Many of the movements now happening on a global scale—but particularly the ones here in the US—represent political shifts I’ve been hoping for for as long as I can remember. Given this, it’s hard to understand why I’ve been so sad the past few months.
Part of the sadness is mourning. Each day there are new names of trans women, teenagers, queer folks, fathers, mothers, babies who have been murdered by police, or absorbed by prisons. I am hearing their stories, witnessing the revolting details in videos, filled with their relentlessly violent themes. I am mourning the loss of their voices, their wisdom, their light. I am grieving for their families, our family. I am mourning for the lives of young oppressed people, the violence they face or will be facing too soon.
But another part of the sadness runs out of a different place. It comes from the confrontation of a political reality that, in truth, is easier to ignore.
Many of us are able to get up in the morning, survive our daily lives, because we don’t examine our oppression head-on—at least not consistently. We know we cannot allow ourselves to feel the constant rage and pain we deserve to feel. It’s not sustainable. Yet, the emerging of a movement means, precisely, confrontation. It creates numerous outlets for the expression of that rage and pain. This, in turn, means we live in the midst of our own violent reality in ways we might otherwise intentionally avoid.
As a person of color who has long existed in white, middle-class spaces, I’m used to having to explain my perspectives as an oppressed person ad nauseam, and used to having them dismissed. I’m used to being condescended to by people who have never experienced my hardships, told that I am too young to speak to the historical realities of my own people. Yet even as current organizing blows the lid off white complacency, proving the tired claims of Black and Brown communities, and even as members of my own community awaken to the true state and purpose of policing in this country, a small and strange part of myself has been revealed. It is a small, strange and sad part of myself that wishes they were right, wishes I was exaggerating, wishes I had fabricated everything. The vindication of years of my own imploring and arguing has not left me feeling justified or empowered, but sad. I am sad to be right, sad that our reality is as horrific as I have always sensed it to be. Ironically, the vision I have a long urged others to see is suddenly one from which I wish I could turn away.
Indeed, yet another layer of my sadness is a true reckoning of just what the social, political and economic reality of Black and Brown people in this country is. While the uprisings from Ferguson to Baltimore have initiated some into conversations around state violence and modern apartheid, for those of us who live it on a daily basis, current movements for justice have revealed to us that our violent experiences are not localized, not isolated. Instead of simply having stories about our families, our friends, our own run-ins with the law, there is suddenly (inter)national documentation of just how often we are harassed, imprisoned, killed, and how often the state is getting away with it. Our anecdotal evidence—while compelling for our own lives—is suddenly–and jarringly being placed in a global context, and the sheer numbers of lost lives paints a picture that in some ways is grimmer than one which only encompasses our block, our neighborhood, or our city.
It is sad to realize it’s not one officer, one department. It’s sad to realize there is an entire network designed to harm us, and protect those who do harm. It is depressing to realize how formidable the giant of empire is.
And then my sadness is compounded with guilt. I am guilty for being sad. Sadness feels weak. I know in my head that the point of talking-head propaganda, the point of state murder, of police acquittals, of harassment and imprisonment is demoralization. I feel guilty for being demoralized. I should be angry. I should be fiery with unquenchable passion. I should be as relentless as the state. If I am sad, the state has won. If I am sad, the fight is over.
This is what, most recently, I am trying to remind myself: Humanness is not weakness. It is not a new realization, but one I have been giving myself new permission to inhabit. Feeling, though it may make me vulnerable, does not make me weak. Mourning is what I should do when people I love are taken from me. Experiencing hurt around the painful realities my people and I face is more than understandable; It shows that I have not given in, not accepted the current, violent reality, not forfeited the belief in my own value.
The same qualities that make the state overwhelming are the ones that, in fact, make it weak. An unfeeling devotion to profit, to the grotesque amassing of resources, at the expense of community, people and planet, is not strength. There is, in fact, nothing sadder than believing in the sacrifice of life for material, control, and power. The most intense violence—which we are seeing ramp up—the intentional erasure of history, the use of militaristic force, solitary confinement, the reneging of basic rights, assault, abuse, will never stop our communities from feeling. It will never end our love for our own lives, for the lives of our ancestors, for the lives of our children. It will never dissuade us from fighting back.
My sadness proves my love, and my love proves that I am driven by profound spiritual bonds to my people—past, present and yet to come. And just as it is unsustainable for us to ignore violence, ignore the political reality of our oppression, it is as equally unsustainable to pretend it has not affected us, is not affecting us. Being affected does not imply weakness. Rather, it implies the presence of all the qualities the state does not possess, all the qualities that make struggle worthwhile, and make the realizing of justice the more sweepingly beautiful.
Pretending I am not sad, hiding my sadness, will not make me stronger. Suppressing my true self, denying the fear and rage that surround loss, is what in the long run will weaken me. When we talk of self-care, self-preservation, we need to talk not just about overcoming our feelings of grief, but allowing them, making room for them. We need to talk about movement building that allows us to feel, in all the different ways that may come, and does not expect us to erase or bottle up our sadness in the name of organizing, leadership or activism.
Let us not push forward so decidedly that we do not stop to mourn. It’s okay to grieve for our lost, for ourselves, for our families, for our ancestors. Let that grief be a part of the movement building process for which we allow hallowed space, and let it build within us the compassion that propels us into new battles.