Yesterday I found myself to be completely overwhelmed. I went to bed Monday before the #Ferguson indictment came down, and Tuesday morning I woke up with the realization that I made a huge mix-up in my planning to get to the airport in time to make my flight. So the morning was a hectic mess of jumping out of bed, rushing to pack and running outside to catch a taxi (where in short order I ended up in a traffic jam on the highway). But the Universe must have been looking out for me, because miracle of miracles, I managed to check my bag with exactly one minute to spare and get to the gate just as they were calling my name over the loud speaker and getting ready to give my seat away.
During all of that madness, while I was sitting in the back of the taxi, I spent 40 minutes becoming totally absorbed in every article tweet and facebook status message I could find about the crisis in Ferguson. In retrospect, given that my stress was already high, I probably should have chosen another activity, but I found myself compelled to learn everything I could about this crisis of citizenship that was happening in my community.
So by the time I got settled on the plane, I opened up my phone and started trying to outline a piece about what this kind of state violence does to black political engagement, and the ways violence in general can have a dire impact on how black people understand themselves as citizens in this country.
But as much as I tried, the words wouldn’t come. Call it a failure of black public scholar punditry, but I just haven’t gotten to the point where I can spit out brilliance on demand. For better or worse, it takes me quite a bit of time to formulate my thoughts. So I’ve spent the last twenty-four hours trying to figure out what exactly I had to say about what happened in Missouri on Monday.
But I’ve realized that was where my problem was. I don’t have anything to say about Darren Wilson, the Ferguson prosecutor or even the racists that decided they wanted to harass everyone in mourning on the #Ferguson hash-tag last night. Instead, everything I have to say is about you, your healing and where you can go from here.
Since my health has become what it is, something I’ve learned is that when it comes to politics, everyone can potentially have different contributions. It is tempting to become overwhelmed by guilt when my politics don’t look the politics I was raised to admire growing up. I always imagined that if I’d lived during the Civil Rights Movement I would have been participating in the Freedom Summers, Marching on Selma or sitting at the lunch counters. So as we continue to be embroiled in a political moment that is asking all of us to get out in the streets and publicly voice our opposition, I was like a lot of folks and felt a tremendous amount of shame around not being able to be out in the streets protesting (and I will be honest, that guilt creeps on me more often than I would like to admit).
But as I grow within the process of #lupus and spend quite a bit of time reading and writing and talking to folks about activism, politics, political engagement and disability (and writing a book about folks who take non-traditional approaches to politics), I’ve realized that I can still do work that uplifts the movement that is #blacklivesmatter.
Two years ago, in a conversation with Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, she taught me that my value doesn’t come from my ability to produce. It’s capitalism that pushes us to feel as though we must constantly be in a state of production or achievement at work, in our communities and within our families. This internalized capitalism, has absolutely carried down into how I understand my worthiness within a political moment that is as critically important as this one. I’m grateful to have done some work prior, to be able to reconsider my ability to the contribute, as well as support the young people all over the county risking their lives in courageous acts of civil disobedience.
In the manuscript I am currently working on, I argue that political engagement is a much broader set of behaviors than the traditional measures we typically point to. It’s more than voting, or reading the newspaper, or participating in an organization or protesting in the streets. Politics absolutely is about our ability to transform our communities into a vision created by the people who inhabit those spaces. For black and brown bodies throughout the United States, politics can be as complex as simply staying alive and caring for our minds, bodies and spirits or it can be as obvious as showing up to the voting booth. But it is important that during this moment of political crisis that we be empathetic, compassionate and respectful of the diversity of ways in which people’s individual political awareness manifests itself.
I want to encourage you that during this moment, whatever you choose to do matters.
The work of educators who are helping young black people all over the country process this verdict yesterday and today matter. Just like the civil disobedience happening all over the world right now matters. Just like the writers and the painters and poets creating around this injustice, matters…
It is easy to feel paralyzed and helpless right now. But I just want to offer encouragement in this moment because that’s what my spirit is telling me to do, that’s the contribution I can make today, at this hour.
I may not be able to be out protesting but I can share articles, and memes and petitions and fundraisers, and yes it will reach a lot of people who are already saturated in info. But I also know it could possibly reach family members and friends and members of my religious community who might otherwise not even know that there were young people in city halls all over the nation protesting a grave injustice. And as an educator I have to believe that sometimes, just sometimes, an additional bit of information can light that fire in someone’s consciousness. Not always, but sometimes, it can be the beginning of the moment that somebody started to consider that white supremacy exists and is damaging the lives of people of color GLOBALLY.
I just want to say to all of you:
Whatever you are doing right now in response to #Ferguson matters. If that’s staying at home and parenting your children, I celebrate you. If you’re out on the streets organizing, I celebrate you. If you’re like me and you are just searching for a way to keep your stress low so that (whatever illness, emotional, physical, etc…) doesn’t do more harm to you, I celebrate you. If all you can do right now is grieve, I celebrate you.
Because despite what capitalism tells us, our value is not dependent on what we can do or what we can produce. Even in the fight for injustice, I celebrate another day of your life on this earth, simply because your life matters to me, because ALL #BlackLivesMatter.
With all the love in my heart.