"Your silence will not protect you."-Audre Lorde
Today I woke up overwhelmed by the knowledge that I had to write a racial identity essay, a foundations of political thought essay, a blog entry, a case study and so much more. I grew concerned about my final grades that I decided to check out the new program, DegreeWorks, from the registrar and look at my degree audit. I calculated the gpa I would need to get into a decent masters programs over four times. Most of the masters programs I want are in London. My top choices required a 3.3 and I unfortunately have less than that with only three semesters left to bring my gpa up. I worry constantly over my ability to succeed after undergraduate university. I paced in my room walking back and forth between the bathroom and my room to take cold medication. I checked my email to find a response from advisor about a meeting we had set up for 12:30 today (thursday). She asked me if I perhaps wanted to switch times because of the die in at 12 in the Coop. I switched my time to 7 in the morning on friday knowing that I likely would not participate in the die in. And then, I felt utter shame.
I began justifying my action to not participate by saying that I have a lot of work and life has to go on after college. Indeed, it should or it ought to right? Later, as I strolled into work at women’s studies, I walk into a conversation between four students discussing how people act like they are so down for the cause, but aren’t willing to do anything to make things change. One student challenged my idea of “life goes on afterwards,” because I had not asked myself whose life exactly goes on. By saying that life goes on, I not only imply that the lives of the unarmed black people killed don’t matter, I also assert that the war brewing in this country is not real. It is all too real. Disturbingly real. To suggest otherwise is to practice complicity. I am being complicit. That hurts, and yet I have to be honest with myself and reflect why.
I can’t remember the last time I had an uncritical conversation about life not concerning some overlap of race and gender. My blackness informs all my experiences and I bring it with me wherever I go. Some people may think I can just drop it by the wayside. To be honest, I have tried. Perhaps my lack of participation in the die in and my bandwagon enthusiasm about activism on this campus is my act of trying to not fully take on the anger and the pain and the breaking and shattering reality.
I sought advice from someone I admire and feel gives me guidance. I asked hir “what does it mean that I’m not there?” Of course, only I can answer that question. I thought perhaps I had just given up because all the people who want to be there and are with the cause will be there or have shown their support in some other way. Then ze asked “ Do you feel you have enough privilege to give up?” The sorry thing is I probably do have the privilege as a middle class black woman from the suburbs to give up now until its me lying on the ground in my own blood filling cracks and crevices in the pavement or perhaps my face will be purple from being brutally strangled to death and taking every last breath that somehow proved my existence.
Perhaps I feel like the danger isn’t imminent enough. Perhaps I still hold out hope for other people on the sidelines to pick up my cross for me. Perhaps I am waiting for my fears to be proven wrong. In no way do I want to assert that any protest or the die in is an overreaction. It is the precise reaction. I simply question why my feet don’t move. Why am I not moved? I honestly think I am afraid that once I step into reality and see the truth in the mirror, I will have to let go of any hope for control. I think I’m afraid. No, I am terrified that the horrors of the videos on lynching, burning, and hosing of black bodies to erase our existence will not be the past but sitting on my doorstep.
I think people never thought the day would come when black people and people of color who stand in solidarity would pull themselves from the white blinding abyss to see the truth and speak truth. I think people, myself included, were not expecting that the simple life they have been living would be DISRUPTED AND DESTROYED. And the anticipation ought to unite and yet it terrifies us because now the utter terror that representations of whiteness, white supremacy, and white power we have walked around with for centuries are being fought against with a vengeance. I don’t know how much I am included in this “they,” but they perhaps aren’t ready for war. Perhaps people think it’s not fair that they should be scared of the black and brown bodies, of black power, of yellow peril, but we should. We should feel terrified that complicity is unacceptable. Some people ought to be prepared to die while others will die regardless of their choices.
I think the reason I’m not out there is because I thought that by having the critical conversations I have with my friends about race, gender, sexuality and systems and institutions of power was enough to give me freedom within the system not recognizing that I will never know freedom as long as the system exist. As much as I talk about setting the system on fire, I never thought that I would actually have to. I think that I had this idea that I had found a way to “navigate” spaces by talking about the violence done to my psyche in the comfort of a group that understands this struggle of black personhood. And yet, here I am again letting whiteness constitute what my freedom looks like by not causing disruption, by being civil. I always thought I was not afraid to terrify, antagonize, upset, disrupt, and destroy the lives of people who don’t care for my existence, but I am because of just that. “That” being, the feeling I imagine I will surely bawl over when I lie on the ground as a lifeless black body and my classmates and peers step over my body basically shouting back at me that black lives don’t matter. I don’t want to see the complicity because then I would have to witness my hope incinerated by the fact that people indeed believe that black lives don’t matter; therefore, I do not matter. I would have to see the truth that people think of me as the black, steaming, vapid shit of the earth that does not deserve to breathe. I would have to go back to that place of hating my blackness, hating this life, and fighting the utter rage that honestly no one on this campus or in this world has ever seen. People get too scared when black and bodies are “aggressive.” You don’t know aggressive. You don’t know hostile.
People think that black people are making assumptions about all white people. If I were in fact making assumptions about all white people, then I wouldn’t be disappointed. I would not have hope. I would not stride into class everyday thinking that white people will change and that I can make a difference with the knowledge I learn. Perhaps it’s time I truly lose hope.
Writing this, I understand what it means for the post to come from a black body. By default it will be approached with caution. People will assume that I am simply unreasonable, have corrupted morals, or don’t know all the facts. People will look for an excuse to fall back or point to me to say “ well this black woman doesn't agree with you raging, rioting lunatics so you’re wrong,” and those people will be rudely awakened and disappointed as they read each line. I know that if this were written by a white person, it would begin to be approached as the voice of reason. Then by the end, people would have written it off as a corrupted mind influenced by “the dangers of darkness.” I fear I will lose my job. I fear that I will get a call from my dean, saying that I have caused disruption and my free speech has limits. It is unbelievable but so real that those are risks I take for speaking out against injustice.
Perhaps people may say “just don’t take those risks” and don’t feel that way but do you think I want to feel like this? Like the shit of the earth? You think I don’t want to grow a thicker skin and not understand that to grow a thicker skin is to try to ignore the problem and to ignore the fact that people who say grow a thicker skin have the privilege of being in a world where people love and value them. You think I want this war? Point me to a viable legal channel not laced with bias, that has not disappointed me, that isn’t lined with bureaucracy, that does not perpetuate the problem. I don’t want this but what other choice do I have?
Lastly, if at any time you felt threatened by the “You” in this post, you should ask yourself why instead of saying that I’m antagonizing the people who would otherwise agree. Why are you afraid? And who and what is truly terrifying?