TABLE OF CONTENTS Editorâ€™s Letter 2
The Interviews 12
EDITOR’S LETTER On the afternoon of November 30, 2014, as I returned home from Thanksgiving vacation, I asked a friend, “How long is this going to take to recover from?” I was referring to the overwhelming depression that had consumed me after a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager. The same week saw a similar decision for Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who had killed unarmed black New Yorker Eric Garner by placing him in a chokehold, and the death of Tamir Rice, a twelve year-old shot to death by a police officer in Cleveland, Ohio while playing with a toy gun. “I’m so afraid that there’ll be a one-week outrage cycle like everything else on the Internet and then we’ll all be expected to go back to normal,” I told him. “How will I go back to normal? What will that even mean?” How could I return to the status quo after having been struck in the face by how little value American law enforcement had for the lives of Black people? How would I continue to shoulder the awareness that if I ever had a son he would be in danger of the same fate? I didn’t really want to go back to normal. I didn’t want America to experience the same amnesia I had seen it experience after every other piece of racial injustice made national news while I would have to live this way for the rest of my life. And neither did my friend. He responded, “I honestly don’t
know. I’d much rather we collectively drew a line in the sand and the decision to not indict became a watershed moment in Black consciousness and culture.” A year later, I can say with certainty that we weren’t the only ones feeling this way. The past year has encompassed an uprising of Black social justice activism not seen, according to some, since the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. As injustice after injustice has been brought to national attention, from the death of Freddie Gray during police transport in Baltimore that spurned protesting and riots, to the suspicious death of Sandra Bland in a Texas jail cell after a traffic stop, Black Americans have decided that enough is enough. What’s more, the protests and calls for reform reach far beyond the problem of police brutality to expose the countless arms of America’s anti-Black national culture. The tides are changing. In compiling this zine, I sought to record how the lives of other young Black Americans have been affected by the events of the past year through interviews on their thoughts on the movement, on American anti-Blackness, and how they’ve coped along the way. I hope that reading it will offer you a snapshot of the Black experience as the movement for Black lives solidifies its claim on American consciousness. In solidarity, Maya Meredith Editor, Wade in the Water
Carol Lin Sam Sainthil Yatrik Solanki
Art from: Trevor Davis Jarrett Key Jon Key Nafis White
Photography from: Azikiwe Mohammed Yatrik Solanki
Special thanks to: Samantha Schuyler Brittany Wienke
INTERVIEWEES Tiffany Cooper Miami native Tiffany Cooper is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, where she studied film, animation, and video. She now works as a freelance artist specializing in animation and video, and teaches animation through the Xposure Foundation Inc. after school program within New York City schools. Trevor Davis Originally from South Florida, Trevor Davis is a freelance graphic designer with a degree from the Savannah College of Art & Design, where he studied animation. Now based in New York City, his work ranges from ad campaigns for well-known companies to playful and thought-provoking personal projects. Trevor also teaches minority students graphic design skills through the Abrons Art Center. Olivia Harris Carrying a degree in music from Columbia University, Olivia Harris is a New Yorkbased musician best known by the name Olivia K. A singer/songwriter with training in piano, guitar, violin and cello, she and her band Olivia K and the Parkers perform music influenced by â€˜70s R&B, jazz, country, rock, gospel, and Caribbean styles.
Yelitsa Jean-Charles A senior at the Rhode Island School of Design studying illustration with a concentration in gender, race & sexuality, Yelitsa Jean-Charles is also the founder & creative director of Healthy Roots, a line of dolls and storybooks that teach natural hair care to young girls of color. Her work focuses on promoting diversity and inclusion through childrenâ€™s media. Jarrett Key A graduate of Brown University, where he studied public policy and theater arts, Jarrett Key is a Brooklyn based multidisciplinary artist. He is the assistant to the associate producer at The Public Theater and the producing director of Codify Art, a multidisciplinary collective of queer artists of color. Influenced by his roots in Seale, Alabama, he integrates movement, music, and heightened language in many of his pieces. He has a twin brother named Jon. Jon Key A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Jon(athan) Key is a Black graphic designer, art director, and writer based in Brooklyn. He enjoys creating work centered on heritage, identity, and culture, including We Are Bulletproof, a project aimed at supporting narratives of strength within the Black Lives Matter movement. Jon is also a facilitator for Artists Against Police Violence and the design director for Codify Art. He has a twin brother named Jarrett. Jennifer S. Leath Dr. Jennifer S. Leath is the assistant professor of religion and social justice at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, where her scholarship is centered on the intersection of sexualities and religions in sacred commu-
nities and spaces of African Diaspora. She holds a B.A. from Harvard University, an M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D from Yale University, and an M.Div from Union Theological Seminary. She is also an Itinerant Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, having served as a pastor in New York and Pennsylvania. Vann Newkirk II Born and raised in the South and a graduate of Morehouse College, Vann Newkirk II is now based in Washington D.C., where he is a staff writer at the Daily Kos covering social justice, activism, and environmental justice. As a freelancer, he has written on culture, entertainment, and social justice for GQ, Gawker, Grantland, Ebony, and other outlets. He is also the co-founder of Seven Scribes, a media outlet geared towards millennial writers of color. Stephanie Odiase Raised in New Jersey and based in New York, Stephanie Odiase is a graduate of Columbia University conducting psychology research at New York University. She focuses on developmental and cultural research in low-income and conflict-afflicted countries.
Diana Umana Diana Umana is a graduate of the Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, where she studied Biomedical Engineering. She resides in Yonkers, New York and is currently pursuing a career in media, with a focus on pop culture analysis. Nafis White Nafis White is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, where she studied sculpture and art history. She is currently living and working in London, England pursuing a masterâ€™s degree in fine art at Goldsmiths University. She works in sculpture, photography, video, collage, sound and performance exploring issues of identity, race, inequality, politics and landscape, using personal narratives to facilitate and build conversations with the viewer.
Sam Sainthil Sam Sainthil is a graduate of Columbia University with a degree in Political Science. He currently resides in Huntington, Long Island in New York, and is a facilitator for Artists Against Police Violence. Chris Silverberg Raised in Dallas, Texas and based in New York City, Chris Silverberg is a graduate of Columbia University, where he studied English Literature. He currently works as a television production editor.
TIMELINE February 26, 2012 Trayvon Martin’s Death Unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin is fatally shot in central Florida by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who ascribed the attack to self-defense.
July 2013 Founding of Black Lives Matter After the acquittal of George Zimmerman, Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza, and Patrisse Cullors creates #BlackLivesMatter as a global platform to “(re)build the Black Liberation movement,” and to center queer, disabled, undocumented, and low-income Black people.
August 9, 2014 Michael Brown’s Death Unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown dies from multiple gunshots fired by Ferguson, MO police officer Darren Wilson, who claims to have pursued Brown due to a robbery. The shooting ignites weeks of community demonstrations and violent response from the Ferguson police force.
July 23, 2013 Zimmerman’s Acquittal Over a year after killing Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman is acquitted. The “Stand Your Ground” law plays a major role in Zimmerman’s defense, as it “allows the use of lethal force if a person feels threatened by another with great bodily harm.”
July 17, 2014 Eric Garner’s Death Eric Garner, Brooklyn resident and father of six, dies during a police attempt to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes near the Staten Island Ferry terminal. Officer Daniel Pantaleo puts Garner in an illegal chokehold, leading to him repeating “I can’t breathe,” which becomes a central chant in major demonstrations that follow the encounter.
August 11, 2014 Ezell Ford’s Death Ezell Ford, a disabled Black man, is fatally shot multiple times by two police officers in Los Angeles. Police claim that the incident occurred during an “investigative stop” but do not offer any further explanation. Ford was reportedly complying with the officers’ instructions when the shooting occurred.
November 20, 2014 Akai Gurley’s Death Akai Gurley, a 28 year-old Black man, is shot by East Asian police officer Peter Liang in the stairwell of a city housing complex in Brooklyn. Support for and demonstrations against the officer highlightes the disparity of racial solidarity in cases of police brutality. November 24, 2014 Darren Wilson Not Indicted A grand jury decides not to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown, leading to a night of protests and unrest in Ferguson, MO.
