This is the hashtag that best describes my life and attitudes with regards to what is going on in America right now and for the forseeable future.
A fellow Black Princetonian (DD) asked me last Monday night how I was feeling. I responded, “I feel..like I wanna blow something up. Like I wanna fight somebody.” He put down his soda and gave me a fist bump, saying “Yesssss. If someone punches you in the face, you don’t go and run to the administration saying, ‘Excuse me, can you do something about this?’ You punch them right back.”
Another hashtag that I have used recently and will likely continue to use in the near future is #Ishouldabeenablackpanther. My hashtags are not unrelated. It has taken me so long to write this post because earlier in the week, I was tense and shouting and shaking with anger. Anything I wrote would have boiled down to FUCK ALL OF THE PEOPLE, EVERYONE, I CAN’T EVEN FUCK WITH THE WORLD RIGHT NOW, and that’s not what I want to say.
This conversation with DD happened minutes after leaving a Black Student Union meeting at which we discussed (1) the racist comments left on a Daily Princetonian article my friend MJ, a Black sophomore, wrote about the application process for Creative Writing courses (a commenter called her a “whiny black girl” and from there all hell broke loose), (2) the small-scale protest we as the Black Princetonian community launched against the Sanford PD’s failure to prosecute George Zimmerman:
|What looks like a Black Power fist is actually me fixing my glasses, but I kind of wish it were an intentional Black Power fist, because that would be pretty baller. I’ma call it a subconscious act of resistance.|
and (3), the unfair arrest of fellow Black Princetonian Mandela Sheaffer, ’13, who while home on Spring Break was thrown into county jail for “obstruction of justice” when visiting a White friend at home in Ohio over Spring Break. I’m not going to post about the details, because it’s an open case, but nothing in the vibe that I get from him as a person suggests that anything in the police report is factual. We all collectively smell something fishy, even if you don’t want to toss around terms like “racial profiling” all willy-nilly.
In the time since that meeting, my friend MH discovered this lovely message scrawled across the map in an elevator in our student center:
Let’s let this serve as the fourth piece of evidence in the claims I will make in this post.
I’m sick and tired of fronting like progress is being made and everything is gonna be okay. It’s fucking pouring outside, and I’m not expecting to see a rainbow after the storm.
I feel like no matter which way I turn, I see my people under attack in this country. In this particular post, I’m talking about my people as (young) Black people, but similar things could be said about women as my people, or people who don’t identify as straight as my people, or the [lower sections of the] 99% as my people.
Granted, I was 11, but I don’t think I actually feared as much for the state of my life as I know it after the September 11th attacks as I do now. I’m actually afraid that I’m coming of age in a country where my views, opinions, and rights simply don’t matter to anyone in charge AND it’s uncouth to even suggest that that might be the case. I’m so over this post-everything era. I want to be able to talk about racism and sexism and classism and homophobia and cissism, etc. in public spaces. I want to be able to say that I. don’t. feel. safe. and not be looked at like I’m paranoid or insane.
Hold on. Let me not just put that into the atmosphere with no context. One of the things that has stuck out the most to me with everything that’s going on with #TrayvonMartin and the conversations I’ve had with friends about the case is the degree to which racism operates in sexist and classist ways. I have never had an unfairly negative encounter with a police officer, though I was raised to try to handle things without their interference. I can walk around campus at 4 am and never feel like one of the campus safety officers is going to stop me and ask to see my ID, which I know has happened to various Black male students on this campus. Trayvon’s hoodie had nothing to do with his death, but it honestly felt weird to wear my hood up on my hoodie, and it took me quite some time to figure out what to do with my hair on Monday to even make wearing the hood up feasible–if the “hoodie” (which Trayvon wasn’t actually wearing when Zimmerman began following him, let us remember) is part of what makes young Black men suspicious, then I’ll never be that. I have been told that my … self can be intimidating, which hurts, but that’s a rarity in my experience, rather than a frequent occurrence in the lives of Black men I have spoken to about this. Similarly, I can count on one
hand finger the number of times I’ve been made to feel like I don’t belong in an integrated academic space, like I have to prove that myself and my ideas are worthy of my professor, preceptor, and/or classmates’ time, and while that is undoubtedly related to the fact that I’m a Sociology major with a certificate in African-American studies and a bunch of Gender and Sexuality Studies classes under my belt, and while I hate trying to map systems of oppression onto any sort of hierarchical scale, I just don’t feel as directly persecuted as young Black men are in today’s society.
And I know that it’s not only cases of young Black men meeting unjust ends that get ignored by the mass media. I know about Rekia Boyd, and that cases like hers aren’t rarities. And so maybe this is where class (or the fact that generally speaking, I’ve never hung out with large numbers of Black people publicly outside of this campus) comes in, but I’ve just never ever been made to feel like my life is in danger in a racialized situation. The closest I’ve ever come to this is probably this little gas station my family stopped at in this little town with giant crosses on the sides of the buildings when we were on our way to Ithaca, NY when I was college visiting. I was oblivious to anything going on at the time, but my mother and grandmother told me that three muscular White men were staring at our car the entire time we were there, and that the cashier refused to take my mother’s money out of her hand, but rather made her put it down on the counter and pick her own change up off the counter.
Regardless of all of that, I feel like we’ve regressed into a system where talking about “Black” issues means talking about the issues pertaining to Black men, and talking about “women’s” issues means talking about the issues of liberal White women of at least some financial and/or educational means. (Did we ever actually grow out of this system? I’m finding it hard these days to reconcile my conceptualization of the world as shaped through the literature I’m exposed to in my classes and the blogs/news sources I read and the actual reality of the situation to people who aren’t sociologists and/or race/gender scholars.) The only “big” stories about Black women I can remember existing in the past few years are all OMG BLACK WOMEN AREN’T GETTING MARRIED WTF IS WRONG WITH THEM WHAT SHOULD THEY DO?! and we’re going to table that discussion for the purposes of this post.
Trayvon Martin’s death hurts me. It is my issue. It is the issue of decent human beings everywhere. And I don’t use hormonal birth control, but it and abortion are my issues, not even as a woman, but as a sexual being. I don’t see stories in the media about people like me, but at the same time, I see these stories and can’t help but see myself or my brother or someone in my heart. Humanity is in my heart.
I’m getting off subject. The point I want to make here is that I’m hurt and upset by…basically everything that’s going on in our country right now. I’m hurt by action, by inaction, and by responses to both. I’m outraged, and I’m even further outraged that people are outraged about my outrage, and I don’t give a fuck if that makes me sound like an #angryblackgirl, because that’s what I am right now.
But I want to harness that anger. I can write a blog post and wear a hoodie and help to write an open letter, but none of these things feel like active resistance. I’m sick of low-level resistance. It’s not working for me anymore.
One of the things that came up at the BSU meeting last week was that more Princetonians would have participated in Martin Monday if they’d known about it. So I’m toying with the idea of creating a like, Social Justice at Princeton Facebook page. It would be one place for every person or group with a cause to find other people who care, even if that issue isn’t particular to their defined community. The first step to resistance must be the creation of an army, yes?