The current state of America is one for the history books.
It’s the 4th of July,
Mitt Romney has marched with black liberationists, the NFL has apologized for opposing racial protests, and NASCAR has banned the Confederate flag from their franchise. But bigger things have occurred; over 25 million Americans have crowded the streets in protest against white supremacy, from California to the New York islands. And the chants have traveled across the Atlantic where the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, and Hungary have unabashedly stood in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
This is not a work of fiction; all of these events are true. But I’m unsure if this sudden revelation of black oppression will last. Deep-down, I hope this becomes the chapter when white supremacy is jettisoned from Earth. Though I’m afraid, this might be another moment that America fails to seize, and will only be remembered when another black body is suffocated.
It’s been over a month since George Floyd’s death. And before that was Ahmaud Arbery, and before that was Dreasjon Reed, and before that was Breonna Taylor, and before that was Elijah McClain, and recently, Rayshard Brooks, and Robert Fuller, and Malcolm Harsch. But, in the case of George Floyd, his murderer was arrested and charged. Not necessarily because the law found officer David Chauvin’s act unjust, but because millions of citizens warned The System, “No justice, no peace!”
A chant I hollered plenty before when I led a Black Lives Matter chapter in 2016.
After the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I organized Black Lives Matter of Columbus, Indiana (BLMC), in the same hometown as President Trump’s right-hand man. So, as expected, the majority of the community did not want us there. And not only that, some residents offered funding in exchange for omitting Black Lives from our title. Along with bribery, virtual harassment and intimidation were sent to the BLMC page and my personal profile — -vulgar racial slurs and racial threats — -not exactly a surprise.
Cut to 2020, before the federal lock-down in New York; I traveled back to Columbus from Brooklyn to quarantine with my family. And after George Floyd’s murder, Columbus held a solidarity rally with the Black Lives Matter movement — now, that was surprising.
I attended that rally, not as an organizer, but instead, as a former BLM insider, a journalist on the outskirts with incredible curiosity. Why are these people supporting now? There are over 40,000 residents in Columbus, and only 1,800 of them are black. So, as I approached the City Hall building, the sight of the crowd was quite astonishing. The stairs were filled, the green lawns were packed, and the overflow spilled across the street. A different experience from 2016 — where residents felt attending a local BLM event could ruin their reputations or even be dangerous.
But now, over a thousand people were commemorating George Floyd in a sea of posters, and shirts, and big signs, and colorful hats, and long banners proclaiming — BLACK LIVES MATTER . It was a perplexing visual that offered some hope, but garnered my skepticism. I stood there, masked, arms-folded, posing internal questions, “Are they here because we matter?” or “Did they show up to join a phenomenon?”
On a large-scale, I’ve felt this same uneasiness while viewing white allyship spread across America. Wondering if white America’s delayed stance against injustice is because #BlackLivesMatter can be their new “safety pin,” a way to signal “I’m safe,” “I’m the good white person,” a redeeming quality for their lives, not for black ones.
Don’t get me wrong; there have been sincere white people helping black leaders achieve changes through the BLM movement.
However, there are the disingenuous in #BLM for themselves. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. mentioned in “The Letter from A Birmingham Jail,” I too am disappointed in the “white moderate” or in this case — the white civilian, the white brand, and the famous white person — involved in the black movement for currency, for clout, and to absolve themselves from looking racially ignorant. None of which advances black Americans toward gaining civil rights, but instead increases their “white woke-ness.”
The most crucial rule in allyship is: white people should be gaining nothing but a conscience.
But, we’ve seen these cringe-worthy performances unfold, like #BlackOutTuesday, which co-opted BLM’s algorithm and disguised white silence behind a black box. Or, Lea Michele and Ellen DeGeneres, who was called out for mistreating their black counterparts. And then there was the entire cast in the “I Take Responsibility” video, self-righteously volunteering as tributes to hold the burden for 400 years of oppression — all examples of the fighting for white innocence, instead of destroying it.
As a black American, you’d think “Black Lives Matter” painted across a road leading toward the White House, or Times Square flashing #BLM in the heart of the New York, or the 47.8 million times #BlackLivesMatter has been hash-tagged would make one optimistic. Though, I’m still unclear if white America understands these gestures are just that, and not repentance for Negro-ing black America, and additionally, pretending not to be.
