Personally, the massive response to the taking of black lives is emotional and motivating. My activism and academic work have focused on exposing the impact of community and state violence. I feel some gratification in this progress, yet I know that it is not enough.
In these moments, we forget about the backlash that comes after we leave the streets or after we move on to the next national tragedy, and after we feel we’ve been heard — even if it’s just for a moment.
The painful realities that we face are reminiscent of a child unable to leave a tumultuous home life — stuck between the four walls of a room next to the flame of chaos. The insecurity this child may feel not knowing the outcome the chaos brews — it festers and makes the child manic.
Racism is that chaos. We are those children.
The way people experience racism in the United States is rooted in a strong sentiment of anti-blackness. Read, a person could assume that it means primarily that only black people are oppressed in this country. This is not the case.
Black doesn’t only include African Americans. It includes American born blacks, African born blacks, and immigrants from all nations, indigenous peoples, mixed-raced people, and their families — among others. This is a massive amount of people.
While we should know that oppression and the sickness of marginalization are not mutually exclusive experiences, mainstream media and talking heads forget to share that oppression is multi-layered.
Anti-blackness in this country (and around the world) is deeply rooted in the historical and contemporary expressions of people’s gender, heredity, citizenship, sexuality, ability, among other forms of identity and lived experience. Whiteness, and the American social construct of whiteness, has been used as a tool to measure socially acceptable groups of Europeans and a way to encourage a demonstration of culture that promotes erasure of indigeneity and multiculturalism.
The American cultural habit of anti-blackness sits at the center of our collective understanding of oppression. Like any social disease, racism has many forms. It seeps into our institutions, how we manage them, and our ability to make decisions about governance and our beliefs on what is good and bad.
The institutions we all utilize in this country make us susceptible to not noticing the insidious and deadly consequences of inequity. The unequal treatment and perceptions that lead to decisions in law-making and the implementation of those “rules” are devastatingly biased with racism’s social disease.
I often think of my 14 years of teaching within higher education. I have taught across four states, three time zones, and three presidents.
Many people feel shocked that in 2020 we are “still” reeling over issues of racism, sexism, and other forms of hate that permeate this country. The shock and awe is old news and should be relegated to another space.
In order for Black Lives to be protected, coveted, and honored, you need to stop demanding that black people do the heavy lifting alone and actively demand more of yourself.
Because of the subject matter I teach, social position and identity are reoccurring themes in my classes. That being said, I am confident in saying that 90% of my students over 14 years had ME as their first black teacher ever or their first black teacher in college.
This hurts me, and it hurts them, but perhaps not in the ways that you assume.
It wasn’t the times when my students would make comments about racism not existing because Barack Obama was elected president that got under my skin. Or when I’d get multiple complaints from white students claiming I was racist because they didn’t like their grade.
What got me was the lack of support I received and still yearn for.
It was the harassment from my colleagues for my age, race, and gender that went without any accountability. It was the staff meetings when I watched those same people get promoted over me. This consistent lack of support from the schools and administrators made my ability to conjure the greatest parts of my heart to center my student’s vision for the future on collective liberation rather than division — difficult.
Making black lives matter means equal accountability for ourselves and other people. It also points to the need to examine how we share space and define who should be doing what and when.
Recently, I had a “white” person tell me I should be on the streets protesting– not considering that I’ve been stalked by white supremacists for years and it would literally put my family and me in danger. Also, they were not considering all that I actually do and have done.
In 2012, during office hours, I had a Vietnamese graduate student in California tell me he wasn’t turning in his papers because he didn’t take me seriously because I’m a black woman.
Or even worse yet, how about the black man (raised by members of The Black Panther Party) who criminalized me to save himself from accountability for the violence he made me endure.
The three examples above are all from different times in the past 20 years. Positionality wise, they are from a white woman, a Vietnamese gay male student on a VISA in San Francisco, and a black American man raised by black panther party members in the Bay Area.
All of which do not validate my black life.
I’m hoping that by sharing these truths you can see that it is more than just a group of people being nice to another — whether it’s the cops, teachers, colleagues, family, etc.
I hope we learn faster and love each other more.
Making #BlackLivesMatter is up to all of us.
Crystallee Crain, Ph.D.
Professor, Artist, Author, Consultant