December 3, 2014 Daniel Pantaleo Not Indicted A New York, NY grand jury decides not to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner, although the medical examiner ruled Garner’s death as homicide.
November 13, 2014 Tanisha Anderson’s Death On November 13, 2014, Tanisha Anderson’s family calls the police twice to report Anderson disturbing the peace, and she dies at a hospital after losing consciousness under police custody. The medical examiner states that her death was a “sudden death associated with physical restraint in a prone position,” influenced by her heart disease and bipolar disorder.
November 22, 2014 Tamir Rice’s Death While playing with a toy gun, twelve yearold Tamir Rice is shot by a police officer in Cleveland, OH. Video evidence of the shooting draws media attention. December 1, 2014 Blackout Collective BART Action Oakland, CA-based organization The Blackout Collective leads multiple demonstrations in protest of police brutality, including blocking a Bay Area Rapid Transit train. Members of the Collective wear metal arm bands, forming a link that prevents the train doors from closing. December 13, 2014 Millions March Tens of thousands mobilize in New York City for the largest single action against police brutality following the uprising in Ferguson. Protesters hold a banner of Eric Garner’s eyes to lead the March.
April 19, 2015 Freddie Gray’s Death On April 12, 2015, six Baltimore, MD police officers pursued Freddie Gray for allegedly carrying a switchblade. Gray sustaines a fatal spinal cord injury during transportation and dies one week later, inspiring unrest in Baltimore and widespread protests.
June 27, 2015 Bree Newsome’s Removal of the Confederate Flag Brittany “Bree” Newsome, a Black woman, filmmaker, and organizer, scales and removes the confederate flag from the South Carolina state capitol in response to the shooting in Charleston. She later releases a statement declaring, “this moment is a call to action for us all.”
July 13, 2015 Sandra Bland’s Death On July 10, 2015, Sandra Bland is arrested for a traffic signal violation in Waller County, TX, and she dies within three days in her cell. Police claims that she committed suicide, though video footage discrepancies raises suspicion that she was killed.
June 17, 2015 Shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Epsiscopal Church Members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC welcomes 21 year-old white male Dylann Roof to their weekly prayer meeting. Roof opens fire on the group, killing nine members of the church. This mass shooting draws attention to the ongoing prevalence of white supremacist culture and attitudes in the American South.
July 9, 2015 Permanent Removal of the Confederate Flag at the South Carolina State House After photographs of AME shooter Dylann Roof posing with a Confederate flag surfaces, sparking a nationwide debate about the racist origins of the symbol, the South Carolina state legislature chooses to remove the flag that has flown at the state house for over 50 years to the “relic room” of the state’s military museum.
August 8, 2015 Bernie Sanders Interrupted Members of the Seattle chapter of Black Lives Matter interrupts presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a rally. The group speaks for four and a half minutes to commemorate the four and a half hours Michael Brown’s body was left exposed on the street. Although initially angered by the interruption, Sanders releases a racial justice policy platform soon after the action.
September–November, 2015 Student Organizing at the University of Missouri Students at the University of Missouri organize to address racism on campus after the Black student government president publicly denounces the school as an unsafe space for Black students. A graduate student’s hunger strike and the threat of a boycott by the school’s football team eventually force the university’s president to step down.
November 23, 2015 Black Lives Matter Shooting In Minneapolis, MN, three masked white supremacists open fire at a Black Lives Matter action protesting the shooting of Jamar Clark, wounding five protesters. Two have since been arrested and on November 24, hundreds marched as protesters have vowed to continue despite the attack.
October 2015 Black Lives Matter Demands Response from DNC On October 20, Black Lives Matter announce a petition calling for a racial justice themed debate for Democratic presidential candidates. The Democratic National Committee refuses to add more debates, but both parties’ national commitees announces that they are open to a town hall on the subject. While Black Lives Matter rejects this concession, Campaign Zero is in talks to organize such an event.
November 15, 2015 Jamar Clark’s Death Unarmed Black man Jamar Clark is fatally shot above his eyes by a Minneapolis, MN police officer “under unclear circumstances,” though witnesses have confirmed that he was not resisting arrest.
IF I HAVE TO BEGIN BY CONVINCIN WE HAVE ALL ALREAD
—Brittney Cooper, “I am utterly un
NG YOU THAT BLACK LIVES MATTER, DY LOST, HAVEN’T WE?
ndone,” Salon; November 25, 2014
NEGOTIATING BLACKNESS Sam Sainthil I guess there was just a...feeling of alienation from everyone else, especially from mainstream culture...And we didn’t really have anything to articulate it with. At some point we thought it was normal...You feel a certain way about it, but you can’t articulate why. Because we’re not really given that language. Nafis White In high school I lived in North Carolina, and it was pretty segregated still. You had Black schools and white schools. We had officers at our school that would treat people particularly...I happened to come back from a class field trip, and witnessed these young Black teens (also students) who were outside of our school and were handcuffed. Their pants had fallen down during the ordeal, exposing their underwear, and the cops had just left them there, for everyone to see, as a spectacle. That really angered me, and that’s where that kind of activism started for me. Also as a young person, my dad told me about a situation that occurred when I was in third grade where I was excluded... basically the teacher in third grade dismissed me academically from the class by putting me on her own volition into the lowest possible reading and writing and math groups, because apparently she thought that I didn’t have the ability or capacity to understand on the level of the other students, suggest-
ing through her actions that I wasn’t really very smart. And she used her power to put me in all of these lowest level groups, until and I ended up testing out of all of them. Thank God for my parents—they asked “why don’t you have homework?” and I was like, “I just don’t get homework.” And they were like, “hold up.” So they tested me, and I was moved from the lowest learning groups into a special program for students who are considered academically gifted. And that just sat with me. Stephanie Odiase I went off to boarding school—mind you, I graduated top of my elementary school, ground-breaking test scores, whatever...Then I get there, and then it’s like, “Oh, I don’t know if you’re smart enough,” or, “I don’t know if you’re well-prepared enough to take this class. I don’t know if you’re ready to take this class.” And I would always take these classes, and I would do well in them. And then I’m like, “I don’t know if you’re ready for me.” One professor told me, in my freshman year, “I’m not impressed by you.” And I’m like, “I’m not here to impress you, I’m here to get an education.” Sam Sainthil In general, like most people in society, [my parents, Haitian immigrants,] understand racism as a situation of interpersonal relationships as opposed to structural organization and power discrepancies between groups...They’re aware of the disadvantages of being Black in America, but at the same time they follow the tradition of, what I would say is, many Black immigrants: “work hard and put your mind to it and then you can overcome everything,” or if not everything, then most things. Because, “look at Obama!”
IT IS A PECULIAR SENSATION, THIS DOUBLE-CONSCIOUSNESS, This sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,—this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face. W.E.B. DuBois The Souls of Black Folk; 1903
Stephanie Odiase I’m not saying that I’m not Black. Obviously I’m Black. Look at me, I’m Black… But Black culture and Nigerian culture are two very different things. I’m Nigerian first, and I was raised in a very Nigerian household, so I can’t identify with some of the things that my Black friends did or know in their childhoods…I’m just kind of living with a triple consciousness. Whereas I’m Nigerian, I’m also literally African-American. And I’m also living in a white society...On a Nigerian level, people in my culture promote antiblackness themselves, like, “we’re not like other Black people, you can’t be like akata,” which is a slang dialect term for Black people, which can be used as a derogatory term to mean “worthless people.”
think people are just tired of having to segment themselves into these different dualities. Aren’t I enough? Aren’t my accomplishments enough?
Tiffany Cooper There are the subtle things that people don’t think they give off, but I notice. Like sometimes I’m walking down the street in New York, and sometimes I wear a hat, and I have kind of short hair, and I kinda look more like a dude at night, you know. I’m more aware of that, so I try, if I see a per son—anyone really, but specifically I tend to do this more with white folks. If I see them coming towards me, or I walk behind them, I kinda try not to startle them. I’m just like, I don’t want no police called on me, I try to avoid all that.
