My blog Do Not Move Off The Sidewalk Challenge: Holding Your Space In A White World continues to be shared around the world in 2020 even though I wrote the blog in 2018. Thank you to everyone that has read the blog, shared the blog, and understood its significance. This year alone, it has been read 86,000 times. Overall the blog has been met with a clear understanding from Black people, People of Color (POC), and White People. Black people and People of Color that have participated in the challenge as well as many White people, shared many comments noticing how they navigate spaces in the world. The blog has been translated into Spanish, and the challenge has been done in Sweden, UK, and many places around the world. (The challenge can be found here.) The results are always the same. Black people and People of Color are typically always expected to move and/or accommodate White people in spaces.
While I was pleased with many of the comments, as a writer, I understand that everyone is not going to like what I write. In fact, I am a firm believer that if everyone is singing my praises, then I have not done my job. It is my job to make you uncomfortable. Change dwells in the realm of the uncomfortable. The blog was intended for Black people and People of Color to reclaim and own their space and for White people to be aware of their expectations of Black people and People of Color in spaces.
It is empowering for me to see so many Black People and People of Color respond to my blog. I understand their comments and frustrations because I have been there, done that, got a t-shirt and sent out postcards. I have made a decision that I am no longer accommodating White people in spaces because it is expected. I am not moving because of some unwritten rule based on the color of my skin. I am here, and I belong here. Many people can agree with that and understand that Black people and People of Color have every right to take up space and exist in this world.
Yet, I am always intrigued by the White people that read Do Not Move Off The Sidewalk and are HIGHLY upset about the content. Many White people were bothered by the challenge of Black people/POC holding their space.
My response to their anger is always, “Why?” Why is it a problem that Black People and People of Color stand in spaces knowing they have the right to be there? It’s as if they do not even see that what they are saying only adds to my argument. If this issue of Black People and People of Color fighting to hold their space “doesn’t exist,” as many White people claim, then why are they mad? Why does it bother them that I am challenging Black People/POC to hold their space? Why does it upset them that a Black Person/Person of Color wouldn’t simply move out of their way because they feel they should? Why continue to pretend that this isn’t an issue when so many Black People and People of Color have been clear that this happens to them daily?
Black people didn’t invent Jim Crow laws. White people did. Black people didn’t come up with the law that Black people had to step aside/off the sidewalk when a White person was passing by them. White people did. Black people didn’t invent Colored Only and White Only signs for restaurants and water fountains, etc. White people did. Removing Jim Crow laws and the segregated signage does not mean that the sentiment behind them has changed. For many, the underlying sentiment still lingers. The fact that many White people are bothered by this challenge tells me I have hit the nail on the head and trust me I knew I hit the nail on the head when I wrote it. Their comments only solidify what I and many Black People and People of Color know to be true- that we are always fighting for space.
This is one of the problems I believe many White people have with this challenge. When the world is designed for your comfort, it is difficult for you to imagine that Black People and People of Color may not have that same comfort. This nation was not designed for Black People and People of Color to exist in it. This nation is designed for White comfort. Historically this is true and currently this is true. Historically, Black men like Clinton Briggs, have been murdered for attempting to hold their space. According to reports, “While walking down a sidewalk in early September 1919, Briggs reportedly stepped aside to allow a white couple to pass. Apparently, the white woman brushed into Briggs, scolding him by saying, “N*ggers get off the sidewalk down here.” When Briggs replied, “This is a free man’s country,” the woman’s escort seized him until others came with an automobile and carried Briggs outside of town. Unable to find a rope to hang him with, the mob took the automobile chains, tied Briggs to a tree, and riddled his body with bullets. His body was found several days later by a farmer.”
Currently, just a few weeks into the new year, Laval Stephens, who is a junior varsity player at Ben Lomond High School, was handcuffed and detained following his basketball game. According to the article, Laval Stephens says he and a group of his teammates were sitting on the Cedar Valley side watching the varsity game when an administrator from Cedar Valley High asked them to move. Stephens went on to say, “I was just asking, ‘Can you please give me a reason why I have to move? Is there anywhere in the rulebook that says I have to move?’” From that point, according to the article, a deputy arrives and, according to Stephens, “starts pushing me in the back and then said, ‘You’re walking too slow.’ He grabbed me in the back and started pushing me out the door.” Why was Stephens asked to move? Why was there a need to involve a deputy? Why was Stephens pushed out of the gym? Why was he handcuffed and detained for merely sitting and watching a basketball game? While the school administrator and deputy have not made any statements to answer these particular questions, Stephens believes this happened because he is Black. Black people are often made aware of how our bodies are permitted to take up space. If our bodies make White people uncomfortable or are unaccommodating, many White people feel the need to correct Black people, call law enforcement, pretend as if Black people do not exist in the space, or lash out at Black people in anger.
Last year we saw incident after incident of this happening, yet it is easier for many White people to believe, “Hannah and all the people that have responded to or shared this blog are making this up.” For what reason? Almost half a million people have read Do Not Move Off The Sidewalk. There is a reason it continues to be shared. Because Black People and People of Color understand this issue and feel seen. Because Black People and People of Color have always been told to minimize, to shrink, to be invisible because this world was never designed for us to be ourselves, to embrace ourselves, to be who we are.
AND TO ME THAT’S THE REAL PROBLEM WHITE PEOPLE HAVE WITH The Do Not Move Off The Sidewalk Challenge. It is an article CHALLENGING Black People and People of Color to STAND IN ALL THEIR GLORY!
TO MAKE NOISE.
TO BE SEEN.
TO BE HEARD.
TO TAKE UP SPACE.
AND THAT IS WHAT MANY WHITE PEOPLE FEAR.
This challenge is far greater than Black People and People of Color just taking up space. It is about Black people and People of Color understanding their RIGHT to take up space. It is about Black People and People of Color understanding their value and worth. And once you understand your value, you are clear on what you will and will not tolerate. It moves from just taking up physical space and seeps into what you are willing to allow to take up space in your life, employment, and relationships. This challenge has the ability to impact every area of your life. It stands toe to toe with White supremacy and says, “I am here and I shall not be moved.” Imagine a world where Black People and People of Color said, “Not today. Today I’m taking a stand.” That is what many White people fear and that is really the source of anger. People that understand their value in spaces and all areas of their lives have the ability to bring down systems of oppression.
So please, Black People and People of Color continue to hold your space.
YOU ARE HERE AND YOU BELONG HERE!