VI: The Last Year
Photographs of author and community members at one year Reflect and Rally event on July 9, 2021 | Image credits: (1) Gabe Abate, (2 & 3) Shanon Stewart
Hello dear readers, it’s been far too long. There’s been so much ongoing in my life and certainly in the world that I’ve had such a hard time finding myself in the right headspace for writing. Know that across the past two months I have started nearly half a dozen blog posts that have gone unfinished. Call it stress, call it lack of muse, call it exhaustion, but whatever it was, it had me blocked up worse than the Suez Canal last March.
All that aside, I wanted to thank folks for their kind and positive feedback during my mini-hiatus. As an aspiring writer, it’s so heartwarming to hear that people a) read what I write and b) actually liked it. Cheers to connecting with audiences and making an impact (feel free to woot and or woot alongside me). Now, this post is probably going to be a lengthy gal on account of having had so much time to noodle on what I wanted to say. This post is a passion post that I have been contemplating since before starting my blog in January. Today I want to talk to you about my year in review as an active activist and general “caller-outer” of bigotry, ignorance and overarching hatred.
In late May 2020, the world stood in horror when footage of Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd rapidly circulated across the globe. Two days after his death, Regis Korchinski-Paquet lost her life due to police involvement while in mental health distress. I want to note that numerous other lives were lost in the past year, but only a handful will be mentioned throughout. For members of the Black community, the deaths of our loved ones under these circumstances were by no means new or unheard of. As society began to uprise and create calls to action for this “newfound issue”, many of us had to recognize that this was by no means a new occurrence and that change would not happen overnight.
This past year has precipitated the birth of new Black-led activism initiatives, ongoing fights for changes in legislation and a new wave of performative allyship. We’re going to jump in and talk about the latter, but before I get into it I want to say that I’ve linked a great article by Holiday Phillips about performative allyship, so give it a read if I don’t give your questioning mind the due diligence it deserves. For those who are unaware, performative allyship is basically when folks claim to be allies of marginalized communities all the while profiting off of, minimizing, or never actually contributing and/or supporting a social movement, disenfranchised group, etc. In this case, I’ll be predominantly focusing on movements pertaining to anti-Black racism, but know that this concept applies across the fight for social change throughout a plethora of groups.
On June 2, 2020, a group of activists led an online action called Blackout Tuesday. Developed as a means to protest racism and police brutality by flooding Instagram in a wave of black squares, this collective action was started as an online form of direct action. Like many other forms of “mainstream” activism, it started off great. Folks across the globe were posting black squares and hashtagging Blackout Tuesday. People from all walks of life were sharing information about the then-recent loss of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. But like many forms of “mainstream” activism, it was soon diluted into a way for folks who wanted to appear as allies and activists to seem involved in the movement and as if they truly cared for social change.
What I’m going to say next may shock and upset you or make you want to stop reading this post, and I accept that. I have held my tongue for too long and so here it is. Did you post a black square last year? What have you done for the movement since? I cannot begin to count the number of people on my social media feed who posted black squares and HAVE NOT SHOWN UP FOR ANYTHING! When I say show up I don’t necessarily mean physically in-person to an event or initiative. In the midst of a pandemic, it is very understandable for folks not to be able to come in person. When I say show up I mean in any form; physically, virtually, emotionally, etc. I have seen countless people I once thought of as friends share the square and ignore invites to rallies, FREE educational VIRTUAL events. I have seen countless former classmates and colleagues ignore days of mourning, calls to action (signing online petitions, requests to make important events or miscarriages of justice public) and even ignore the simple resharing of a post, story or any form of anti-racist resource.
Let’s be real, many of the people I am speaking directly of will never read this far. They’ll never even glance at this post, let alone acknowledge the hurt and pain they’ve caused Black people in their lives. Recently I’ve begun pulling away from relationships that no longer serve me. As my work with Black Lives Matter continues to flourish I am finding it increasingly hard to connect emotionally, spiritually and fundamentally with people who don’t understand and refuse to attempt to understand the nature of the work that I aspire to dedicate my life to. It’s funny though because oftentimes those who do the least to contribute to the ongoing fights for systemic change are the ones who ask the most about it.
“How are things with BLM going?”
“How did your last rally turn out?” “I’m so proud of the work you’re doing.”
“It’s so sad that things like this are still happening.”
