I’ve been sitting on this piece for a while. I’ve been trying to eloquently unpack my feelings about the ways in which society forces respectability politics on dead black bodies. I’ve been trying to find a method of unpacking this that would be soft and sweet and would not make anyone uncomfortable. Amidst those attempts I realized that’s the problem. The policing of ourselves. The constant holding back. The constant wondering if you’re too angry, if you should tone it down, if it’s too much or not enough.
Last week I read a number of articles and glanced at a host of headlines reporting that the officer who murdered 15-year-old Black teen Jordan Edwards had been charged with murder. There were only two of these pieces that did not include Jordan’s GPA, lines about Jordan not ever drinking or ever smoking, lines making it seem as though the only reason that Black people were allowed to grieve over a little Black boy being killed is because he was one of the good ones, lines making it seem as though I cannot grieve without white supremacy’s approval.
That same week I saw screenshots of a mother’s Facebook post on Twitter that brought me to tears and to a place of rage I am still finding my way out of.
OH FUCK NO!!! pic.twitter.com/FKmxJykJOy
— mean bitch💁🏽 (@princessmaiya_) May 5, 2017
I want everyone to see this and to recognize the ways in which white supremacy polices black women + girl’s hair. https://t.co/icTyfaSnUy
— Ja’Loni (@Literary_Zealot) May 6, 2017
The post reads: “I sent my baby to school, rocking her beautiful afro and one of the teachers did this to hair. It took every part of my soul not to become that stereotypical black woman. So, I’ll be addressing this on Monday when I have a more rational thought process in tact. Look at her face, she’s been like this since I picked her up with tear stains running down her face. I’m upset my five-year-old has to experience this ugly society so early in her life. #myblackisbeautiful #letblackgirlslive”
As I read this post and stared at the photo, I was taken back to my elementary school and early middle school years. I thought about the way white students would touch my hair, would ask me questions as though my hair was a science experiment, would ask why/how it “does that thing”. I thought about the time I brushed my hair out and wore it to school only for a white boy to compare me to a troll doll, to use me as the butt of all his jokes, to ask the teacher if he could move his seat since he couldn’t see over the mountain (my hair) in front of him. I thought about the personal growth it has taken me to feel the way I do about my blackness and how painful the road to self-love is.
Then, I thought about the fact that this little black girl is going to have to go on that same journey. I thought about how as a dark skinned black girl that journey will differ from my own and will be one that will unfortunately be filled with more difficult and more painful experiences like this one.
My thoughts then shifted to this young girl’s mother. To the pain in her words.
To how Black that experience is.
The experience of being unable to fight back because you can’t be that mother, that father, that sibling.
The experience of having to release one of the people you love most into a world that is going to try its hardest to squeeze every ounce of life out of them before they return to you.
The experience of often times having to watch the hands of white supremacy grip your child’s neck, nearly suffocating them to death over and over.
The experience of having to watch the hands of white supremacy grip your child’s neck until it snaps and then having to put the pieces back together again so that you can bury them.
In all of those thoughts following reading this mother’s post, I thought back to the articles about the murder of Jordan Edwards. I thought about the draft of this article I hadn’t finished and didn’t plan to. I became hyper aware of the fact that the reason I felt like I could not finish the piece because I couldn’t soften the edges enough, isn’t unique, a #writerprob, or anything like that. I became hyperaware that it was a part of my plight, another product hand delivered by white supremacy courtesy of systematic racism. And in that moment, I realized that I do not wish to be polite, to write softly, to hold anyone’s hand, to scoop anyone’s bruised feelings into my arms and rock them to sleep. I have never wanted to, but I have tried to and I have successfully done so. Black people never want to, but we have tried and we have successfully done so.
We have successfully watched our siblings, our children, other loved ones be left to bleed in the streets and deprived ourselves of time to mourn. We have said that we forgive the killer, that “Not all…”, that riots won’t bring about change, that we must pray, that we must stay true to a manufactured vision of racial justice rooted in the color of our skin becoming invisible and in us masking our feelings so efficiently that they forget we are capable of having them.
