“ I won’t say that there exists an organized movement because we haven’t yet reached that point, but there’s a powerful foundation and people are ready for a movement” -Angela Davis
It’s funny…as I finish writing this, I find myself in yet another state of mourning and I ask myself the question-what next?. I ask myself will justice ever be undeniable and will Black girls ever see it? We waited 194 days to see it for Breyonna Taylor, and it is still not there. We still await it for Sandra, and for all of the other Black girls who weren’t given the chance to see another day…to see justice. So the question is where do we go from here? When I first began writing this piece, there was an all consuming fire within me. There was determination, and yet as I sit here once again I know that in this moment, you too may be discouraged as I am now. But I must constantly remind myself that this fight is one we must continue. It is one in which our cries of grief must become tears of triumph. We must use this moment as a fuel in order to transform tomorrow, so that we are able to ensure that no more of us face this same fate.
So how do we transform justice from a radical ideology to the status quo? For this reason, I’ve spent the past few weeks attempting to compile a list of what I deem as steps necessary to ensure that this fight can continue. I do not write this believing it to be the be all end all to salvation, nor do I think it the only path to liberation. I write this in hopes that as we continue on this journey, we may reflect and that we may begin to analyze our activism on a deeper level. I write this because it is what I need to hear in this moment.
1. Make the work accessible.
We have to make the work accessible to all people in all fields, and that to me comes from collaboration efforts from all different angles, and resources, and areas of knowledge. Protests are wonderful, but only effective as a piece of the puzzle; You also need a strategic plan. It’s similar to a vehicle with each part having an intentional and specific purpose, but only with each working together is it considered functional. That means within respective universities or higher learning institutions, especially HBCUs, there needs to be collaboration within different departments. How can we foster change in racist facial recognition technology ? Policy? Television representation and so on and so forth? By ensuring the movement is comprehensive and therefore able to reach an array of areas, and by ensuring that people entering these fields are prepared to use their knowledge for the advancement of their people. For example, I’ll use the Black Panther Party (and Huey Newton talks about this in Revolutionary Suicide). The most prominent appeal, and most notable of their tactics were the armed patrols of police. But what was of equal importance, and yet what is often overlooked are the free breakfast for children program, free medical services, clothing programs, and programs for families with incarcerated people. The party knew, as we must acknowledge, that a revolution must have multiple moving parts. It MUST include the people…all of the people, and for that we need people who specialize in all different arenas. That is why we must be careful condemning people who don’t physically go out on the front-lines… because there is work to be done behind the scenes as well. This is also why coalition building is so important, and why I really urge people to join organizations, form connections and begin to collaborate across fields, and what is more vital, across social statuses.
2. Examine your consciousness
For those new to activism, realize that these conversations are not new and just because you have not been a part of a discussion, does not mean it hasn’t been happening. Listen to those who have been doing this work for a long time. And for the seasoned saints, be careful that you are not being vindictive or overly critical in your response to newcomers because at one point you stood in those shoes. I believe that once you reach a certain point in consciousness, your expectation is that everyone have reached that point with you, and because they have not, it fosters a distaste for and distrust of them. For this same thing, I am guilty. The very people who once centered your work, no longer interest you and to deem them unteachable. You begin to dislike them and to only work with those who have reached your level of radicalization. But, I think that this stunts growth in that you are no longer expanding the circle of people that you influence because you become comfortable solely discussing with those who already share your belief system. But if the goal is full liberation for all, should we not aim to broaden our sphere of influence? Should we not be uncomfortable with every person in our circle already having the knowledge? I’ve seen often on social media the idea that it “isn’t my job” to teach you, and while this is true, I think that when you reach a certain level of knowledge, your goal should be to pass it on in order that it not die when you do. Yes, “they have access to google”, but sometimes an article is not enough, and people require real world dialogue to begin to understand. It is one thing to read about something and another to encounter it first-hand. I also think that there comes a certain point in the journey of self-awareness and activism, that we begin to forget that we too were once new to the realm of social justice. There was once a day when we did not possess the answers which we now do. We forget this, and we become frustrated that others have not yet reached the point of disavowing their counterproductive behaviors, forgetting that there was once a point where we struggled to do the same. We forget that a large part of activism is not just constant learning but unlearning as well. And because we become frustrated that they are not yet able to see the error in their ways, we harbor that frustration and result to “cancelling” them instead of using the situation as an opportunity to educate and to organize. That isn’t to say you must tolerate bad behavior. That isn’t to say people should go without being held accountable. It isn’t even to say that you must associate with every person. That is not saying that you have to stick around for the growing process, but that you can acknowledge that in many cases it is possible. There is a quote which says something like, and forgive me for I’m not sure who said it, I would like to believe that people can change… because to believe otherwise is to believe that I myself am incapable of growth. And I’m not referring to situations of Black face on Snapchat, or instances of complete ignorance and disregard. I’m speaking of instances in which you must eat the fish and take out the bones. Situations where there is a disconnect between what was said and what was meant. Situations where a person is still in the unlearning process. Not only this, but we must realize that our victory will not come from uniformity of thoughts, but in unity of actions.
Allow yourself to mourn- to feel all emotions in their complete fullness. Allow yourself to cry, to grieve, to be angry. But above all of these, I implore you to celebrate Black life. To toast to Black joy, and to rejoice at Black happiness. I beg of you to realize that embracing Black merriment does not mean you are taking away from Black pain- that it does not mean you are not grieving. To realize that you are allowed to have moments of cheer. You are allowed to take care of yourself without feeling selfish. You are allowed to advocate for yourself. You must learn this; that you can not abandon yourself in order to be there for your sister…for your brother. That you can not save someone from drowning if you can not swim. It does not mean you are selfish. I think for many of those involved in activism, we neglect ourselves believing that our self -interest is taking away from time we could be using to aid our people, but as Angela Davis says, self-care is radical.
I am learning that mourning is but a road over from joy and that holding my breath does not allot more air for my neighbor. I am learning that the line between love and hate may be thin, but that it is long and engorged in confusion. I am learning that it is alright to celebrate Black joy while keening for Black death. Learning that it is okay to find a melody in the saddest of songs-that it is alright for one to become your favorite. Learning of Solange’s honesty- that “Black faith still can’t be washed away, Not even in that Florida water”. Learning that in that Water I can be baptized, that it can be honored as a resting place. Learning that in that water, I can be made new. For what is it to grieve my brother if I neglect to honor him in his living. What is it to attend a funeral, and you made no time for birthdays, or for weddings? I am learning that moments of joy do not mean I am not grieving. That moments of happiness do not make me egotistical. I am learning that Black joy too is radical. Above all this, in these moments where death seems inevitable, I am learning to celebrate Black life.