You know what bugs me the most about the Black Lives Matter movement?
That it needs to exist at all. The feeling that we have to explain our humanity to the world. The need to justify our anger. The idea that we have to ask them to not kill and disenfranchise us. I am very resentful about that.
I don’t care if you call it race talk fatigue, but I too am tired of seeing images of Black people getting harassed, threatened, beat and murdered by the police. I want to virtually yell “enough already” at every single person who posts the videos, articles and ruminations. It’s constant, overwhelming and depressing. I’ve got my own life, which comes with its worries. Like these bills. And these moves, which have been taking way too long to make. It’s a struggle to get through the day dealing with my personal drama, and now I have to think about the extermination of Black people too?
Yes, I too am tired of having to think about Black death just so that they can get it. And I am not alone. As Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II wrote in the piece “Our Nation Is In Need of Prophetic Pastoral Counseling Because it is Sending The Message: Only Black Deaths Matter,“:
The assassinations at Emanuel A.M.E. Church, followed by the public forgiveness from the grieving families, were similarly cited by several South Carolina lawmakers as their reason for voting to remove the flag. What they are really saying is that Black Deaths Matter, not our lives. Black people in the US are only deemed worthy of action in their death, not in their life. In a year that has seen thousands in the streets, young and old, black white and brown, saying to the nation, “Black Lives Matter”, the painful and dangerous message coming from South Carolina this week is: Only Black Deaths Matter. That’s the painful and dangerous narrative being developed out of South Carolina; it’s a narrative that the oppressed of this land have known for a long time. Our nation is capable of doing the right thing – such as taking down the Confederate flag in the year 2015, a flag that represents the racist, immoral, unconstitutional defense of slavery and Jim Crow – but only when Black deaths happen and are met by a response deemed acceptable by those in power. Ever since this flag was raised in 1961, to send the message that South Carolina would not honor equal protection under the law, tens of thousands of small and large protests have not been enough to move the power brokers to take it down.
Black death has played in endless loops for decades now, but it has been accelerated by the invention of the Internet. And sometimes by ourselves. If we are not talking about those killed by police, then we are talking about those who have been murdered by people who look more like us. Whatever lens we choose to view it all from, the message is the same: Our lives only matter to the world when we are no longer here. But what about us left behind? Who speaks for the living?
I thought about this over the weekend as I watched some of Sandra Bland’s video blogs. I am haunted by the surrealism of them all. She was optimistic and yet she was going through some things. Depression. Post-traumatic stress disorder. She tells us in her own words in one of the videos that she is not happy. In another video blog, she is recording live from the beach. She spins the camera around and asks us if we see this. We do. It’s a motorcycle lodged in the back window of her vehicle. She explains how she was just trying to have a relaxing day when she had a near-death experience with a motorcyclist. She’s sobbing and praising His name. In that particular moment, she opts to look at the bright side and sees this as a sign from God about His mercy.
Those videos (along with the other glimpses into Bland’s life reported in the media) remind me of what I, along with some many other Black women I have come to know, go through. We walk around the world feeling irrelevant and questioning if our presence matters. We are both on guard and on edge. We are severely underpaid, and yet we do some of the heaviest lifting. We are unappreciated. Our opinions are denied, and our contributions are disregarded. And our mere presence has the potential to upset everybody. We get sad. We get angry. We get depressed. We get hopeful. We find God. Or work. Or some other distraction. We battle on. Some of us get over or around it. Others don’t make it. Like Bland.
In spite of her fate, the Bland video blogs suggest that she was a woman wanting to live. And she wanted other people who looked like her to want to live too. But she struggled, both internally as well as from external influences (i.e. racism and the police). And she wanted us to know that too. Basically, what I see in Bland’s videos is also the physical manifestation of what Zora Neale Hurston once said. “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
It is one of the reasons why Bland isn’t just another Black death to me. She is more than a person who was targeted, harassed and unfairly detained by police. She is more than a person who mysteriously died in a Texas jail cell. And she is more than another symbol in our ongoing quest for justice. She was a real human being who was happy and thankful some days and other days, not so much. And in the sea of talk about Black death, she was courageous enough to leave evidence behind, which speaks to her humanness and all of its complexities – in her own words. And her life didn’t just matter because of the circumstances behind how it ended.
In my opinion, Black Lives Matter is more than airing grievances over the death of Black people by the hands of police brutality, violence and mass incarceration; although, it is that too. We have to talk about the living and what these pressures put on us. We have to stop talking just to White people and begin the hard conversation of talking to ourselves. Black Lives Matter has to be a call to arms. A pledge to ourselves as a community and individuals that we will think about our lives as much as they think about our deaths. A pledge that no matter what, we love ourselves, take care of ourselves and speak our truth. That our lives matter right here and now.