We have successfully chewed our words before we said them to avoid accusations of reverse racism, of wanting black supremacy, or pulling “the race card”, of being anti-white, of doing everything that has been done to us and more.
I’m not sure how we’ve done it, but we have and many of us still do it intentionally and unintentionally. We’ve been conditioned to apologize for taking up any and all space, to be grateful for leftovers and scraps, and to assume good intent even when there isn’t any. We’ve been conditioned to apply these conditions to our movements, to our think pieces, and to our grieving.
And honestly, I’m tired. I’m frankly exhausted.
Screw you and your “act right in front of these white people”, respectability politics.
I do not want to read posts about Jordan Edwards’ GPA or the extracurricular activities he was involved in.
I do not care whether or not he or any other black kid is captain of the debate team or the quarterback of his school’s football team. Jordan Edwards, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and every other black boy who has been murdered by those sworn to protect did not do anything that should have provoked a death sentence.
#BlackLivesMatter. All of them. Period.
#BlackLivesMatter includes Black girls with natural hair, with weaves, with shaved heads, with locs, with braids, and with relaxers.
#BlackLivesMatter includes Black students with 1.4 GPAs.
#BlackLivesMatter includes Black students who have dropped out.
#BlackLivesMatter includes Black students who have decided not to go on to earn their B.A. Or B.S.
#BlackLivesMatter includes Black trans folx regardless of how far along they are with their transition.
#BlackLivesMatter includes Black gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, + asexual folx.
#BlackLivesMatter includes Black disabled folx.
#BlackLivesMatter includes Black Muslims.
#BlackLivesMatter includes Black folx who are not neuro-typical and are living with mental illnesses or go to therapy weekly.
#BlackLivesMatter includes Black folx who come from low income families in the hood.
#BlackLivesMatter includes single Black mothers who work far over 40 hours a week and cannot be home as much as she’d like.
#BlackLivesMatter includes the stereotypical mamas who will beat ass for their kids.
#BlackLivesMatter includes the Black father who abandoned his children because he did not want to raise them.
#BlackLivesMatter includes Black drug dealers.
#BlackLivesMatter includes Aiyana Jones just as much as it includes Tamir Rice.
#BlackLivesMatter includes Michael Brown just as much as it includes Trayvon Martin.
#BlackLivesMatter includes Ciara McElveen and Jaquarrius Holland just as much as it includes Sandra Bland.
#BlackLivesMatter includes every Black person.
Because none of the things I listed are deserving of the death sentence.
Because our law enforcement should not be judge, jury and executioner.
Because we should be able to exist without having to worry about affirming white supremacist ideologies.
Because with the exception of being queer or trans identified – and even then, please recognize that queer and trans people of color at a much higher risk of violence than their white LGBTQ+ siblings – none of the things I just listed have EVER meant a death sentence followed by a slander campaign courtesy of mainstream news media when the people involved are White.
Because when have we ever had to beg for police to look into the kidnapping and sex trafficking of little white girls like we have had to for little black and brown girls in D.C.?
Because when have we ever had to beg the government over the course of three years to guarantee that a white suburb has clean drinking water?
Never. America will actually make the decision to instead construct pipelines on Native America reservations to avoid ever contaminating the water White people drink and when it happens to a predominantly black and low income area in Michigan, the government will turn a blind eye.
Because when have white people ever needed to be three times as good just to have a seat at the table?
Rarely ever. Y’all can be as mediocre as can be and become President of the United States.
Because is White America ever asked to forgive the people who abuse and kill their children and to plead with society not to punish them?
Never. Congress actually overrode President Obama’s veto of legislation that would allow families of victims of 9/11 to sue Saudi Arabia.
And we aren’t even asking for the social privileges you enjoy simply because you’re White; we’re asking for equality.
And y’know what? If this has made any white people uncomfortable, good. I’m glad. Do something about it. It wasn’t “always about race” until you made it that way. (#WeBuiltThisJointForFree)