|March 30, 2013||Posted by admin under Music for Thought, Musings||
Awhile back, while attending a lecture by Immortal Technique, someone in the audience asked him about the Seattle WTO protests and what his thoughts were on the necessity of violent tactics in demonstrations. I’ll never forget his response. To paraphrase, he said that anyone can go out in a blaze of glory. What is truly revolutionary, he said, was going to a job you hate every day so you can feed your family, build up the money so you can eventually do what it is you love and fund things to improve your community.
I keep this in mind whenever I complain about the struggles at my job and the Willie Lynch politics I see on a daily basis in the Black community. It plays in my mind when I have arguments about white privilege, institutional racism and economic empowerment. I can’t escape it when my friends and family tell me I need to breathe and not take it personally every time I am disrespected. I keep it in mind even on days like yesterday, when an old white man I’ve never seen before chooses to come and shout curses at me driving by like I’m a foreign invader even though it’s my neighborhood, the same one I’ve been living in for 24 years.
All Black people, whether we recognize it or not, are forced to negotiate how much freedom we’re willing to enjoy. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery 150 years ago but the reality is, there are consequences that come with expressing our freedom that those in positions of privilege don’t have to deal with.
While we may not be in bondage, we are still slaves in the mind. We aren’t free to speak our truth at will as much as the privileged. We aren’t free to act upon the disrespect and outright oppression that we deal with daily without facing consequences that would likely harm our lives and livelihoods.
Yes, you have the freedom to defend yourself, but in reality, the justice system (and society as whole) still treats Black people differently. Yes, you can live in communities with white people and engage in all the same vices, such as drugs and alcohol, as they do. However, while they’re getting slapped on the wrist, if punished at all, when the police catch up with you, you’ll find out that all your money and privileges don’t matter. The police will take any chance they can to punish you to the maximum extent of the law. I know this personally.
Yes, you can say whatever you want, but if you alienate the wrong person, even if you’re speaking the truth, you may be out of a career, never mind a job. The perception of someone being an “angry Black person” can negatively affect that person’s career opportunities because it supposedly makes “the public” uncomfortable, especially considering that the vast majority of media is white owned. If you only pay attention to the mainstream media, you’d think justifiably frustrated people of color don’t exist. Recently, a friend admitted to me that she could see why (even though she doesn’t agree) some people would think I hate white people. I do speak angrily at times. I do spend a lot of time discussing inequity and can often be blunt about it. However, the Glenn Becks, Rush Limbaughs and countless other pundits make careers out of being loud, ignorant and appealing to the worst fears and intentions in their audiences. They get platforms and publicity all over every mainstream news outlet.
Not to mention, this also has a negative effect on your health. Even if your career or physical freedom isn’t affected, the mere act of negotiating these dual realities on daily basis causes real stress.
I found this out the hard way a week ago. I was dealing with multiple personal stress factors, along with pressures related to being a journalist for the Black community and the daily struggles of expressing myself as a Black person. On one particular night, I went to bed with full-blown anxiety. The next day, I woke up with a feeling similar to a heart attack. The feeling would re-emerge to a lesser extent over the course of the weekend, usually brought on by small arguments with friends and family or reading particularly upsetting news articles. Fortunately, my heart is fine. It turns out, I’ve been experiencing anxiety attacks. I have had to make the decision to step back and pick my battles. I have also had to begin dealing with my stress in healthier ways like exercise and de-escalation techniques.
Following an argument earlier this week with a friend who suggested to me that the key to reducing Black youth unemployment was repealing minimum wage laws (he originally said minimum wage laws have done the greatest damage to Black employment but later took that back), I joked to some people that some of these white pundits must have grandfathers who tell them at an early age, they can simply cut Black lives short by 20 years if they constantly tell us ridiculous things that exploit our predisposition to high blood pressure, hypertension, anxiety, etc.
Although it was a joke, it did highlight an underlying truth. There is real stress in having to tolerate people who have no idea how much they’re disrespecting you. It takes a lot not to fight white privilege every moment you’re faced with it, especially from the most well-intentioned people. Fighting every single battle will shorten your life span.
At some point we’re faced with the choice of how much we’re going to take before our lives and livelihoods don’t matter. That’s why certain people never get a chance to speak their minds in the media, no matter how beneficial their opinions. That’s where people living through false freedoms and Rick James-like lifestyles come from. That’s why you see people eventually snap.
As the old negro spiritual goes, “Before I be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free.” I know I’m much more valuable to my family, friends and community if I don’t go out in a blaze of glory, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t think about tasting freedom.