It was just another Tuesday for Black America when on July 5th—just one short day after the United States of America celebrated its 240th year of “freedom and justice for all”—a recording surfaced of 37 year-old Alton Sterling, father of five, being pinned to the ground and shot in cold blood by two white officers. As the graphic video continues to saturate timelines, outrage and frustration about the enduring disposability of Blackness in America were incensed again when just days later footage from Falcon Heights, Minnesota, showed us the final breaths and bloodied body of Philando Castile, after being fatally shot by an officer for reaching for his wallet. His girlfriend behind the camera, and his 4 year-old daughter in the back seat of the car served as witnesses to the tragedy moments before we did.
As we stew in this sickening blend of historic trauma, righteous indignation, and audacious hope we are still expected to enter our spaces of work, and other predominantly white spaces, with the knowledge that any hint of our outrage is largely irrelevant and/or unwelcome within these contexts. And so the common temptation looms for many of us—the tendency to mask our hurt in the throes of such visceral violence for fear of making our white colleagues uncomfortable. For the double detriment of being both angry and Black.
But there is a thin line between slavery and tomorrow if we fail to embrace the unapologetic audacity of Black rage. If we do not emote and disrupt…if we subdue our pain to quell the discomfort of whiteness, we are bowing to the tenet of white supremacy that serves as the mid-wife of double-consciousness. We have not only been conditioned to protect the economic, cultural, and political wellbeing of white people, but also their emotional wellbeing. The subtext of several slave narratives have taught us that occasionally, slave masters would disguise themselves and go out into the fields to question their slaves on how they felt about their master. Knowing the trick, and that if they expressed any discontent with their master they risked being killed, the slaves would answer with smiles and report that they were being treated very well. If this act of survival was a condition of slavery, and is still necessary in our now…if at work, at school, and in our interactions with systems of justice we remain silent, emotionless, and unresponsive to the many many many racist interactions that we face daily, then we must deeply interrogate what we mean by this thing we presume to own called freedom.
It was only weeks ago when, Jesse Williams, best known for his role on Grey’s Anatomy and activism within the Black Lives Matter movement, took to the stage as the recipient of BET’s Humanitarian Award and with cool, but firm facial and body language rooted in conviction and an unapologetic stance, brought everyone in the room (and some of us at home) to their feet after delivering a timely speech about issues of racial injustice in America.
It was a challenge to all of us. A loud and clear message that neutrality is complicity. That many at home tweeting, sharing, quoting, and stirred up by his words often mistake the moment for the movement. That we too often selectively engage with the emotions of these moments when it feels safe, but disengage whenever there is risk. That we silently know the risks of articulating our truths will come with huge backlash.
A better world is not promised to us. It must be actively pursued. What we can learn from Williams, who took personal risk by using such a platform for his stance, is that the profoundness of platform moments must be undergirded with the substance of sustained work. What does sustained work look like? Your office is not truly integrated if the matters that matter to people of color do not matter. I heard it said once, “do not confuse Black presence with Black power.”
So within our respective spaces of influence this is time for us to assert our reality. To use our platforms to create the kinds of change we want to see in the world. Whether this be organizing or joining a local community based effort, creating contexts explicitly for the affirmation of Black youth, or speaking to your babies about these truths, the movement toward justice cannot be leaderless if it is leader-full.
-Jamila Lyiscott, Ph.D
photo via Wired.com
- 7 Jul, 2016
- Posted by Jamila Lyiscott
- 0 Comments