy: gaslight your lived experiences in the name of racism. To pause and reflect on what this white officer was thinking, is also to deny Ma’Khia Bryant of her humanity, a 16-year old who was a baby that was executed on a public street.

I learned about Ma’Khia Bryant’s murder at 3:14 am on April 22nd, less than 24-hours after she was killed by police. I woke up suddenly, still processing the verdict in Minnesota and what that would mean for Black folx nationwide. But that feeling was short-lived as I came across the news updates on my phone. It almost felt like a tragic satire, stuck within the throes of screaming, “Black Lives Matter!” to the resounding and brutal reality that more and more Black people are being killed in public with cameras: 21st century lynchings. And as my heart boils with rage by these public lynchings of Black children, the white people around me are laser-focused on gun reform as the most pressing concern of our times. And I want to say to each of them: since when do weapons operate without a weaponizer?

The real reason you are not saying Ma’Kiah Bryant’s name is because you, like many, believe that she deserved to die. How dare a Black girl defend herself? How dare a Black girl have a weapon? How dare a Black girl sleep in her own bed and end up murdered by police? How dare a Black woman drive and be stopped and harassed for not signaling a lane change? How dare a Black woman not open the door for a no-knock warrant in the middle of the night and be murdered? How dare a Black woman exist?

The misogynoir espoused by mainstream media, school policies and neighborhood policing are literally killing Black girls and women at alarming rates. Where are the spaces for us to be safe, to critique the very communities and institutions that are supposed to serve us? As a mother of Black children, I feel an eerie responsibility to arm my children with critical conversations around racist policing practices. Although I have not gone there fully yet, in an effort to protect my children’s radical joy at the ages of 5 and 8 years old, I feel resentment that I will have to have that talk, to possibly save their lives.

In the midst of Black people being murdered in public, we still have to work to survive, because that is how capitalism operates, even at the expense of our collective humanity. I knew that although my spirit was weary from Ma’Khia Bryant’s murder, I was still expected to be my best self at work the following day. As an educator, I did use my voice to elevate both Ma’Khia Bryant and George Floyd’s lives, respectfully, at work. It felt painful to say their names, primarily because I understand that both Ma’Khia Bryant and George Floyd deserve to be alive. Breonna Taylor deserves to be alive. Aiyana Stanely-Jones deserves to be alive. Korryn Gaines deserves to be alive. Sandra Bland deserves to be alive. Each of them should be here with us today.

I know I am not the only one who feels this way, so I am going to say it: Call in Black if you have to today, to protect your peace. “Calling in Black” is a term coined by Black woman comedian Evelyn from the Internets to suggest that the constant violence against Black folx by police is harmful to the bodies, minds and souls of Black people. To go about your workday as if nothing happened or is currently happening nationwide, is to deny yourself of your humanity as well, assimilating to an oppressive system of Black silence in the face of blatant racism across the country.

Black people, do not call The Police. It just may save your life. If you are someone who wants to save another Black person’s life, do not call them either. Think of another way to de-escalate the problem, as a critically conscious community member. I am sure we can all figure it out, with patience, radical love and deep understandings of intersectional solidarity. I want you to radically imagine what would have happened if police did not show up in front of Ma’Kiah Bryant’s foster home. What would have happened if the community surrounding the girls fighting tried to break it up, tried to talk to each of them? But then you also have to ask yourself, if police, those who are trusted to protect and serve, see a 16-year old Black girl as a threat, imagine what your neighbors are thinking and have been socially conditioned to believe, too?

Dr. Crystal Belle is an educator, scholar and Critical Race Theorist. Her first book, Start with Radical Love, is set to debut with Corwin press in early 2022.

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