Jon Key Growing up there were always rules that we had to abide by as Black men in our society. We had to dress really well all the time, you have to talk a certain way, you have to do this, you have to do that. All these things. You have to always be better than everyone. You have to be better than people’s expectations of you. If not, then people will not give you as many opportunities, because they’re just gonna lump you in with how they think about Black people. It’s always this idea of fighting the stereotypes, fighting to be the best. We grew up in the South, so it was obviously a conversation that we had to have, because it was our reality. It’s something that’s very much instilled in us, our reality, that we have to be conscious of. If you’re not aware of it, that could be it. That could be the end of your life. Being hyper-aware...it’s just exhausting. You have to navigate the world being aware of every gesture, every motion, every movement, every piece of clothing that you put on, the way that you talk. Those things can’t save you. But of course your parents teach you these things because they want to keep you safe.
Nafis White The thing about microaggressions, and not-so microaggressions, real racism—you experience both every day—and you see for yourself DuBois’s double consciousness. You make sure you’re palatable for the consumption of white eyes, and not threatening. Baldwin said it would make you mad, it would make you crazy living in that way. I
Trevor Davis You don’t think about it when you’re younger. You just think about it as, “okay!” You just comply with it. My mom used to dress me really nice so I could look somewhat respectable, cleanliness, stuff like that. I had no idea what it meant, I just thought, “This is what you’re supposed to do!” Yeah, but it was also to show that I can look just as
good, or when it got to school—and she was very hard on me for school—I think part of it was survival. All of these things were survival tips. How to carry myself into the world... I know that I’m being watched. That’s what it feels like. I’m very conscious of it. Sometimes I don’t walk very close to white women. I don’t want want them to think that I’m going to snatch their purse, or catcall them, or do something that makes them feel uncomfortable. So I’m policing my own body to make someone else feel comfortable. That’s something that most people don’t have to worry about. White men don’t have to think about that. At all. I’m constantly thinking about myself, and how the world views me. I’m starting now to break that. I call it decolonizing. Trying to break down things that we’ve been told or raised to believe, or things we’ve observed. To focus more on our human experiences. And try to actually live your life as who you are, rather than what you’re perceived as... We live in a world that’s formed by white supremacy. Growing up Black, you feel that if you imitate or appease whiteness, you’ll be spared, I guess, or maybe you won’t have to deal with so much of the backlash of being a Black male, or a Black woman. But what I did not realize until later is that you’re giving up a piece of yourself. Giving up a piece of yourself that I have learned I have to love. This is my identity. And to not acknowledge that—a little piece of you dies inside, when you don’t.
I’m embracing the hell out of it now. And I think every Black person in this world should.
“Strength and Hurt” Trevor Davis
BECOMING RACIALLY CONSCIOUS Vann Newkirk II My father is a professor. He was actually getting his PhD. in African American Studies for most of my childhood. I feel like I was reading Douglass and DuBois...I don’t remember not reading them...As far back as I can remember, I was going with him... He got his Ph. D. from Howard, so I was watching protests at the Mecca. I had a dashiki very early on. I don’t know if I ever had that moment, but I did have a moment when I realized that I had to act. And that was in college—again at Morehouse. We got Dr. King’s papers, and I worked in the library that had the papers, and I also had a class where we studied the papers. And I got to meet people in his family, and people that marched with him and worked with him. I told them I didn’t feel like I was in a place to make a change, and Julian Bond1 looked at me and said, “I was sixteen.” And I was like, “whoa.” Yeah, you gotta get started. So that was it. We started putting protests together, we did a protest at the state capital. And that’s when it started. Yelitsa Jean-Charles I came to art school, and I started seeing all these Black girls with natural hair. And I was like, “Hm, why do I straighten my hair?” I started questioning my own identity and why I did things, and through my conversations with other students of color, I developed the language to define my own
experiences. Like, being the only Black person in the upper-level classes. Getting a high SAT score and people being surprised. Not being recognized for your academic achievements, but your white mediocre peers get recognized for every single thing they do. So, activism was me going natural. And it was like Samson2. His hair is his power? That’s what happened to me. I started growing my hair natural. And I began to talk about issues within the African diaspora, like colorism3 and internalized racism. Chris Silverberg I started reading August Wilson’s plays and I started getting really into soul music— famous stuff, not like I’m digging deep—all of Aretha Franklin and all of Stevie Wonder. Because all of my heroes have always been artists, discovering that there were all of these Black people who could be heroes to me in the same way as William Shakespeare...You know when you’re an artsy person you’re better at understanding things through art than through life. So all of these Black artists coming from a Black perspective with Black ideas— what meant a lot for me was, “what are the customs, what are the rituals, what are the thoughts for Black people.” To me that was really the biggest part of learning about Blackness.
A leader of the Civil Rights Movement who helped form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Later served as president of the NAACP. 2 A biblical figure granted supernatural strength by God. Lost his power when a woman cut off his hair. 3 Discrimination by skin tone rather than simply by race. For example, darker-skinned Black people have lower visibility and may experience different forms of racism than lighterskinned Black people.
Sam Sainthil I think my moment of politicization was the acquittal of George Zimmerman. So that’s when I started reading texts by Black writers on the Internet and by old black writers, trying to learn more...In my senior year [of college] I was taking Intro to Comparative Ethnic Studies and History of Racialization in the West, and I was talking to people more invested in the activist community.
Olivia Harris I think there’s a profound difference between someone who experiences white culture at a young age and at an older age. I was, at twelve, basically told that this was the right way to do it and I needed to get on board. Whereas when you’re twenty, you can say “that’s not how we do things and this is my culture” and you get to say yes or no... It’s funny how college radicalizes people— especially Black people. You start reading some books and you’re like “I have a lot of opinions!” And you’re like, “Do you now? You didn’t have no type of opinion and all of a sudden you feel some type of way.”
I WAS SIXTEEN.
Olivia Harris I try to balance myself as an artist, and make sure I’m making choices as an artist and not because of my Blackness, because that’s the easy thing to do. People think I’m dissident because I’m Black, and I’m just in it because I’m an artist and I just happen to be Black. I identify my outlook on the world as artist first, and then as Black. Blackness can be very confining, about how you are these things and you are not these things, and nobody else can be these things. Jarrett Key For me, my art is right now inherently political art. I think the function of my art is to talk about equality for all people, but specifically Black people. So I’m dealing with notions of “I am”—“I am a man,” “Ain’t I” — “Ain’t I a woman,” those kind of large statements of “I take up space, I deserve equal rights.” This has less to do about police brutality, and more to do about me as a Black queer man, being worried that people will not respect me or will not acknowledge me and the rights that I deserve to have. Being afraid to do x, y, and z. Dealing with, “how do I personally fit in this narrative that people are going to be creating about me or about my generation in the future?” And how do other people see Black faces in this generation and in the midst of that historical context? We are people, we deserve to be recognized on a human level…
ART & WORK I am human, this is how I am, you should be able to accept me for how I am regardless of what your standards and expectations are. Stop assuming things about me, let me show you and tell you what I am, and you can take that and move forward with that. That’s what I’m fighting for as an artist with my work. And that’s what I want for my nation. Jon Key [My project We Are Bulletproof ] was made because I’m afraid. Sometimes it doesn’t even exist on a national scale. Sometimes it’s on a personal scale. That project started off as a personal project for me to deal. For me to become more comfortable, for me to find community. To try to create community and connections with people, to remind myself that I’m not alone. And even though that doesn’t feel like a large thing, I feel like it makes a big difference, engaging your community in a way that you’re saying “we’re still here together.”
Vann Newkirk Seven Scribes was almost directly a product of Ferguson. Last year I was with Josie Duffy, the cofounder, and we were talking about what’s happening in Ferguson. We had a couple other friends who were writing and we were all together talking about how we could make a difference, and how we could express the frustration that we were feeling. And we said, there aren’t a lot places—we saw in the aftermath, a lot of people putting out really bad articles. We saw freelancers that were Black were frustrated and wanted to write about it but were being denied, and they were having editors kill their stuff. We were like, we wanna be a safe space for you if anything like Ferguson happens again. We had the idea, one of us said, let’s do it, and started doing the site. And that’s where we are now!
