2020 marks the 5-year anniversary of the #SayHerName campaign, and 6 years since the first #BlackLivesMatter call to action that would soon provoke global outcries and ignite a massive movement against violence and systemic racism towards Black people.
Both of these movements were dreamed up, shaped, and brought to life by Black women, and by queer and trans Black women. Dr. Monique Morris (from the National Black Women’s Justice Institute) says: “Some of our loudest voices against oppression have come from Black women.” This is as true today as it has been throughout the history of this country: from the abolition of slavery to Black suffrage, and (more recently) the #MeToo movement.
In the 1970s in Boston, a Black feminist lesbian organization, the Combahee River Collective, made this statement:
“If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”
Intersectionality and narrative reconstruction
This is at the root of intersectionality: the complex ways in which different forms of discrimination overlap, combine, and intersect to create specific experiences. And we must take that into account when we speak of social justice and equality. Black women (and Black queer and trans women) experience multiple layers of oppression daily. And they have taught us to name and understand this and have laid out a path for liberation: a blueprint for ALL OF US to get free. They did that; they’re still doing that.
But how often do we hear about those stories and those contributions in mainstream media or school textbooks? When have we ever heard the story of a young 15-year-old Black girl named Claudette Colvin who refused to give up her seat on a bus, months before Rosa Parks did the same thing?
Back to 2020. Kimberlé Crenshaw (the Black woman who gave us the term “intersectionality”, and is the co-founder and current Executive Director of The African American Policy Forum. In her podcast series “Under the Blacklight,” she speaks of social justice as “building new stories around facts that are often discarded, invisibilized and taken for granted as acceptable features of life.” So in short, social justice also means challenging untrue (or incomplete) stories; in what she refers to as narrative reconstruction.
Mainstream media has been a tool of the oppressor
Mainstream media has been a tool of the oppressor, and many truths and historical facts have been lost to history because they didn’t fit within the dominant frame and the stories told by those holding onto power.
So now that news media is saturated with images of systemic racism and police violence, now that stories of injustice and inequality are being widely broadcast, now that folks can no longer say that they don’t know what’s happening: What can we do to support this movement for the long-haul and bring about meaningful systemic change?
Because let us be real honest here. As a society, we are where we are because WE have failed our Black brothers and sisters, on a global scale. From all aspects: housing crises, displacement and gentrification, lack of fair access to health care and higher wages, the prison industrial complex, and a broken education system (the school-to-prison pipeline) that primarily serves and protects whiteness and white privilege.
Yet (and I’ll speak for myself here, but I’m sure a lot of non-Black folks will agree): Black art, Black music, and Black beats raised me. I’ve cried myself to sleep and got back on my feet thanks to Black lyrics and Black melodies. Hip-hop music and culture politicized me. Black resilience, Black girl magic and Black excellence have been there for me, consoled me and lifted my spirits in times of need. I’ve been the most educated by Black trans womxn. I have been deeply moved and stirred into action by Black words, Black stories and Black movies, Black courage, and Black struggles. The list goes on.
So, what are we giving back? For all the gifts that we’ve received, all the ways we’ve been nourished by Black contributions, Black culture, and Black offerings? We’ve taken so much, and given so little back.
Systemic and political humiliation
This is a moment of truth, of veils being lifted, of lies and racist propaganda disintegrating. It’s what author Kiese Laymon calls “systemic and political humiliation”.
And it’s calling on us to do better. The very least we can do is to amplify Black voices, to support (and protect) Black-owned businesses and artists, to check in with and provide care for Black folks, and to contribute financially to Black economic well-being (a.k.a. reparations).
We’re being called to check and humble ourselves, to better educate ourselves as allies, to sink deeper into our commitment to anti-racism, through the conversations we have, the unjust norms that we challenge, the actions we take daily, and in the ways we move and show up in our solidarity. How we are able to take a back seat, in order to honor and follow Black leadership.
Move out of your comfort zone
If you are a non-Black person in this moment, whatever your comfort zone may be (and I’m especially looking at white folks), move a few steps beyond that limit. And then again, beyond that. The stakes are the highest we’ve seen them in our lifetimes, as we face a global pandemic, while also embracing what could be the beginning of a global awakening and systemic shift.
Breonna Taylor. Say her name with me, from wherever you are.
London Moore. Shantee Tucker. Vontashia Bell. Sasha Garden. Keisha Bells. Tonya Harvey.
Say all of their names, because ALL Black lives matter. And that includes queer and trans Black lives, that are often left out of the conversation.
There are many ways for you to take action on behalf of Breonna Taylor and in support of her family. As they grieve the loss of their loved one, they are also seeking justice and have shared their demands, such as: firing the officers involved, revoking their pensions, ending the use of no-knock warrants, and for the Louisville Mayor to address the use of force by his police department.
We ask you to take action with us as we lift up Breonna Taylor and her family’s call for justice.
Take 2 minutes to do one of these actions now to bring justice for Breonna Taylor, who was murdered by police in her bed in Louisville:
1) Sign this petition.
2) Send an email, make a call, or tweet at the officials using #SayHerName and #JusticeforBreonna. Use this list.
3) Donate to the Louisville Bail Fund.
4) Read this article about Breonna Taylor in Teen Vogue: Remembering Breonna Taylor’s Greatness.
As always, youth are on the frontlines of social change. Near us in Oakland, between 10 and 15,000 people took to the streets last week, responding to a call to action from Oakland Tech High School students. Schools and school districts are cutting ties and ending contracts with police departments, as we’ve seen in Minnesota. Along those lines, I strongly encourage you to look into the Black Organizing Project, a grassroots organization based in Oakland. They’ve been organizing and building momentum for years to get rid of police in Oakland Unified School District schools in order to create authentic sanctuary and safety for Black students and their families.
Young people, please be safe out there. Check out the tips and the advice circulating online about how to best prepare yourself to hit the streets, and how to protect yourself while you’re out there. About-Face will continue to provide education around media strategy and creating your own narrative, to support critical thinking in challenging harmful rhetoric towards Black and brown communities that are under attack, and to provide activism training.
Black youth, Black families and loved ones, Black community: We see your pain and honor your rage. We are with you in struggle, liberation, and in the fight for systemic change. And we recommit to what that means, today and every day.
Hénia Belalia is the Director of Programs at About-Face.