OK now that we have that out of the way: what has been going through my mind?
Like with most folks, honestly it’s been a roller coaster. I go from hopeful to despair in a matter of minutes on a fairly regular basis. There are moments when I get frustrated with people who refuse to see how far we actually have come and then there are others when I feel a deep sadness at how far we still have to go. It’s hard to stick with any sort of emotional stance. However, I have said this before and still stand by it – some great things happened in 2016: the prison strikes; the announcement that one of our nation’s more atrocious presidents, Andrew Jackson – an enemy to the Africans forcibly brought here on slave ships and the Native Americans who already lived here – would have his face replaced on the $20 with Harriet Tubman’s; the unemployment rate finally hit a pre-recession low; and the Black Lives Matters movement has grown and has been given more and more legitimacy…. just to name a few. I’m not saying people have no right to be scared – I’m just saying progress is happening even though it doesn’t necessarily feel like it. I have to say that to myself every single day, guys.
There is plenty to worry about but I don’t want to lose sight of how far we have come – that is my internal struggle. I’ve been quietly looking at a number of things to get involved with in 2017 – local civil rights and social justice groups whose mission statements are aligned with my core values. My goal is to get more involved in the fight and not just because I think we are all going to need to step up a little bit more in the coming years – but because another really great thing came out of 2016: continual and meaningful conversation on race and gender. This past year, I’ve spoken to so many people who have become more aware than ever of how important these conversations are and have realized that it’s necessary to keep having them and to be OK with how uncomfortable it could get. As a woman of color who has a lot of white friends, over the years I’ve sort of trained myself to keep a lot of my opinions on race to myself. Every once in a while, I’d get offended by something a white friend of mine would say but I always made myself brush it off. I’d tell myself to stop being so sensitive. I have come to realize that by doing that I am doing them and society a disservice. So, even though it makes me deeply uncomfortable, I have unlearned everything about bottling up those feelings and I have forced myself to speak up on topics of race – and also sexism – to those around me.
But conversation is just one step. It's an important one but it is not enough and we need to be willing to do just a little bit more.
If Trump getting elected as president is what it took to shake America to its core, giving us a frightening wake up call, then so be it. This is not to say that I think it’s a good thing – but honestly, America is just as racist and scary as it’s ever been and now more people understand that. On social media, I referenced a recent episode of Black-ish, where the father on the show – who remained mostly silent during an episode where all his colleagues were railing against Hillary’s election loss – is asked by one of his white liberal colleagues why he doesn’t care more about what’s happening in this country. What follows is an amazing monologue that I haven’t actually been able to get out of my head for days and I recommend that you watch it if you haven’t already. Essentially, the black community and other disenfranchised groups are used to losing over and over again. And this has been largely ignored by white people and people of privilege over the decades. But now there is a threat big enough to scare us all. It’s been interesting – the conversations that I’ve been having with a lot of my white male friends, many of whom are treating this election like the end of all things, like it’s the worst thing recent American history has to offer. I was blown by the electing of Donald Trump too (still am) – but what we need to be honest about is how things aren’t getting worse, progress isn’t being stripped away… this has BEEN happening. This has always been America. Not even I understood that fully but this didn’t happen out of nowhere. And I can’t stress enough in saying it’s the systems that exist in this country that have allowed this to happen. Liberal America didn’t get that – and still doesn’t, in some ways – but what happened has happened and all we can do is learn from it and find our own ways to fight back and to move towards a kind of unity against those that want to keep us from progress.
Today, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I am thinking a lot about the Civil Rights Movement. Not just what MLK Jr. did but folks like Nannie Helen Burroughs, Bayard Rustin, Fred Hampton, Harry and Harriette Moore, Dorothy Height and countless others that go unsung because we live in a society that focuses too much on lionizing big ticket names in the Civil Rights world. I strongly believe that change happens from the bottom up – from impoverished communities where the promise of the American Dream is no more than a lie that can never be attained. Even MLK himself said, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” I am not taking away anything from what MLK meant to the Civil Rights Movement but not everyone can be what he was – in fact, most people can’t be – and sometimes I worry that when we focus so little on the foot soldiers, if you will, then the battle against oppression starts to feel too daunting. I feel like even MLK would agree with that. We all have the power to impact our society for better or for worse and we are strongest when we are together and when we are mobilized.
So yes, times are dangerous and we should all be angry, be critical, be aware, be ready to fight, but also be hopeful. Because at the end of the day, that is honestly the only thing that will keep up moving forward. It’s the one thing we can all share and spread to the communities around us. Knowing what others have had to endure before us, we need to keep in our hearts and in our minds that the human spirit is strong and much has been accomplished. Progress may seem slow, it comes with a lot of risk and it may at times seem like it’s going in reverse but if we all do our part and keep pushing onward then the possibilities are endless. I believe in us and I will keep believing in us, as a people, until my very last breath.
Much love and happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Now let’s get to work.