Nafis White A majority of my work since RISD has been about issues of Black people...I have to think about that. I cannot sever myself from these moments...Art is a way for me to communicate with people, art is also a way for me to take work, ideas, notions, and put them in places where there’s not that much representation of Black thought and Black art. Making people come face to face with it, for real. And then people are like “oh yeah, you’re a Black artist,” and no — I’m an artist, from a Black experience. So some of my work will be unapologetically Black. Oh well.
OLIVIA HARRIS I remember the day the decision came out, that [Darren Wilson] was not indicted. I went to work. The night before, I was not able to sleep. I would just wake up like “am I alive? Am I even able to be alive? What the hell?” I never thought I would be in that place, in my life. I did not go to work on time. I didn’t even try to excuse it, I didn’t explain it, I just showed up to work at 11...I remember that day happened to be the day I was performing at the school, even though that’s not my job. They have this assembly which is called the Jazz Rock assembly. The one time of year they play modern-ish contemporary sounding music that’s not classical...I was doing two performances at this one show. I was angry. I was so angry that I was there, I almost didn’t go. But I was like, I have to go, because I promised to perform, I can’t not perform. This was the first time as an artist where I really felt conflicted about performing. I was conflicted because I was like, for me to go, what does that mean. For me to perform for a bunch of privileged white kids who have no idea what’s going on in my life when I feel like my life is being threatened. Is it right for me to go and do that? Can I really just gratify their need to be entertained when I feel like my whole body is under siege? And they can be blissfully unaware because of this system that allows them to have the money to ignore these things? What I did was I put an afro pick in my hair with a fist in it, and I wore all black. I normally wear bright colors. For me to wear black, it was mourning, it was grieving, it was time for me to get my shit together. I felt so uncomfortable because I was angry, and I knew that if I let this rage out I couldn’t put it back — I gotta really hold on hold on hold on. And finally I thought, “you need to put every ounce of this anger into joy, you need to put every ounce of sadness, of grief, into joy,” not like “don’t be angry,” but try to channel and push that energy into your performance, and I saw myself as fighting for something even more universal. 21
From coast to coast, tens of thousands of people marched—and were still marching, as night came on—in solidarity with the families of those killed by law enforcement officers. The protesters, who were Black, white, Latino, Asian, young and elderly, streamed through the city streets in Washington, New York, Boston, Chicago and Oakland. They carried protest signs that read “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and banners that read “Black Lives Matter.” Lauren Gambino “Justice for All and Million March NYC police brutality protests— how the day unfolded” The Guardian, December 3, 2014
At left: Scenes from Millions March NYC, a youth-organized march that carried tens of thousands of protestors through downtown Manhattan Photo credit: Azikiwe Mohammed This page: Shutdown of a major intersection in Gainesville, FL in an action against police brutality organized by the University of Florida Dream Defenders Photo credit: Yatrik Solanki
Whenever a police officer murders another unarmed black person — man or woman, teen or adult, or, Christ, a child — it is personal. It is deeply, depressingly, angrily personal. It is always a reminder that I am a target, and my brother doubly so. It is a warning that blacks are guilty by nature, that we are born waiting to die, and that, if we make it to the end without an officer’s bullet (or six, or 41) inside of us, then we are lucky. It has nothing to do with who we are, whether or not we sag our pants, what we do for a living, if we have ever committed a crime or if we have never once touched a gun. Increasingly, it seems, remaining alive only has to do with luck.
INCREASINGLY, I AM LEARNING, REMAINING ALIVE WHILE BLACK IS A RADICAL ACT. Pilot Viruet “Black Exhaustion” Matter, April 28, 2015
Trevor Davis I’m fine, I’m good, I’m just enraged, all the time, 24/7. Diana Umana It takes a lot of stamina to be involved in this. Learning about it, discussing it, you know, living as a Black person in the United States, this is—I don’t necessarily feel like there’s a cloud of oppression upon me, but when you hear about a person getting killed walking down the street, that’s really hard to come to terms with. Chris Silverberg Just doing your best to at least ten percent empathize with that person and that family, to sit with that tragedy and try to recognize it for what it is, is hard. And you don’t even want to say it’s hard, because nothing happened to you personally. Just trying to not minimize it and to let it be a thing that really happened, is hard. Jon Key The way that I cope—I come home days, and I just cry. Some days you just have to do that. Why am I crying? I’m crying for all of the reasons. I’m crying because things are overwhelming, things are overbearing, it’s like tragedies are happening. Every day. And then sometimes it’s just having conversations with people about it. People who are down for the cause. Because it’s so difficult to have conversations with people who just don’t get it. Because it’s too painful. It’s too painful and too personal.
EMOTIONS & COPING MECHANISMS Jennifer Leath I still have not watched the entire Sandra Bland video. That was, for me, the limit. Since then, I have not sought to watch any videos, and have been as careful as possible not to. The shooting of the brother in the wheelchair in Wilmington, Jeremy Dole, I did see, and that was horrific. It’s just horrific, and it’s constant. It’s just constant, constant, constant. So my self care in large part has been to not watch these things. In addition to that, just being very intentional about finding good company. And it has made me much more vigilant about how I engage in interracial spaces. And also, just a way of coping is, for me, as a scholar, is engaging in scholarship that addresses it directly and head on.
I DON’T HAVE TO TEACH YOU ANYTHING. I’M GONNA WORK ON ME, AND I’M MOVING FORWARD. Vann Newkirk I feel like the number one lesson for any activist, is as an activist, you have to take time for yourself. The most important asset for any activist is your person, your being, so you have to take care of that. There were people who when we were protesting in Ferguson, that were like, “I don’t know if I’m gonna go out; this is making me physically ill.” And I’m like, “look, I know you feel like you need to be out there, I know there are people looking for you out there, but I guarantee you, no one is going to think you are less of a person because you couldn’t handle being out.” I think we’re able to lean on each other and say that now, and that’s very important. As a writer writing about it, write about other things. One thing that’s helped me is I write fiction. I take a lot of these things and put them into fantasy and sci-fi universes that are a lot less stressful to deal with than outright being with them in real life. Also, setting boundaries for yourself during the day, around seeing more people being killed. Even if it may be important for my job, and if it is, I have different rules for work. But even then, you gotta ask yourself, “is watching this video letting me do what I do better?” A lot of times, it isn’t. Setting those boundaries, making sure you’re always aware of your mental health, and making sure you have people you can lean on who are honest, and who will tell you when you need to chill.
Jarrett Key To cope, I make art...For me, coping is taking the time and space to be reflective about how I actually feel during this period of time that we’re in right now. It gives me the opportunity to cry alone if I need to cry, to be expressive the way that I need to be expressive in order to get out my frustrations regarding x, y, z; and make something that sheds light on not only my pain, but the pain that is reflected in millions of Black Americans across the country. I’m trying to create an encouraging, inspiring space for myself so I can leave my house every day with an understanding of who I am, who I am in relationship to my ancestry, who I am in relationship to this political dialogue currently happening, who I am in relationship to no one else, just myself. And being okay with my identity so that I can have that voice, and use it to speak out against brutality, to speak out against sexism and homophobia and transphobia. Yelitsa Jean-Charles I got a little bit of race fatigue, a little burn out, so I don’t do [activism] as much anymore, because I realized I have to take care of myself—and it’s funny how racism works—just having to talk about it is distracting me from my own progress and growth as a human being. I don’t have time. I don’t have to teach you anything. I don’t owe you shit. I’m gonna work on me, and I’m moving forward.
Diana Umana If you’re talking about racism to people, tempers get really high, people get really emotional about it. Reasonably so, but it always pisses me off when people who don’t experience racism are like, “well, I’ve had Black people be racist towards me too” and I’m like “when? White person, when?” It’s just so frustrating. It feels like a personal attack, especially when you have people who aren’t of color trying to shut people of color down. I’m just like, I’m washing my hands off of this, I’m walking away, I’m leaving it alone. The people who have the emotional ability to deal with it, deal with it—I just can’t. What I love is the allies who, even if they do feel uncomfortable, they’ll be willing to engage in conversations. I feel like it’s one thing for Black people to shut down because they’re overwhelmed, but when white people do it, I’m like, what’re you overwhelmed about? You’re not experiencing any of this, you’re just watching it from the sidelines... you’re like the towel boy, why’re you tired? You’re not the quarterback; I don’t understand. White people need to be willing to stop being so defensive, to put their feelings on a backburner, look within, and be willing to engage. And it’s obviously very easy to get riled up, it’s very easy to get emotional. And it’s an emotional thing— we’re talking about people’s lives so we should be emotionally invested in that. But … don’t let your ego get in the way. Accept that there’s a lot you don’t know or understand and listen to those who do. Empathy is key here.
