As I drove home from the Speed Museum after a viewing of I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary on race in America brought to life through the impeccable words of James Baldwin, I felt tears welling up in my eyes. Somehow, I managed to make it through the viewing without crying, fighting back the tears as I saw the faces of Trayvon, Tamir and Ayiana. I put my head down and closed my eyes, refusing to watch the beating of Rodney King. Some images just never leave you. I was only 15 years old when the grainy video made its way across this nation on TV screens. Who knew years later we would watch the death of Black men on cell phones and computers around the world. I watched buildings burn to the ground and even at that age, I understood the fires, the broken windows, even the looting. This nation pretended to be oblivious to the riot that was bubbling up inside of Black people. An internal volcano simply waiting to erupt.
I Am Not Your Negro was a phenomenal documentary, jarring, piercing, raw, sad, and honest. Baldwin does not mince words. His eloquence and dominance of speech are tremendous. By far he is one of the most powerful orators I have ever heard.
However, in general, there was nothing in this documentary that was new information to me as a Black person in this world. As a writer, I am a fan and reader of James Baldwin. I was always amazed by the way he spoke, each word deliberate, delivered with a surgeon’s precision as he spoke truth to power. The agony behind many of his speeches was palatable. The words jumped off the screen, drawing the viewer in, demanding attention. The images of Black injustice gave life to his words. Images we have seen before. Images that are burned into our psyche. Images as a Black person I have vowed always to remember and to tell the story.
I sat in my seat angered and disenchanted. This is the day to day life of so many Black people. Not much had changed. Outside of the clothing and things that would date era, it looked like 2017. Just another day being Black in America.
After the movie had ended there was a talk back with Sadiqa Reynolds President of the Urban League. I know Sadiqa personally and professionally and I knew if anyone could stand in that space after that movie, she could. Her summary indeed spoke what I knew many of us were feeling.
And then it was time for the audience to give comments. I sat through a few comments and questions and I felt like my head was going to explode. I had to leave. As I walked back to my car, I wondered, how much more?
How much more do you want us to take?
How long are we going to keep playing this game?
How many documentaries will it take, White America?
How many showings does the Speed Museum need to do? Ten? Fifteen? What will be the right number?
How enlightened are you now?
Does hearing about the plight of oppression from Baldwin sound different than when a Black male is shouting I Can’t Breathe?
Help me understand!
What is different now from what Baldwin was saying over FIFTY years ago?
And still, here we are. Still fighting for basic rights! Just base level civil rights. Still. Fighting.
How much longer is it going to take for you to get it?
How much longer do you want us to wait for you to get it?
Don’t stand up and ask me what you need to do! I do not have the desire or inclination to hold your hand through this fight because I am too busy using both my hands to fight for freedom. Just, look around you! The world is on fire! Grab some damn water and help put it out!
Forgive me if I sound upset. But my faith is waning. My patience is wearing thin. I’m tired. You pretend as if you haven’t seen injustice all around you. You pretend as if we haven’t been shouting. You pretend as you didn’t see Philando Castile shot by an officer bleed out on Facebook Live. You pretend as if Mike Brown’s body didn’t stay in the street for 4 hours. You pretend as if Trayvon wasn’t just a young boy going home after buying Skittles and tea. You pretend as if Rekia Boyd was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. You pretend as if our rage is not justified. Stop pretending! You are not fooling anyone!
Just admit you were asleep at the wheel. Admit you turned a blind eye! Admit you didn’t care because it didn’t affect you! Admit that you are racist. Admit that you agree with the policies that make it almost impossible for Black people to rise. Admit that you and your lineage benefited from our oppression! Look in the mirror and admit something!
I can deal with an admission but I cannot deal with pretending as if you didn’t see. If you didn’t see it is because you made a conscious decision NOT to see.
TAKE THE BLINDERS OFF! Take a look America. This blood is not on our hands. This one we will not take responsibility for. We were never guilty. It is you, that shoulders the blame. And you must own it!
You ask me what you can do? OWN WHAT YOU DID! OWN WHAT YOU ALLOWED! OWN YOUR SILENCE! OWN YOUR NEGLECT! OWN YOUR COLLECTIVE HISTORY! OWN YOUR SHAME and then VOW TO DO SOME SHIT TO CHANGE IT!