Interestingly enough, this notion of “pretending” is shared in an American beloved tale, The Great Gatsby. Scott Fitzgerald based this literary classic after what he believed was the essence of American culture, “We are what we want to be, not who we are.” Arguably, one of the most famous names in the literary canon is Jay Gatsby. And right now, the most celebrated man in the world is George Floyd. These two are nothing alike, but how their lives impacted their Americas, is closely related.
In the novel, Gatsby’s celebrity was founded on the parties he hosted. The purpose of these parties was to attract the woman he loved. But that’s not where I want to focus; I want to spotlight Gatsby’s guests. These party-goers came to Gatsby’s extravaganzas, not for an authentic connection with him, but to enjoy the music, the dance, the martinis — for an experience off his dime. And like white allies, some are not supporting to change history for black lives, but instead, “showing up” for their selfies, for the press, and for the praise — for an experience at our expense.
I’m guessing the most shocking part of this novel is Gatsby dies. But to me, the most remarkable event occurs afterward, Gatsby’s funeral. His best friend, Nick Carraway, sends a press release of his last-viewing. And to Nick’s dismay, the only person to show up was him. Not one of Gatsby’s guests who enjoyed his home, who drank all of his wine, ate all of his food, danced & scuffed all of his floors — not one came to pay their respects; because what good was Gatsby once he was dead.
On the flip-side, when George Floyd was alive, or when Eric was breathing, or when Tamir was playing, or when Aiyana was sitting, or when Trayvon was walking, or when Ahmaud was jogging, or when Breonna was sleeping, or when Philando was obeying, or when Elijah was singing — -
— when black people are living — I can’t help but think our lives aren’t important until we’re martyrs — until were #hashtagged. I’m unsure why America is fascinated with black death but despise the blacks living. This may not be true. Though, I can only believe white America’s actions, which has stood-by and allowed white supremacy to devour us.
Perhaps it’s the American Dream, which makes this racial cannibalism easier to digest. And since it’s the 4th of July, let’s talk about it.
In Between the World & Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates conceptualizes this notion throughout the book. And in a conversation with The Baltimore Sun, he defines the American Dream as the power which offers stages of, “[authority] over black people and relies on forgetting [the past] and denial [of it].”
Further writing, “Very few Americans will directly proclaim that they are in favor of black people being left to the streets. But a very large number of Americans will do all they can to preserve The Dream.”
And this is where white America has comfortably slept for 400 years; and why centuries of our painful outcries have inconvenienced the nation’s peaceful sleep. And now, it seems as if George Floyd has awakened the country from its selfish snore, but I’m not entirely convinced.
Mitt marching with Black Lives Matter protesters, or the NFL apologizing, or NASCAR honoring Bubba Wallace’s wishes does not pay for this country’s Original Sin. Some might say, At least these things even happened. We don’t have to help. But I say, white allyship is not a favor; it’s reparations we’re owed. As Coates mentioned, “[White people] have forgotten [their history], because to remember would force them to live down here with [black people], down here in the world.”
So if white people really want to do allyship, then understand why you shouldn’t expect praise. Understand why your bare-minimum can no longer be acceptable. Understand why black boxes, refashioned syrup, and new bedroom titles does not signify progress — and are actually slaps to the face. We demand our legal enlistment as black American citizens, not your black American niggers.
And this is the part where I might lose some of you. How dare she speak like this? How dare she accuse us of this? And that anger is precisely what I’m trying to interrogate. I’ve detected the very weaknesses you do not need. The subtle racist subconscious inside that convinces you, How dare she! Because How dare a Negro take authority of their life. How dare a Negro not stay in their place.
Don’t leave if this is you. Stay here. Stay uncomfortable. Now make your decision, either justify your hurt feelings or address them and spit them out — “Tumble out of the Dream,” as Coates said, “Fall from the mountains,” — be pushed — -“Lose [your] divinity.”
Because as you scream “Black Lives Matter,” that’s the push. That’s your voluntary “tumble” out from your white innocence — -The System which churns black bodies into “the societal problems,” thee oppressed, the bruised blue #hashtags.
This is your chance. You have a choice. Do you want to really make history? Or, do you want to stay White?