ENGAGING WITH OTHERS Trevor Davis Talking amongst friends is worthwhile. And talking to other people too, but moreso those who are white, so they can get a perspective on what’s happening, if you will. I think it’s such a very touchy topic for them... I want to be able to be that lifeline if they’re open to ever talk about it. [We need a] public forum to have a conversation where there’s no bashing going on, there’s no yelling. It may be a little emotional, but being able to talk through some of these feelings that, maybe that I have personally gone through...Because I think talking about it not only works through the the trauma of it, but you know, it’s also inviting them into it as well. So they understand the perspective. But basic or not, it helps I think. And it feels good to actually be around people who’re not the same race as you who are able to engage with you. I think white people simplify the race relations to a point where it’s harmful: you’re not getting it, and you’re not trying to empathize or figure it out. So public forums would be great, but what would we get out of it? What would be the end result? What will we decide to do from that point? How’re we going to change institutions to start looking at this in a more critical way? Those things need to be addressed, especially when your life is affected: my work life is attached to it, my health is attached to it, the lives of my family, my son.
Tiffany Cooper It’s not even about not understanding someone’s view. It’s like they don’t even want to listen. And it’s like, I read your view, and I try to sympathize. I understand what you’re saying, so why can’t you understand, or at least try to understand, what I’m saying?... It feels so overwhelming trying to talk to so many people [over Facebook.] But I kind of felt like it was my duty to at least keep posting these things for my friends. Because most of my friends aren’t Black. I wanted to start this conversation that needs to be started.
Olivia Harris I didn’t feel safe or comfortable bringing up those conversations with people who weren’t black. You have to really choose judiciously who you’re going to talk to. It’s sort of like a chip that you cash in. If you cash in your Good Black Person chip, that’s it, there’s no more. They’re not gonna give you a pass anymore.
How do you really, really know that person was motivated by racism? Can you really know?
AT A CERTAIN LEVEL, I DON’T GIVE A SHIT. I don’t care if you can or can’t know. Black bodies are being subjugated to these things day in and day out, so at a certain point, whether or not it’s readable or not does not matter. You’re still, as a body, asked to negotiate this, and the fact that you have to ask yourself, “Is this a moment of racism or isn’t it?” is part of the problem… Maybe something that happened only once, you could dismiss it, but after a while, it’s all going to start adding up and it will lock down your ability to be objective.
“A Conversation with Claudia Rankine” Buzzfeed; August 27, 2015
“Phantom Negro Weapons” Nafis White Defined as “Weapons” that are generally in the possession of Black and Brown people, which are initially perceived of as guns, knives, pipes, box cutters, switchblades, etc by policing forces. The possession of such “weapons” often results in the fatality of the suspect, usually by police. Upon further investigation, these so called lethal weapons in possession of the victim somehow disappear and the “weapon” that remains is a spoon, watch, change, hoodie, waistband, candy, nothing and so on. From far left: Trayvon Martin, Skittles; Oscar Grant, Waistband Tommy Yancy, Watch Yvette Smith, Nothing Michael Brown Jr., Cigarillos Dillon Taylor, Headphones Samuel Dubose, Bottle
GROWTH OF THE MOVEMENT Jon Key I think one of the great things about Black Lives Matter is it’s the first time it’s erupted as such a big issue to so many people in such a big way. Whereas before it didn’t necessarily feel like the activism I was doing was part of a larger conversation...I definitely think that it’s on people’s consciousness more than it used to be... I think that the Black Lives Matter movement is an opportunity for us to make this issue important, to be in spaces that we have never been in; to bring this discussion to people’s dinner tables that don’t even think about it. And even if they don’t agree with the movement, at least they’re talking about it. That’s what I think the biggest thing about the Black Lives Matter movement is: it’s an amazing platform. Diana Umana What I love about the Black Lives Matter movement is that it’s no longer only when someone gets shot that there are moves being made. They’ll keep pushing until things change, because they’re really so resilient. And that’s what we need, we need consistency, and there wasn’t that before...It’s a real movement, it’s not just a trending hashtag. It’s all the time. Tiffany Cooper It kind of saddens me, in a way, that we still have to do this kind of stuff in the first
place. We’re reverting back, but why? It’s because nothing has changed, or it hasn’t changed as much as we think it has... I think it’s sad, that there has to be a new one. In a way I’m happy about it, because it means change is gonna come. And it means that we collectively see that things need to change. And whether or not they do faster or slower, they’re gonna change. Sam Sainthil I think that Black Lives Matter is an evolution of the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘60s, because we’ve taken those ideals of the ‘60s as far as they can go in terms of policy. How far can we take our liberation within this system? Because if the ideas and execution of the Civil Rights Movement were complete, you wouldn’t need a Black Lives Matter movement. The Black Lives Matter movement is more intersectional and holistic, it isn’t hung up on the ostracization of different identities, or different cross-sections of identities within Blackness, like sexuality, gender, that sort of thing. It’s rejected the sort of respectability politics4 that might have been needed in the ‘60s to be successful. So at a certain point, the Civil Rights Movement operated within a framework that was acceptable to more liberally minded white folk in power, whereas the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t seek to be acceptable to anyone but Black people.
A term coined by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham describing a practice of Black communities, dating back to the late nineteenth century, of acting and appearing morally upstanding in order to fight back against misconceptions of Black people as less than human. This can be manifested by not speaking in African-American Vernacular English ( “ebonics”), dressing well, high academic and professional achievement, and “turning the other cheek” in the face of mistreatment.
Stephanie Odiase When you read [the manifesto of the three women who founded Black Lives Matter], they’re saying “all black lives matter.” But we’re only hearing about Black men. Which is an important place to start. Because if we’re really looking at it, Black men are being decimated in a far higher proportion than Black kids, Black women, etc. etc. But it’s more than that. And I feel like they’re not doing a good enough job supporting the Black women who are being killed. Sandra Bland obviously got a lot of play, but what about Aiyana Jones, Rekia Boyd, why aren’t they getting the same airtime? And what about trans people? They’re getting chopped down. I feel like every week it’s another trans woman in Philly, D.C., getting killed. And no one’s really doing anything about it. I get it, you have to solidify around one topic and branch out, but it’s becoming a little problematic in the sense that these women started this movement for a different reason than where it’s going now. And I feel like we’re very quick to forget that these women started this movement for all Black lives...There’s a lot more to the community than cisgender Black men. Vann Newkirk II I do have a point of contention about a lot of popular conceptions about the Civil Rights Movement. In our collective memory,
HOW FAR CAN WE TAKE OUR LIBERATION IN THIS SYSTEM?
we always remember MLK and these great men. All these great straight men, right. But I do think there were a lot of organizations—not even on the periphery—who were doing real work, and at the time were either notorious or famous, but have been scrubbed from history. You know, you’ve got textbooks that are only allowed to say one Black person per chapter, so. You had SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee], but you also had real Black LGBTQ organizations working. All those groups that we don’t hear about, a lot of those were decentralized, and they didn’t espouse respectability politics. I think those are the precursors to what’s happening today. Nafis White Right now there are no rules of engagement. When you can shoot Black & Brown people at point blank range, and children at that point — God rest Tamir Rice — criminalizing bodies, and making people out to be these ogres, these hulks...what’s the rule of engagement there? In terms of respectability, I have to say, maybe I’m a little bit more radical in that I think we have been respectful, for decades... it’s been decades. Okay? Centuries! We’ve been good. We’ve been playing. Rodney King got beat to filth and you know, people got acquitted. But that’s minor, you know. Black men being driven around until their body parts fall off — and still we were patient. Continuing to be asked to be patient. Michael Brown was murdered, we were asked to be patient. Tamir Rice was shot dead, Rekia Boyd, Renetia McBride, all these people and we’re still asked to be patient?
