black girl magic: fulfilling our role as the voice of a people

We are strong. We are courageous. We have the ability to triumph through some of the most difficult tribulations that anyone’s mind could even conceive and definitely through history’s most shameful pasts. A blessing to be so resilient, but a curse that we carry on our backs each day, passing the weight from daughter to daughter.

Black women are of a higher caliber than we give ourselves credit. Yes, we know that we’re magical, we know that we’re powerful, but when all of that is said and done, do we really hold that level of regality true to ourselves and hold one another accountable to make sure that our sisters carry themselves in a similar light? Throughout our cultural history, we are the backbone of our ethnic enclaves and the noble strength of our family bloodlines. We have learned to carry and deal with so much, that we have no choice but to multitask with what society tosses at us, our own desires, our family’s goals, and any other specter of light that we have to learn to filter along the way.

We are also known to always be at the forefront of any social-cultural fight. Assata Shakur led the Black Liberation Army; Angela Davis protested racism, sexism, criminal justice reform; Dorothy I. Height fought for black women’s reproductive rights among so many other things that make it absolutely ridiculous that black and white children alike don’t know of her legacy. Ntozake Shange protested by sharing the raw truth of what black women deal with because it isn’t pretty and sometimes we want to quit too, but we can’t. We don’t have a choice. We can’t take the “black woman” cloak off by untying our “boxer braids” like the Kardashians. Sonia Sanchez and Nikki Giovanni pushed for the Black Arts Movement when we accepted our culture and took pride in our own creations, whether they were mainstream or not. And now, Ava DuVernay puts us face-to-face with realities; we can’t escape the facts that stare us down through our television sets. Even the founders of the current Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, created a movement that has legs running farther than they probably could have imagined. We have physically fought, shed emotional tears, sacrificed our livelihoods, and spent a lot of money for the sake of something larger than ourselves.

In March, a young black man was killed in his grandmother’s backyard. Police were called when there were reports of a man trying to break into neighbors’ cars. Seeing Stephon Clark outside at the time, police assumed he was the suspect, thought he had a weapon in his hand. Though allegations of the type of weapon he had changed throughout the police report, Clark ended up with eight gunshots and a cell phone falling to the ground as he was fatally killed.

Sadly, we have heard this story before, the story about a black man, especially, killed at the hands of law enforcement. Police brutality shares patterns with what could be considered as modern-day lynching. But of course, some people choose not to see the signs that may be so visible to the rest of us.

And while people are marching and protesting and fighting and crying for the life of the 22-year-old man that was cut so abruptly short, it never fails that his shortcomings come into play. It happens with every victim of police brutality. Travyon Martin should’ve taken off his hoody; maybe that would’ve kept George Zimmerman from killing the 17-year-old. Freddie Gray shouldn’t have made eye contact and just ran from cops that eventually got him thrown in the police paddywagon. Maybe then the police wouldn’t have taken the extra bumpy road and sharp turns that tossed him about in the back and killing him since they didn’t strap him in his seatbelt. Maybe Sandra Bland shouldn’t have gotten an attitude with the cop for pulling her car over and arresting her for not signaling. Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice shouldn’t have been playing by himself with a toy gun. Eric Garner shouldn’t have sold individual cigarettes. Alton Sterling shouldn’t have sold CDs outside of a convenience store. Philando Castile shouldn’t have done every single thing by-the-book.

Stephon Clark’s issue, however, was his dislike of black women. Apparently, he had some thoughts in regards to dating black women. Disregard the fact that he was a black man, disregard the fact that he came from a black woman, disregard the fact that he lived with his black grandmother, he wanted nothing black, “but an XBox.” Though, this was not a “crime” magnified by the police, it was definitely something that deterred some activists.

Though there is no excuse for his self-hate at 19 years old when he made these Twitter posts, the public portrayal of black people has been an institution to dehumanize and de-power us for hundreds of years. Sadly, the propaganda worked. Even on those of us who don’t self-hate as much but still prefer to stay out of the sun to keep from getting darker, or choose to contour our noses, or don’t “buy black” because “private shops are too expensive and they’re asking for too much.” So, in turn, we’re quicker to shop at the white store or retailer because it makes us more comfortable.

Black women have the strength and duty to fight for Clark like we would any person of color murdered under the law. He could still be our brother, husband, or son. We fight harder for men who emotionally dog us, take mental advantage of us, use our money, use our bodies; hell, we fight harder for our jobs knowing that they’re at-will and will drop us in a second if we become “too ethnic” and can’t assimilate enough. So, even though Stephon Clark was misguided in his identity, his death was not about him. It’s a larger picture that still affects all of us of color. It still shows our social placement and it still symbolizes what our lives equate to when it comes to the law, authorities, and anything of official, tangible value.

As black women, we’ve always had a fighting voice. We know what is and isn’t wrong. Innately, we are stronger. Naturally. Why choose to be weaker? Who are we saying no to — this particular man whose earthly life no longer thrives? Or no to ourselves for righting an ongoing-for-too-damn-long wrong?

Stephon Clark’s death was not just the death of Stephon Clark and his misogynoir and perceived emotional abuse he caused black women. His death was, “the law was successful in killing another black man.” Can black women put this pride aside? The hurt and pain some black men caused us? Out of the 300 slaves she helped transfer to the North, I’m sure Harriet was only concerned if they wanted to be free.

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