I’ve started to clock it as some form of guilt. Guilt for their lack of involvement, guilt for their lack of willpower to care, guilt for letting down a friend who trusted them and for turning their back on us when we needed them the most. I want to add that activism is an exhausting field of work. Sometimes we put so much in only to be spat on by society. While the work we do can be incredibly rewarding, it is also incredibly tough. As activists, we need thick skin or we’ll crumble.
In the last year alone I have been called and seen friends of the movement called a multitude of things I never expected to hear. Looters, murders, racists, ignorant, stupid, fascists, communists… And I can only imagine how much worse we might have been called behind closed doors. If the name-calling wasn’t bad enough, how about white supremacists? I have personally been verbally attacked and near-doxxed by white supremacists in town. Do you have any idea how terrifying it is to be minding your own business at work only to have a friend message you and say that someone you have never heard of is calling you out by name for something that you had nothing to do with?
Don’t get me wrong, I love the work that I’ve been a part of and I have no intention of stopping. But, it’s a scary world. I have heard stories of activists receiving all sorts of horrible attention from disgusting letters, death threats and sometimes even attempts, successful or otherwise, on their lives. And still being cognizant of that, alongside many of the greatest humans I have ever met, I continue to show up. I don’t expect everyone to have the same dedication to the movement, it’s a lot to ask folks to put their bodies and mental health on the line. But, each and every one of us is capable of some form of contribution and that’s the only way we can truly accomplish the deeply-rooted social change our society so desperately needs.
I am angry, I am tired, I am hurt and so very let down. At a recent rally recognizing the one year anniversary of our local Black Lives Matter chapter we marched in the streets chanting:
“It’s been a year! Nothing’s changed here! It’s been a year! Nothing’s changed here!”
And oh how that resonates in so many facets of my life. Last year BLM as a movement and call to action was trending on social media and today it’s not. The then-flavour of the time is behind us, out of sight and out of mind. WHAT AN ABSOLUTE PRIVILEGE IT IS TO NO LONGER HAVE TO CARE OR TO TIRE OF TALKING ABOUT THIS! When I first spoke out about the racial injustices I faced at my former educational institution I got a huge influx of Facebook friend requests, Instagram followers and general messages to reconnect. I was the flavour of the time, and now much like the movement, here I stand unseen by many and my cries for justice fall more often than not on deaf ears.
It’s disappointing, but not surprising in the slightest. As terrible as it sounds, many people are predisposed to only care and outcry when something directly affects them. This past year has been filled with so many terrible occurrences and climaxes of warfare, genocide and oppression. But what often made so much of it hard to stomach was the folks who remained silent until something happened that directly affected a group or community to which they belonged to. First and foremost, allyship needs to be INTERSECTIONAL! This means showing up for movements, rallies, protests, events, initiatives and whatever else is ongoing for groups that you do not belong directly to.
I cannot begin to describe the number of women who became social media warriors during women’s history month, bringing to light the gender disparity in their respective fields and then remained, and still remain, silent amidst the ongoing outcries in Palestine of genocide and cultural oppression. Not to mention the absolute debacle at the Olympics and how athletes, left, right, and centre have taken up the activism mantle, all the while contributing absolutely nothing to the anti-Asian hate campaign. These are just a few of many examples in the past year alone. Don’t even get me started on the absolutely disgusting shows of performative allyship or shameful silence by an outrageous amount of Canadians in regards to the ongoing uncovering of Indigenous children’s bodies on the sites of former residential schools.
As a society, it’s our duty to fight for one another and as humans, we need to acknowledge that we don’t know what we don’t know. I saw a post the other day that said “privilege will cause you to believe your voice belongs in every conversation.” Fundamentally I think that is one of the most important things to recognize in this type of work. I hate to break it to folks, but sometimes our voices just don’t matter in a space. Sometimes it’s not about us. Sometimes we need to shut up, listen and learn from the people directly affected on how we can contribute to the work that needs to be done. As a Black woman talking about anti-Black racism that’s the advice I have for you, take it or leave it, the choice is yours.
If you’re reading this and you’re angry or annoyed, I won’t say I’m sorry. You need to embark on an introspective journey of why you feel that way and sorry to say, as patient as I am, I will not be doddling along for the ride. If you’re reading this and that guilt, lack of involvement or willpower to act and/or care resonates with you, save your apologies. Save your tears and your upset and go do something about it. Go act, go support or participate in this fight. It’s not a moment, it’s a movement and every second counts. End of rant, end of story, and yet just the beginning of this chapter.