I want I’d by no means identified Ma’Khia Bryant’s title. Ideally, our solely digital encounter would have gone one thing like this: A TikTok-fluent teen, she uploads a hair-tutorial video wherein she succinctly and expertly lays her child hairs and pulls her curls right into a aspect ponytail. A 27-year-old millennial, I watch the video on my telephone whereas mendacity in mattress, my very own tangle of hair tucked beneath a bonnet. I discover how she locations her finger to be able to swoop her child hairs simply so, and make a psychological be aware to strive the approach myself someday. I “like” the submit, put it aside to a group titled “hair,” and preserve scrolling. Possibly my engagement would have been yet one more small piece of optimistic suggestions, encouraging her to make one other video, and one other, as a result of she would have had time.
As a substitute, I discovered Ma’Khia Bryant’s title like everybody else when final week she was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio (simply minutes earlier than the decision was launched within the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis). In accordance with her mom, 16-year-old Bryant had known as the police searching for their assist in breaking apart a battle. As a substitute, as soon as they arrived, an officer shot her within the chest after she appeared to lunge at one other lady with a knife.
Like so many different individuals who have died by the hands of police, Ma’Khia’s life has been collapsed into these moments surrounding her loss of life. Her picture has been splashed throughout newspapers and protest indicators, hashtags reminding us to #sayhername. The video of the incident made the rounds on-line, and nearly instantly, folks started to debate whether or not her holding a knife was grounds for a police officer to kill her inside seconds of arriving on the scene.
To counter this narrative, others started sharing the hair tutorials Bryant had uploaded on TikTok. In every one, a wordless Ma’Khia may be seen conditioning and brushing via her thick hair earlier than slicking it into area buns or tying accent braids to border her face, throughout a backing monitor of neo-soul or ’90s R&B. I now not watch movies of Black folks being killed by police, however seeing these movies of Ma’Khia alive and blissful felt nearly as gutting.
In them I see not simply the carefree innocence of an adolescent, not simply the hallmarks of an totally quotidian life — the bunk beds within the background, the reasonably priced beauty-supply-store merchandise she used — I additionally see the potential of a life snuffed out so quickly. It’s troublesome to explain the precision it takes to essentially lay your edges flat in opposition to your brow in order that they appear purposeful and never simply greasy. However Ma’Khia had mastered it. She knew which merchandise to make use of to make her curl sample outlined and never frizzy. She might apply false eyelashes! At 16, I used to be struggling to tame my hair with a headscarf.
These movies, and what occurred to their protagonist, are a reminder that police violence can penetrate even the sacred on-line areas I go to. Pure-hair movies, and the group constructed up round them, have been a mandatory balm amid all the opposite troublesome information I eat. Ladies like Ma’Khia had been there to indicate me the way to lastly obtain a wash-and-go and the way to stretch my hair with out warmth, and to remind me to trim my ends usually. We created a little bit world of product suggestions and life hacks only for us.
By instructing each other the way to fashion our hair — hair that for therefore lengthy has been deemed troublesome and ugly by a world centered on whiteness — we present love to 1 one other. We are saying, “Hey, sis, try how cute I look! You may appear like this too.” This information sharing is a unprecedented, banal reward that Black girls give to 1 one other. That an agent of the state would take considered one of us from the group, and somebody so younger who had a lot left to offer, is a exceptional act of violence whose results ripple far out to locations and time immeasurable.
Ma’Khia had a real eye for design. I’m wondering what she would have completed with this talent as she bought older, how else she would flourish if she had been allowed to. Her mom said that she had simply made the consideration roll. Possibly Ma’Khia had a knack for biology. Possibly she was a talented author. What else might she have completed together with her abilities? Who might she have been in her group, and what extra might it have poured into her? All of those questions with out solutions, as a result of the police took these choices from her.
These prospects are what get obscured when even a well-meaning public turns victims of police violence into symbols of a complete structural downside. In lower than a yr from the day a Black man in Minneapolis suffocated beneath the knee of a police officer, the title “George Floyd” has turn out to be shorthand for a legacy of racist police violence, a global protest movement in opposition to that legacy, and 100 completely different company entities’ pledges to “reckon with” that legacy. The flattening of a person into an emblem is how we get Nancy Pelosi thanking Floyd for his “sacrifice,” when all he wished was to purchase some cigarettes on Memorial Day. It’s how we get the memeification of a girl who was shot to loss of life in her sleep.
I’m not certain how laborious all of us observers actually attempt to think about these victims in all of the fullness and complexity their lives contained. How earnestly we attempt to grasp the reality that Black folks killed by police are neither threats with superhuman strength nor pious martyrs giving their lives over to a bigger trigger. They’re peculiar, fallible individuals who might or will not be involved with doing their hair. In Ma’Khia Bryant’s TikToks, we’re afforded a brief glimpse of a three-dimensional life. We’ve an opportunity to honor the fullness of that life, and never simply its finish.