When Issa Rae said “I’m rooting for everybody Black,” it resonated with my spirit. But thinking on the recent shenanigans from some of our own, I wonder whether the Black community can make some exceptions to that rule.
Earlier this month, I wrote a piece about whether someone can date interracially and still be Pro-Black. I’m still of the mind that it is possible because, to me, being Pro-Black means we’re being as supporting and encouraging of each other as we can. In my mind, to be Pro-Black means to show an outpouring of love for ourselves in a world that makes it increasingly clear how much it still hates us. And there is no shortage of ways in which we do this.
Generally speaking, as a people, we are our own biggest cheerleaders. Check any graduation ceremony or other major life event to verify for yourself. Recently, a bunch of us mobilized to vote for a team of Black girls in NASA’s high school science competition, placing them solidly in the lead. We lined up around the block when the National Museum of African American History and Culture first opened (it’s still tough to get passes).
Then, of course, there was the cultural love letter from Beyonce in the form of her Coachella concert. We stayed up late to watch it and then gushed about it for weeks after, keeping it at the center of national conversation for a solid week. Somewhere on a college campus, someone is trying to figure out whether they can legitimately add BΔK to the National Pan-Hellenic Council at their school.
Every awards season, we wait to see how many of us are getting nominated in the large, mainstream awards ceremonies. Whether we actually choose to watch the ceremony or not, we root for them to win their categories, taking their victories as a win for the culture. Just like the time Moonlight won Best Picture at the 2017 Oscars. There was something deeply satisfying about a film about Black male sexual identity beating the odds.
When the opportunity arises, we mobilize around politicians who make an effort to be the representation we need in the local and national legislature. We also speak out for each other and against injustice. Entire social movements have been created around the continued push for true equality, such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. In light of recent events where white people call the police on Black people just for living their lives (or napping, or grilling, or waiting for a friend, etc.), it’s possible that we may see a new movement pop in the next few months.
It’s understood among most Black people that if one of us isn’t free, none of us are. That’s why I have a particularly hard time feeling any solidarity with Black people who are actively harming the rest of the Black community. There’s something that feels slightly abusive about being made to feel that we are expected to support these individuals.
Over the past few months, my timeline has been a near constant argument about whether or not we should continue to support people like Bill Cosby, R.Kelly, and Kanye West simply on the basis that they are Black and famous for something we used to love. While I can understand the desire to continue standing in solidarity with these men, I struggle with the expectation that we should look past their transgressions because of their legacies. However, there are other Black people that will still ride for them until the wheels fall off. And the scope of justifications is impressive based on the amount of mental gymnastics needed to create such excuses.
It always bothers me when a person of color gets on the mic and says things that can be harmful to the majority of us. The notion of what is harmful isn’t fully encompassed by instances of physical violence–or even threats of it. Harm can also be psychological, emotional, and economical. So, when someone posits that slavery was a choice, that’s harmful. It minimizes the real world conditions surrounding slavery, and it ignores that various forms of legal and economic oppression in slavery’s immediate and long-extended aftermath.
I understand why Van Lathan feels hurt because it almost seems like a betrayal to see another Black person speak out in support of ideologies that could be potentially dangerous to rest of us. And, worse yet, trying to pass it off as thinking freely. As Black people, it’s not necessary for us all to think alike. However, it is important for each of us to think about how our movements could impact others in the community.
When we’re being mistreated and exploited by our own, I don’t see how the response is to continue extending love and support. It’s hard to want to show up for those so interested in facilitating our downfall; it’s even hard for me to engage with anything even remotely associated with these individuals.
This raises the question: At what point do we, as members of the Black community, divest from those among us who do not have our best interest at heart? Is it wise to continue supporting Black people who want to distance themselves?