“Amerikkan Tryptic 1” Trevor Davis
Yelitsa Jean-Charles There was a really interesting meme that one of my friends had posted online. And it was Martin Luther King and all his friends dressed up in suits, and they’re like, “We respect this,” versus an image of the Black people looting the CVS. Like, “We don’t respect you when you’re like this.” Listen. Listen. What is your point? Because Martin Luther King is dead. He was wearing a suit, and you killed him. So I don’t care if I’m wearing some baggy-ass jeans to my fucking knees. I don’t care if I have dreadlocks to my ass, I don’t care if I have war paint on my face. It doesn’t matter. Because guess what? They’re still going to fucking kill us… Look at the Million Man March. Hundreds of thousands of Black people, peacefully gathering. Y’all didn’t see any media coverage. No media coverage. Y’all didn’t see us like, “Look at how peaceful those Black people are. That’s exactly what we want: quiet and respectful, so that maybe we can consider your feelings.” But once
CVS burns down—nonstop coverage. “Why are they looting their own communities?” First of all, that CVS isn’t even fucking about us, that CVS doesn’t give a fuck about us, okay? That’s somebody else coming into our community, taking our money, and not contributing to us. But non-stop coverage of that fucking CVS. A million Black people peacefully protesting, like you told us to, and guess what we don’t hear? So if one more person tells me, “Well, you know what? Maybe you guys should peacefully protest—” We did that! And look what happened. I think the difference is that we no longer care about respectability politics because the Civil Rights movement proved that respectability doesn’t matter. They don’t have respect for us. You can’t ask for respect when there is none to give. You can’t ask someone to care about your life. They either do or they don’t.
Chris Silverberg I think that once upon a time, Martin and some others made this really great tactic that was basically performing saintliness—in addition to doing a bunch of other things! Like specific economic things! Like “I’m gonna get rid of this bus company’s revenue!” I think that that tactic was very useful in the 1960s, and I think that it’s completely useless now, because white people are used to it. Were white people surprised, did white people just get shocked at how those negroes were human, when those churchgoers in Charleston said “we forgive the white guy who shot all these people?” No! No white people were surprised by that! I mean I’m not saying they shouldn’t’ve done that, I’m all for it, but that didn’t make any white people uncomfortable. Whereas, shutting down roads and interrupting a “good progressive” makes white people super uncomfortable! And I think that that’s a good sign...I think that tactics have to be disruptive, otherwise they won’t work! Jon Key Interrupt people, yes, protest, yes, shut shit down, because otherwise, it doesn’t matter...Our country’s media-run anyways. So in order for it to stay in the media, in order for
it to be topical, you have to do crazy shit in 2015. That’s also just the reality of it. It’s all performance. Diana Umana There were people that were like, “do they have to like, block the subway?” And I was like, “would you pay attention otherwise?” I’m sorry that your commute was inconvenienced. We’re talking about somebody who got killed for having a little bit too much melanin. Like, really? People wanna complain, but you need to put it into perspective. Somebody lost their son, their father, their brother, because of being Black, and here are you are being upset because you have to take the N train as opposed to the 2 train. People go, “Black people used to behave, in peaceful protests” and I’m like, “and y’all still shot Martin.”...You know what, whether you’re a Malcolm or a Martin you’re still prone to being killed. It doesn’t matter whether you’re militant, whether you’re peaceful… Everyone’s just like, “just behave,” and you do that, but it doesn’t matter because it’s not a behavioral issue, it’s a mentality issue, and Black people are just not the problem.
YOU CAN’T ASK SOMEONE TO CARE ABOUT YOUR LIFE. THEY EITHER DO OR THEY DON’T. 35
Tanisha Anderson, Nothing
Rumain Brisbon, Waistband
Melissa Williams, Change
Kendrec McDade, Belt
Lavall Hall, Broomstick
Sandra Bland, Cigarette
Akai Gurley, Nothing
Joseph Fennel, Wallet 37
It is true that two wrongs don’t make a right, as we love to point out to the people we have wronged. But one wrong doesn’t make a right, either.
PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN WRONGED WILL ATTEMPT TO RIGHT THE WRONG; THEY WOULD NOT BE PEOPLE IF THEY DIDN’T. They can rarely afford to be scrupulous about the means they will use. They will use such means as come to hand. James Baldwin
“Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They’re Anti-White” The New York Times; April 9, 1967
RACE IN AMERICA Olivia Harris The question is, “are these things going to keep happening?” and the answer is “absolutely.” It’s been happening, America has been engaged in violence, racialized terrorism, and institutionalized terrorism consistently for more than three hundred years. We have never stopped doing that. We have changed how it looks, we have changed where it happens, we have changed who does it, but we haven’t changed the fundamental thing. Diana Umana Everyone wants to think, “oh I’m a good person, I can’t be racist—” but that’s not really how this works...America was founded upon racism. That’s the foundation. White dudes came in and thought, “you know what, we’re gonna wipe out the brown people that are here, we’re gonna get darker brown people to rebuild what we want.” It’s just so intrinsic to this country’s history and existence. It’s deeper than most people are willing to admit.
Sam Sainthil I’m starting to believe that we won’t be liberated in our lifetimes, or even our children’s lifetimes. Because I’m convinced at this point that anything less than the complete overthrow of white supremacy, and the way that it manifests itself within the American politic, will only have temporary positive effects...if we forget that the system is designed to subjugate Black people for the benefit of its own perpetuation, we’ll forget that every time we’ve gotten rid of any one major manifestation of white supremacy it’s always adapted into something else. So we had the emancipation proclamation, but then we had Jim Crow. With Jim Crow we had redlining,5 and we didn’t do the work to get rid of it after we got rid of Jim Crow.
The practice of denying services, either directly or through selectively raising prices, to residents of certain areas based on the racial or ethnic makeups of those areas. Ta-Nehisi Coates made the practice of redlining against Black communities to deny them mortgages famous in his 2014 essay “The Case for Reparations” in The Atlantic.
Jonathan Ferrell, Hoodie
Dennis Grigsby, Spoon
Derrick Jones, Coins
Ezell Ford, Nothing
Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Nothing
Rekia Boyd, Cell Phone
Eric Garner, Cigarettes
Tarika Wilson, Nothing 41
GOALS OF THE MOVEMENT Sam Sainthil I’d say the immediate goal of the movement is to get the state to both stop directly killing Black folks—police brutality, white vigilantes, and so forth—and stop contributing to an environment that’s deadly to Black people, via the stripping of the resources of poor communities of color and the criminalization of those same communities. These structural forces and conscious policies create a disenfranchised environment where people are pitted against each other for their survival…[The movement’s] main goal is to get Black people free...Anytime it works within the system, I believe that it’s necessarily working in a subversive way in order to bring us closer to the revolutionization of that system. I say “necessarily” because I don’t believe we can liberate ourselves within this inherently white supremacist and antiBlack socio-political system. Chris Silverberg I think the very specific goals of the primary movement are in regards to police brutality. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that—you have to start somewhere. I think police brutality is the right issue to galvanize the people that need to be galvanized. I think the immediate political goal is do something, whether it’s on the state, local, or federal level, about police in Black communities...I’m just interested to see how this becomes a movement about all
the different ways we can make it better for Black people to live in America. Nafis White A few of the goals are dismantling the prison-industrial complex, really looking at the privatization of these kinds of systems and dismantling that. There’s no reason that law enforcement should be doing what they were doing in Ferguson, making quotas to be able to fill jails with people who are already poor and trying to make it out, in a system where they’re not supposed to make it out. I would say that those systems need to be severely changed. In terms of other long-term goals, we just don’t need Black people dying like this. And brown people dying like this. I think we need to look at guns in this country, and really make it difficult for people to get weapons, and there need to be entry criteria for the police force. I don’t think it’s okay to just have buddies of buddies get into a place where they can make a decent living but continue to be in a system that allows their racist beliefs to permeate, and damage and destroy families... Until that stuff changes, it feels like we’re just cogs in a wheel of a system that’s not supposed to benefit us. At all. But we are generating money for others through our continued enslavement. Jarrett Key I actually do think we should probably burn it all down, honestly. But I also think that it extends way past police brutality. I
think that police brutality is a side effect, a symptom of a larger racial dynamic that has happened for years in the U.S. That is not the problem. The problem is that people in this country don’t actually value the lives of people of color, period. Vann Newkirk II Broadly, I feel like the goal of the movement is liberation. To me, liberation means having the freedom of choice to live how you choose to live without facing danger for it. And that’s a very broad and loose definition, but I think it fits the fact that we have so many broad and diverse groups of people that are working. And I think it fits what’s involved in it. Criminal justice is involved in it, there’s education, there’s health. There’s all these things we need to tackle so everyone has the same amount of choice, and everyone can choose to live freely as he, or she, or whatever gender pronoun you would like to use, would like to live...Now, I guess more specifically, I think the end goals are most strongly rooted in criminal justice reform and in erasing the less out-there, Confederate flag-y, racism that pervades a lot of thinking about these things. The “I can’t be racist” folks, the “heritage, not hate” folks. Really challenging this ingrained notion that Black people, Black culture, Black America and Black lives matter less.
