George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Tony McDade. Ahmaud Arbery. Atatiana Jefferson … Charleena Lyles, Korryn Gaines. Philando Castile. Sandra Bland. Freddie Gray. Michael Brown, Natasha McKenna … Trayvon Martin … Rodney King … Emmett Till.
You may be familiar with some of these names more than others. We do not know about you, but we cannot accept this list getting longer.
We are a group of four women who belong to a larger task force, which was created shortly after George Floyd’s murder. The four of us range in races, ages, professions, politics, states of origin, and lived experiences.
Almost a month and a half passed before we got really candid in our conversations. We discussed how much work needs to be done systematically and structurally in order for there to be progress in our city.
It is not that we expect justice to come easily. Dialogue is needed before rallying around a direction, but the truth is—for some of us—the need for collective action is more urgent.
For the Black people of our city, the need is most urgent—so where are the Black perspectives in our group? Why are there only a few across multiple community activist groups in our city? Why are the Black people, who originally joined a local community activist group online, recognizing the need to disconnect from it for their own mental safety and socioemotional well-being?
If community activist groups in our city purport to support Black Lives Matter, where are the Black lives, Black voices, Black thoughts, and Black leaders in our movement? If we believe that their lives matter, should they not be at the center? Should their voices not be amplified when for centuries they have been silenced, diluted, or filtered?
A couple days after our candid conversation, I followed up in a phone call with our group’s leader, who is a Black woman. I asked her what major points everyone should take away from her message. Here are her points and my personal commentary on each:
- For Black people, this is life or death. This is not a game. This is more than a cause, more than a community service project. This movement is about Black people fighting structural and systemic racism that has plagued their communities for centuries. While you might need more time to mentally process the many ways that anti-Blackness pervades our country, Black people and their ancestors have endured racial trauma intergenerationally.
- You might think racism does not exist, but it does. Just because racism is not obvious or overt through your lens, it does not mean it is not evident to Black people who confront it. You might not observe or experience it in businesses, parking lots, and other community spaces, but that is because you likely are not the target.
- You need to listen to Black people in our city. Yes, they constitute a small percentage of our city. True, you might not currently know many. That is why it is your responsibility to be mindful of seeking and learning from Black perspectives. If you are not centering Black perspectives in your courageous conversations and collective actions, you might need to ask yourself if your allyship is performative.
- There is literature that distinguishes allies from accomplices. According to Teaching Tolerance, “An ally will mostly engage in activism by standing with an individual or group in a marginalized community. An accomplice will focus more on dismantling the structures that oppress that individual or group—and such work will be directed by the stakeholders in the marginalized group.” If this is the truth, where are you in your growth as an accomplice who centers Black lives?
When the headlines pump out fewer and fewer stories about the murders and other injustices against Black folks, what values and actions will you uphold? When the activist hashtags and filters on social media begin to dissipate, how will you show up as an accomplice, activist, and advocate?