Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement (Introduction Part II)

[Savage Minds is pleased to run the second part to the introduction for the “Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement” series. Here, Bianca Williams continues with her keynote address from the #WeResist community summit, which took place in Denver in March 2015.]

I paused and looked around the room to see if people were still engaged. I saw my partner-in-resistance Amy E. Brown, a local community organizer nod her head as if to tell me to keep going, and so I pressed forward.

“I read a phenomenal expression of collective resistance and community-building in a statement from the People of Color Caucus at my alma mater, Duke University. This past week a Black woman on Duke’s campus was taunted by a group of white men who sang the racist SAE fraternity chant that has gone viral because of the video from the Oklahoma. Students of color got together and released the following statement, which I believe is a powerful and clear demonstration of how intersectionality and community-building work:

They write,

‘We know that racism does not exist as a lone system of oppression. We know that what happened to the young black woman on March 22 is connected to the institution’s decision to include a LGTBQ box for high school students to check on admission applications without addressing the gay bashing, absence of gender neutral accommodations, and general psychological violence that LGBTQ people confront as students upon arrival. We know that the racism entrenched in the institution is connected to the institution’s failure to make accommodations of accessibility actually accessible as the institution often makes deliberate decisions to invisibilize people with disabilities, such as making ramps difficult to find by placing them in the back of buildings. We know that the institutionalized racism that we face is connected to the victim-blaming and other mechanisms of silence that further traumatize survivors of sexual assault. We know that the institution’s racism is connected to the university’s failure to financially support the Office of Access and Outreach that was supposedly formed out of a commitment to support first generation and low-income college students.

Thus, we understand that struggle against racism is connected to and reinforced by other systems of oppression such as sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and classism. We cannot stand against racial injustice without acknowledging that all systems intersect to perpetrate violence against marginalized bodies. The same racial oppression that affects Black bodies is connected to the cis-heteropatriarchy that variably oppresses any and everyone whose masculinity is not fully accepted. The same racial oppression that affects Black bodies is connected to the systematic exclusion and invisibilization of non-able bodied or non-neurotypical peoples. The same racial oppression that affects Black bodies affects other minority bodies, including racial and religious minorities.  The same racial oppression that affects Black bodies is connected to the displacement and erasure of queer and non-normative bodied people.’

It is okay if you don’t understand all of the terms included in their statement. The language that they’re using is a part of a new way of understanding the world we live in; in representing and defining ourselves for ourselves; in finding ways to have language catch up to the diverse and complex lives we all lead. Look these words up. Learn how people are identifying and defining themselves. And then figure out your positionality in relation to these terms and experiences.

And finally we get to a form of resistance that is a pre-requisite for Disruption, Voice, Life, and Collaboration. It is what I like to refer to as resistance through self-care, self-reflection, and what my friend Micah Gilmer calls “heartwork.” Resistance is difficult work. It is not for the faint of heart. And sometimes the most difficult form of resistance is the life-long work of processing and clearing out the racist, heterosexist, ableist, zenophobic, classist, and ageist seeds that are in our minds and hearts. It is the self-work of learning new words to describe how you experience and navigate the world, while respecting the new and different words that others use to self-define and identify their experiences. This is self-work, which you can do on your own by reading and listening. Being patient and compassionate with yourself, with your failures, with your missteps to push through periods of guilt and paralysis, those moments when you’re unknowingly using terrible offensive language, perpetuating oppressive values, and find yourself participating in systems and structures that uphold injustice, is a form of labor that is required for resistance. But then you must SPEAK and DO, when you’re well-equipped and ready, and when the communities you are attempting to collaborate with tell you that you’re ready. This type of resistance suggests that you, just one person, can challenge powerful systems by changing yourself, and sharing that journey with others at work, in your family, with your friends, and in your communities.

At over 180 days of consistent national organizing, protest and action, the Black Lives Matter movement, is the second longest movement in U.S. history. I hope that you choose to participate, and commit to the long-term resistance, because the transformation that is required so we can all be empowered and free is tremendous.

If you are angry at what you’ve been seeing and experiencing, then good. Channel that anger, that rage, that frustration into action, into effective forms of resistance. For as Black feminist lesbian author Audre Lorde wrote,

‘[A]nger expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future is a liberating and strengthening act of clarification, for it is in the painful process of this translation that we identify who are our allies with whom we have grave differences, and who are our genuine enemies. Anger is loaded with information and energy (Lorde 2007).’

For Lorde, anger can be the basis of the revolution. But later on in her work she also writes that love, a deep love, for self and others is the fuel that keeps the revolution going. Today, we wish to use all of the tools we have available—anger, rage, love, hope, empathy, and desire—to build new forms of community in the Denver metro area, so we can resist with a strong cooperative spirit those systems that work to misrecognize us and keep us disempowered. Thank you for being here, and I look forward to working and resisting with you.”

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In the past few days, as me and my co-editor Dana-Ain, finalized the edits on this series of essays, at least 22 university and college campuses have exploded in protests against anti-Black racism throughout the U.S. Mizzou. Yale. UT Austin. Ithaca. UCLA. Howard. These shouts against anti-Black racism in academic spaces build on the two years of digital organizing made possible by the millions that have utilized the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. The short-term and long-term victories these campus protests will result in will manifest because of the over 18 months of consistent disruption and collaboration of individuals and groups like Black Lives Matter, Millennial Activists United, Dream Defenders, Black Youth Project 100,  Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and many others. In Chicago. New York. Miami. Philly. Oakland. Denver. Charleston.

As our students continue to create new ways of giving voice to their experiences, to their demands, to artistically expressing where they’ve been and where they are going, their voices will join with those that have been fighting outside and across U.S. borders. In Mexico. Brazil. South Africa. Palestine. And as our students begin to better understand the significance of their current and future labor–as they learn what those in incarcerated populations, in poor and working classes, and in countries disproportionately affected by the violence of capitalism have taught us for generations–their strategies for acquiring economic justice will become more effective. They will engage in economic boycotts. They will go on strike. And they will continue to #ShutItDown.

If you haven’t been paying attention, we are currently in the next phase of a transnational civil rights movement and fight for justice and equity. Millions have already asked themselves which side they are on. If you haven’t asked yourself yet, I encourage you to do so. Then take the productive anger Lorde teaches us about, and act!

Over the next few weeks, as we watch thousands of our students organize, declaring that “Black Lives Matter!,” how can we teach them multiple strategies for resistance, and better equip them for the fight against institutional and structural anti-Black oppression? Which tools from our training are effective in this fight for equity and justice? More specifically, as we go into AAA2015, I have to ask “Anthropology, which side of history will you be on? And will your disciplinary contributions to the Movement be measured and found useful or wanting?”

I am a cultural anthropologist and Africana studies professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. My research includes examinations of Black women and their pursuits of happiness; the impact of Black women's emotional labor in higher education institutions and academic spaces; and Black feminist leadership studies, particularly in relation to #BlackLivesMatter.

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