useful to yourself. And being able to determine what your life should look like, and having it not be determined by others. Tiffany Cooper I feel like this movement itself is just Black voices screaming for love...Knowing that you can have something in common with everyone on this planet, no matter if you think so or not, you have something in common with everyone—so are you going to take the time out to find it?...It’s just about being a human. I hope—well, hope is the wrong word—I want, one day, for everyone to be able to just feel love.
LIBERATION MEANS HAVING THE FREEDOM OF CHOICE TO LIVE HOW YOU CHOOSE TO LIVE WITHOUT FACING DANGER FOR IT.
Olivia Harris The part about lives mattering is, it has to be all parts of life. It’s not just not being shot. It’s living a life that’s productive and
Diana Umana I didn’t personally get involved because I’ve always been a little bit afraid of venturing into that. I was always just like “I’m here for you guys, moral support, but I’m not gonna get into adventures with you.” But luckily I have a lot of woke friends...I think the more you’re aware of what’s happening in the world, especially in this country, you kind of just realize, “I need to actually be more interested in this at the very least.” Chris Silverberg For me it’s less how to get involved—I have Google. For me it’s more—I know people who’re really plugged in. If my friends were those people, I would be doing a lot more...To me it’s much more “is this my community or not” than “do I have the basic, raw information.” Jennifer Leath I have been in frequent conversation with a number of people who are engaged in the movement, and my scholarship and my interests have definitely shifted and responded to changes that have been taking place. But one of the challenges for me has been that I have been very transient. Kind of moving around, which has complicated the work of community, which is really what this moment requires. It requires an activism of people who are engaged and committed to deep community...Without a kind of community ground, if you will, the work is not possible. The activism, the protest around these kind of injustices, is not possible.
GETTING INVOLVED Nafis White Some people are all “well if you’re not in the street, you’re not down,” and I believe very differently. I feel like there’s a lot of different ways in which activism is done. I think people can engage in terms of the investigative portions, looking at policies and existing laws for example—very much not in the streets, but behind the scenes. Even talking to other people about it, advocacy, and being aware of movements happening. People can act as safety. At protests you don’t have to be on the front lines, you can just stay on the sidelines and just watch the police, be an observer. Police right now are doing so much monitoring, they’re using face recognition on cameras, they’re definitely trying to figure out who’s showing up at these things and get information on these people. Having folks on those front lines backing the people helps the outcome if there are trials, or more police abuse and brutality happening during protests.
Yelitsa Jean-Charles You don’t need to do anything big to be involved. You don’t have to throw together a march, you don’t have to do any of that shit, okay? Being involved can be as simple as checking your ignorant-ass friends. Don’t feel like you need to be the next Martin Luther King, okay? You don’t have to fly, you don’t have to be a superhero, you just have to do something...It’s not something extra, it’s not supposed to be something extra. It’s supposed to be something that’s a part of your daily life. Because not being racist, not being homophobic, not being sexist, not being transphobic, not being any of those things, is an active thing. You don’t just get to say it, and that’s the end all, be all, you have to do it. Tiffany Cooper [The movement] shows that leadership doesn’t have to be one person. And it shows that it can be multiple leaders, or everyone can be a leader, because with a topic like this you kind of have to lead yourself. Into thinking about unity. And it starts within, this movement, and connects outwardly with other folks.
Jon Key We should fight. It’s not always physical fighting, but I definitely think that because of the level that people are talking about Black Lives Matter, people feel like it’s topical and they don’t really want to talk about it, they just feel like it happens in the news, and then you have people that live it. For the people that live it, it’s scary. And that’s where this fighting comes from. To not fight is to not care. It doesn’t matter to you. You’re giving up...we have to do more than just have a little talk about it. Trevor Davis Having [my thirteen year-old son] has made me look at this in a very serious way too. When that thing happened with Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, I saw people that were members of my family that it could’ve been. It could still happen to them. And especially to my son. And so I’m at a point of no return. I have to be involved, somehow, some way, to protect them. And others as well.
WE ARE BULLET PROOF is a project focused on creating a narrative of strength amidst the struggles and vulnerability of the Black Lives Matter movement. This is a project to help our community feel empowered â€“ an uplifting message that says we are not afraid. We are not alone. We are a strong, indestructible community.
WE ARE BULLET PROOF Jon Key
We often think of online activism as a shallow bid for fleeting attention, but the movement that Mckesson is helping to lead has been able to sustain the country’s focus and reach millions of people.
Among many black Americans, long accustomed to mistreatment or worse at the hands of the police, the past year has brought on an incalculable sense of anger and despair. For the nation as a whole, we have come to learn the names of the victims–Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Tony Robinson, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray–because the activists have linked their fates together in our minds, despite their separation by many weeks and thousands of miles...
Police killings have become front-page news and a political flash point, entirely because of the sense of emergency that the movement has sustained. Jay Caspian Kang
“Our Demand Is Simple: Stop Killing Us” The New York Times; May 14, 2015
Trevor Davis Personally, I don’t believe in reform, because it’s like putting a tuxedo on a turd. It’s still a turd, it just looks like a very nice turd. I think a lot of things have to be dismantled. You have to recognize the history of the state of anti-blackness. And why now, there’s still so much oppression going on. How to acknowledge that and how to fix it. And I know government and policy and all that, it’s a slow drip, but it has to start somewhere. It has to start today. Right now. Like, yesterday. Tiffany Cooper While being [at the Millions March in New York City], I was like, “this is great, I really wish this could last a while longer.” Looking around, and seeing allies there, it was great, it was powerful. But I just wish that it could last longer. Just the feeling of unity. At first I was kind of like, “is this gonna be it?” And I was hoping that there would be another march. There were a few more. I couldn’t make them all. But I dunno, I was just wishing there was more. I do wanna keep the conversation going. I just wish the conversation could keep going, but without another person being killed for it to happen. Stephanie Odiase I remember around December of last year, they had that Millions March in New York. I was there...And it was such a great rallying outcry for support. But in my head I always wondered, “what is the point of this?” You know, we’re out here, we’re freezing in the cold, we’re walking for hours, for miles, we’re chanting, we’re protesting. And I think that’s useful, very necessary, but how are we gonna roll this up into a bigger plan? How are we gonna actually change legislation,
MOVING FORWARD how are we gonna impact policy, how are we gonna change the protocol about how police treat not just Black and of color but people? And I still wonder that... I want to be positive about the movement now. I really do. But I just feel, like—the movement hopefully in the near future will pick up momentum. Because right now it’s in the solidifying phases...but soon we have to shift out of that and make bigger moves. People internationally know about the BLM movement - from London to Paris to Melbourne. We have to do more. And I don’t feel like we can do more until it’s addressed on a national political level. I feel like that’s the next step. Yelitsa Jean-Charles I don’t know if the movement has a goal, and that’s really frustrating to me...People will show up to a march, but they won’t show up to the meeting where they have to present an argument or a proposal to an actual solution. And it’s like, if you can come to the march, then you can come to the legislative aspect of it too, you know? ...We don’t need any more protests!...What haven’t we protested? It’s all been protested. We need to go and do things. We need to show up to the actual meetings where people are making decisions, and we need to be a part of the decision making. It’s really frustrating to watch people invest their time in walking around, when it’s the same amount of time to sit down and write out a plan.
