There’s this moment when I walk into the courtroom that surrounds my body with excitement, inspiration, and fulfillment of purpose. It is a feeling that I can’t wipe off my skin because in these seconds I feel alive. I see the bench, I see the seats, I see the brown wood that highlights every courtroom, and I just know the first day I get to open my mouth in court, to know the law like the back of my hand, and to critically state my points in a case, there will be no other experience like it in the world. I get ready to hear the arguments from counsel, my ears pinned on each hanging motion, strike, and appeal. The moment my notepad, binder, busted ink pins, countless hours of research, and files all come together to meet before the honorable judge, I will be ready to do the work I was born to do.
But when I walk into a courtroom, if I stay just a few moments beyond the first thirty seconds, I become the brown wood. See, the coated caramelized haven of justice and law that is in the colors of the courtroom somehow attaches itself onto me, as one black conviction after the next rises in the state attorney’s hands. The excitement, inspiration, and fulfillment of purpose become a hoax, really. That feeling of being alive is now this burning rage mixed with a fire to dismantle the institution that has enslaved, imprisoned, and murdered the faces of my people.
The attorneys, judges, and police officers all dismiss the faces of black and brown people. These faces become objects within the cases, just to prove the founding father’s notion that all men are free. They dismiss these faces because these people aren’t them and, in their system, they will never be free. I, a black man, walk into a courtroom, confident in my walk, my chin never neglecting the sky, my ties triangular to my neck, my shirts ironed and cleaned, my belt and pants up and not loosened, my posture angled and poised, my cheekbones strong, my hair cut, and my eyes hungry and wide. The state attorney says to my boss, “Hey, sir, is this your client?” and such efforts are shattered and reflect the lives of blacks across this nation.
Do you see what arises, what arises in the eyes of the skin that doesn’t look like theirs? I am a conflict of interest. So is my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunts, my friends, and my peers. I, a black man, am a conflict of interest and it’s not because of the knowledge, the awards, the scholarships, or the GPA that I have attained, not because of my work ethic, not because of my desire for more that affects every move I make. It’s not because I studied, worked three jobs while being a full-time student, sat on eight different committees, board of trustees, was co-president of Comcil, or was a founder of a BSU. I am a conflict of interest because I’m a black man in a courtroom who is supposed to be on trial. I’m supposed to be a client as the state attorney already assumed and I’m supposed to be in the system, not working against the system and that, that is what makes me a conflict of interest. My skin isn’t supposed to get past the security, my skin isn’t supposed to be able to get past ninth grade, my skin isn’t supposed to read novels and literature, my skin isn’t supposed to make it past the red and blue lights each day, and my skin isn’t supposed to be here!
But my skin is here, I am here, and I will be this nation’s conflict of interest. That makes it my life’s purpose and mission to take down the institution that promotes white supremacy until I take my last breath.