You cannot just tell black people to stop killing each other. You cannot just tell them to start bagging college and graduate degrees. You cannot just tell them to stop joining gangs. You must create an alternative. You must design the system to create a new existence for the black community.
Silence is something of the past in the streets these days. Across cities in the United States, rioting, looting and vandalizing have taken center stage. In this act, black revolt is the theme. And the conversation about black lives and the glaring neglect of their value seems to be entering new quarters. In the past few days, I’ve seen more of my silent non-colored friends speak up. I’ve seen silent celebrities, silent businesses, silent organizations, and silent power structures finally speak up. For the first time in history, Nike rolled out a campaign with the tagline “Don’t Do It.” This much-needed paradigm shift has been long awaited and is very refreshing to say the least. Yet, we must not get complacent with this progress. We must continue this work. We must continue to seek ways to galvanize the majority for the betterment of the minority – an essential step for a truly sustainable movement.
With this doing away of silence has come a wave of opinions and conversations on what black activism – I like to use the term “blacktivism” – should look like. In particular, much opinion has been shared on the use of violence in advocacy. In simple terms, the arguments that discredit violence as a form of protest assert that fighting violence with violence is hypocritical. This is one basis of the countermovement “all lives matter” in response to the “black lives matter” movement. Ordinarily, I don’t advocate for violence as a solution. But I can understand it. And I think it is necessary that everyone who is watching tries to understand it.
A violent protest is the type of protest you engage in when your life is at risk and nothing else means anything to you. It’s like reaching for anything when you’re drowning. It’s senseless. It’s crazy. It’s wild. It’s the language of someone who has been trying for so long to have a conversation that has been shut down for so long.
There are various forms of protest. Broadly, I will categorize these into violent and non-violent forms of protest. Non-violent forms of protest include sit-ins, marches, walkouts, civil disobedience, etc. Violent protests include attacks and riots. Violent protests are the most severe form of protest. They are usually a last resort. A desperate call for attention. A violent protest is the type of protest you engage in when your life is at risk and nothing else means anything to you. It’s like reaching for anything when you’re drowning. It’s senseless. It’s crazy. It’s wild. It’s the language of someone who has been trying for so long to have a conversation that has been shut down for so long. Violence is a scream. A huge cry for help. It’s a sign of hopelessness. And this is what should be very clear from all these protests. Black people like me want to feel heard. We want people to actually help us out. Take our case seriously and realize how serious the suffering (emotional and physical) is – serious enough to incite violence.
For many, many years, America has shown that non-violent protest gets nobody’s attention. Our non-colored friends continue to stay silent – because they don’t know how much we are hurting. Knowingly and unknowingly, they are complicit, inflicting deep wounds into our skin. Wounds that are marked by the feelings of betrayal and invisibility. Imagine finding yourself in an alley being mobbed by some criminals, and your friend walks past the alley way, avoiding eye contact – or making eye contact, only to act as if nothing happened. They didn’t call 911. They didn’t check on you after the event. They didn’t step up for you. This feeling of betrayal, that’s what people of color feel every day when non-colored people walk away from this battle in deafening silence. So, in many ways, these acts of violence were called out of the black community by the sheer volume of neglect and suffering that we have continued to endure in America. Sad and painful to watch, but very explainable. By this logic, the cause for the violence is clear – it is non-colored people’s silence that pushed the black community into this ugly but necessary gasp for air.
The important question that I think needs to be asked of our non-colored allies – especially the ones who are yet to join this movement –, is: what is the cause of your past or current silence? Not to guilt you. But for some introspection – could you have done better? Can you do better from here on?
I’m a big proponent of recruiting more allies – and ultimately turning every one of my non-colored friends into blacktivists. So, I’ve been in multiple conversations with my non-colored friends about how they can get involved, and why they have stayed silent for so long. As a result of these conversations, I’ve come up with a few causes for the silence:
The feeling that speaking up is too small of an action, and is a cop out if that’s all you do
The feeling that you are not welcomed by black people in the movement
The feeling that you don’t know enough about the problem
The subconscious feeling that the problem is only imagined by black people
The feeling that it’s all black people’s fault since the black crime rate is very high
The feeling that the problem does not affect you
The feeling that you will offend your close friends and family if you show your support by taking a stand
The feeling that it’s too much negative news and you prefer to spread love, positivity, and cute cat videos to make the world a better place
Being an actual racist and believing that black people are a waste of space and deserve to die (yes, there are real people like this!)
The feeling that it is too emotionally drenching to get involved in the movement
I’ve listed just some of the common ones I can think of. Perhaps, you have your own personal reasons that you can add to this list. But you must ask yourself that question: “what explains my (past or current) silence?” And you must be open to confronting that reason, exploring it, and asking yourself if it’s a good enough reason to stay silent.
The current state of black affairs was en-“acted” into existence. They were enacted by social structures/systems that punished slaves who learned how to read – and by punishment, think public beatings and executions including lynchings and hangings from trees. Systems that did not allow black folks go to school. Systems that did not allow blacks to secure housing loans. Systems that did not allow black fathers to be with their growing children.
One thing I want to point out is the idea that the current state of black affairs – the high crime rate, the low education rate, the rampant gang activity, the excellent historically black colleges and universities, the good and bad hip hop, the fabulous marching bands, the unwavering strength of the community – all these things were not spoken into existence. These things were created by the supremacist structures that formed the foundation of the United States. The current state of black affairs was en-“acted” into existence. They were enacted by social structures/systems that punished slaves who learned how to read – and by punishment, think public beatings and executions including lynchings and hangings from trees. Systems that did not allow black folks go to school. Systems that did not allow blacks to secure housing loans. Systems that did not allow black fathers to be with their growing children. The list is long – and I implore you to learn more about black history and what we’ve had to endure as a collective group. Cue a good James Baldwin or Toni Morrison book.
As we continue to spin our wheels on how to create a better future for all, we must realize that all the negative aspects of the black state of existence cannot be spoken out of existence. You cannot just tell black people to stop killing each other. You cannot just tell them to start bagging college and graduate degrees. You cannot just tell them to stop joining gangs. You must create an alternative. You must design the system to create a new existence for the black community.
Part of that new system is giving the black community the acknowledgement of their experience – not dismissal. Part of that new system is creating a judicial and law enforcement system that does not sweep black deaths under the rug. Part of that new system is holding public officials accountable for the plight of the black community through our conscious use of voting power. The list here is long as well – maybe you’ll find your niche. Something you can see yourself getting behind.
But as for your silence, it is not building anything new that will redeem the black existence from this continued invisibility.