Chris Silverberg I think that you hope that it becomes a movement that is comparable to the movement of the 50s and 60s. I don’t think that it is now. I don’t think that it necessarily has to be. Because...this is something that has really been born out of one specific event. Really to me what’s more likely to happen as a result of everything that has built up around police brutality and Black Lives Matter is to give people training in organizing, because there’s an immediate need, and to radicalize people that otherwise would not be. I think that is the material out of which you make the new movement, but I don’t think that it’s happening now. I think it’s a lot more about this moment and this political climate, than any particular movement. But maybe that’s what it might’ve been like in the 50s and 60s. There’s a very particular narrative we have now...“first we went to court for Brown, and then, they got the Voting Rights Act. That’s the Civil Rights Movement.” But it might’ve felt a lot like this, “there’s just a lot in the air, and James Baldwin has articles in the New York Times!” The way Ta-Nehisi Coates does now. Vann Newkirk II We’re a year out from all the protests in the street, a year out from being on the cover of TIME magazine, but the thing is that you have people talking about it casually. And that’s what I think is the big difference... Now, we’re doing what I call the capacitybuilding stage of activism. We build up a lot of institutions, we build up people, we build up knowledge, we build up resources, in order to be able to fight. Now you have a lot of different groups—people like to play up the lines between different groups, but I think it’s good, because you’ve got different people with different ideas. You got people
with legislative focus, you’ve got people starting Super PACs, you’ve got people who are protesting in hotbed cities, you’ve got writers, artists—lots of artists—you got musicians, you’ve got politicians. I think we’re in a good place. Jennifer Leath My suspicion is, we’re actually seeing a replica of [the Civil Rights Movement.] It is really at this point a suspicion and a hypothesis, not for lack of understanding Black churches’ role, or lack thereof, in the Civil Rights Movement. in the Civil Rights Movement, Black churches have sometimes been overemphasized, and given way too much credit, and in other instances have been given little or no credit. The reality is, it was somewhere in between. Given organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and even the Congress of Racial Equality and some other avenues, especially Martin Luther King’s centralized role, has given it not only a religious but a Christian legacy in our collective imagination. What I think is happening now is, there are churches that are helpful, and there are churches that are unhelpful. There are churches that are hosting people who’re engaged in the movement; there are churches where nothing is said about the verdict, the extrajudicial killings that are taking place at the hands of law enforcement and other vigilante agents. So there is a wide, wide
HOW DO WE WANT OUR CHILDREN TO TALK ABOUT RACE IN THIS COUNTRY?
range of what Black religious institutions are doing, and of course churches among them in particular. Jarrett Key I don’t think the movement is focused enough on healing. How can we reframe “I can’t breathe” and “hands up don’t shoot” to something more positive and inspiring? I refuse to put the hashtag #Icantbreathe and #handsupdontshoot on social media because it focuses on the act of death, it focuses on the victim, it focuses on the martyr, and it doesn’t focus on the community and the person and the humanity in these people. How do we want our children to talk about race in this country? How do we want this period of time to be framed? ‘Cause if you think about the ‘60s and the ‘70s, you have Black Power, “Black is beautiful,”...all of that really beautiful advocacy and protest work, and now, our gesture is the surrender sign with two hands up. The language isn’t anything that I want my children to say that I said, honestly. What I would want my children to say I said instead is “I am a man;” “I am;” “Ain’t I a woman;” “Ain’t I.” “We are bulletproof.” Something that rallies the community, that makes Black people feel empowered, worthy, and not that we’re not just victims. Because we are more than just victims; we’ve been in this damn country for 400 and some-odd years. We built this country. We’re not fucking victims. We can do this, we just have to be able to encourage and empower ourselves.
“I AM !”
FURTHER READING: BOOKS ON RACE IN AMERICA The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward, 1957 Published in 1955, a year after the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education ordered schools desegregated, Strange Career was cited so often to counter arguments for segregation that Martin Luther King, Jr. called it “the historical Bible of the civil rights movement.” The book offers a clear and illuminating analysis of the history of Jim Crow laws, presenting evidence that segregation in the South dated only to the 1890s. Notes on a Native Son by James Baldwin, 1963 Written during the 1940s and early 1950s, when Baldwin was only in his twenties, the essays collected in Notes of a Native Son capture a view of Black life and Black thought at the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement and as the movement slowly gained strength through the words of one of the most captivating essayists and foremost intellectuals of that era. Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X, 1964 In this classic autobiography, originally published in 1964, Malcolm X, the Muslim leader, firebrand, and anti-integrationist, tells the extraordinary story of his life and the growth of the Black Muslim movement to veteran writer and journalist Alex Haley.
RESOURCES U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, 2011 This masterwork chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, 2014 Claudia Rankine’s bold book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, supposedly “post-racial” society.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, 2010 This book explains how, by targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the
Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert, 2015 The empire of cotton was, from the beginning, a fulcrum of constant global struggle between slaves and planters, merchants and statesmen, workers and factory owners. Sven Beckert makes clear how these forces ushered in the world of modern capitalism, including the vast wealth and disturbing inequalities that are with us today. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2015 What is it like to inhabit a Black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with America’s fraught racial history and free ourselves from its burden? Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. EDITORIAL WRITING & PERSONAL ESSAYS ON RACIAL JUSTICE “Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They’re Anti-White” by James Baldwin for the New York Times; April 9, 1967 “Ferguson’s dark, twisted lesson” by Brittney Cooper for Salon; August 12, 2014 “White America needs to wake up” by Brittney Cooper for Salon; August 20, 2014 “Chronicle of a Riot Foretold” by Jelani Cobb for The New Yorker; November 25, 2014 “Black Exhaustion” by Pilot Viruet for Matter; May 1, 2015
“Charleston and the Age of Obama” by David Remnick for The New Yorker; June 19, 2015 EXPOSES AND JOURNALISTIC COVERAGE OF THE MOVEMENT “Undue Force” by Mark Puente for the Baltimore Sun; September 28, 2014 “Sister Soldiers: On Black women, police brutality, and the true meaning of Black Liberation” by Tasha Fierce for Bitch Media; February 11, 2015 “The Brutality of Police Culture in Baltimore” by Connor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic; April 22, 2015 “Our demand is simple: stop killing us” by Jay Caspian Kang for the New York Times; May 10, 2015 “Ferguson One Year Later” by the Washington Post; August 4, 2015 “Black and Unarmed” by Sandhya Somashekhar, Wesley Lowery,Keith L. Alexander, Kimberly Kindy, Julie Tate for the Washington Post; August 8, 2015 “The Disproportionate Risks of Driving While Black” by Sharon LaFraniere and Andrew W. Lehren for the New York Times; October 25, 2015
PODCASTS About Race by Baratunde Thurston, Rachel Cepeda, Tanner Colby Authors Baratunde Thurston (How To Be Black), Raquel Cepeda (Bird Of Paradise: How I Became Latina) and Tanner Colby (Some Of My Best Friends Are Black) host a lively multiracial, interracial conversation about the ways we canâ€™t talk, donâ€™t talk, would rather not talk, but intermittently, fitfully, embarrassingly do talk about culture, identity, politics, power, and privilege in our pre-post-yet-still-veryracial America. http://www.showaboutrace.com/ WRITERS & WEBSITES TO CHECK OUT Black Girl Dangerous http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/ Ta-Nehisi Coates http://www.theatlantic.com/author/tanehisi-coates/ Gene Demby http://www.npr.org/people/182264497/ gene-demby Nikole Hannah-Jones http://nikolehannahjones.com/ Donovan Ramsey http://www.donovanxramsey.com/
Published on Dec 7, 2015
The movement for Black lives is in the news every other day—protesting on college campuses, demonstrating against police violence, and deman...