For many black millennials–such as myself– the turning point in our place in the world was when George Zimmerman was found “Not Guilty” for the murder of Trayvon Martin. That was in 2012. In 2013, the #BlackLivesMatter movement was officially born after the acquittal of Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin. And then there was Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice–the list goes on and on and gets longer everyday.
For me, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has been vital in understanding where I stand in the world. Personally, I have found myself in more heated conversations about race and civil rights than ever before. “Blue Lives Matter” and statements such as “All Lives Matter” were formed in opposition to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Let us not forget that our Grandparents are children of the Civil Rights Movement. And their parents, and probably their parents, parents were sharecroppers and slaves. We have grown up thinking that the work was done. The Civil Rights Movement was only 60 years ago. Ruby Bridges JUST turned 63.
In the 90s, when Rodney King’s assault was caught on camera–that was a turning point in American history. There was digital proof that police brutality was real. In the last decade alone, with the development of video/camera phones and social media, these events are readily accessible at the tips of anyone’s fingers and easily distributed throughout the world wide web.
I can only speak for myself when I say that I was asleep until Trayvon Martin’s death and all the deaths that have followed. I grew up in a place surrounded by Whiteness and I was blinded by the fact that I come from a family that was accepted by the Whites in our neighborhood. I was comfortable in that guise of acceptance. But what I failed to realize growing up is that I could only ever attempt to blend in–I would never, and more than likely, will never be able to “fit in” with white people. And if I’m being honest with myself, I don’t want to.
When White America elected Donald Trump as it’s president, I felt the ground underneath me shift. The air felt different. People didn’t look the same to me. Everywhere I went, I felt like a walking target. Then I made the mistake of going to see Jordan Peele’s acclaimed Get Out alone in a theater full of white people. Again, I was the only black person present. In scenes where I was literally holding my breath, they were laughing. This enraged me. But, they were watching a different movie than me, I was seeing it for what it was in relation to the Black Experience. They were just watching a thriller. Again, I live in a predominantly white State. So why I thought it was a good idea to go grocery shopping in the more affluent area of my city–I don’t know. But I felt apprehension and terror seeping into my consciousness directly after watching the movie. Needless to say, I didn’t get any groceries and I took my black ass home.
And then there was all that media coverage about the Neo-Nazi rallies. I found myself just trying to keep my mouth shut around white people. For the first time, I am taking these incidents personally. In the past, I would allow microaggressions to slide. I would ignore things in plane sight. I would swallow myself in order to be “accepted” by white people. I don’t anymore. So when I experience incidents of racism at work, I address it. But what good is that? The same person I am reporting these things to is clueless when it comes to racism in America. I have been told by white people that “it is 2017, people don’t teach their kids to be like that anymore. They teach them not to see color because color doesn’t matter.” This same white person in particular, also told me that I couldn’t play a guess the baby picture game because I’m the only black employee. But that’s not racist, right? It’s questionable, to say the least. But then to go on and say that you were tan as a kid so maybe I could pass? Are you serious?
There are white people that I have considered to be friends that I’m questioning. Because knowing and acknowledging your Privilege is not enough. And I just don’t have the energy to educate every single white person I come in contact with on the Black Experience. They seem to have it down a la appropriation, anyway. Yeah, I said it. And?
When Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem in 2016, his intention was to bring awareness to the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. He took a knee because the countless number of black lives lost should matter more than a song and a flag. Nevermind that the Star Spangled Banner celebrates the oppression of blacks and promotes slavery. What happened after he made these statements? He was basically fired from his job. For exercising his Constitutional Rights. Freedom of speech.
Let’s revisit Get Out for a moment. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll recall the auction scene. When I was watching the auction scene, I thought about the black athletes–the modern day slaves. White people own them, their brands, and if these athletes don’t do as they are told, they are penalized for it. The only difference is that they refer to their owners as “Coach” and not “Massa.” That’s why Kaepernick is a free agent. Not because he isn’t a good enough player. He is a free agent because he couldn’t play nice like the rest of the slaves.
And then once again, Donald Trump centers white supremacy and labels the players “SOBs” who deserved to get fired. And for what? Speaking up? Being black? I am so confused by the state of America and how this man is even President. What I am talking about is basic 8th grade American History.
The sad part is, Kaepernick’s message has been overstepped by the players taking a knee more recently. I’m not sure that they are kneeling for the same reasons Kaepernick did. They are kneeling in rebellion against Trump’s statements. That’s all anyone sees it as–it’s no longer about #BlackLivesMatter.
I recently joined a knitting group (don’t judge me, it’s a coping mechanism) where the ladies basically “stitch and bitch.” There was one woman in particular who didn’t look pleased with my presence. Let me point out that I was the only black person sitting at the table. Another woman asks “what do you think about this knee thing? And I see the other woman’s face twist into a red ball of rage. She begins shouting–literally shouting– that she doesn’t care what color you are and what you’re protesting. She says that it’s disrespectful to the flag, to veterans, etc. In that moment, I knew was no longer safe at that table. I did not have the energy to even address this woman’s line of thought. What did I do? I stood up and left. I tried to talk to someone else about it (also white) and I am told that perhaps I’m being sensitive about it.
There is nothing sensitive about racism. There is nothing gentle about white supremacy. So why should we be gentle in addressing issues that affect us as a people?
I’ll take a knee before I ever stand for racism.