I saw Selma on Sunday. Part of the reason why I waited to see it on that specific day is because I wanted to be clear with my son that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement were the reasons why we had a three-day weekend.
This year I tried to go extra dramatic, writing while listening to a cd I acquired for research purposes, “Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom Songs 1960 – 1966)”… but iTunes wouldn’t play either disc. Yes, I can sometimes be a conspiracy theorist and will easily go there… but I won’t. I tried other discs so I’m going with maybe I just need that iTunes upgrade and a computer clean-out… which could send me back to conspiracy theories. But, I digress (as the energy of Dr. King speeches, on shuffle play, air through my Spotify account helping me to remember)…
For a few years I was not as demonstrative about my celebrations during this hallowed weekend. I felt that if I lived my life in constant acknowledgement of the greatness of my “Blackness”, and the centuries long struggle of my kind in America, I didn’t have to assign a day or a month to go extra hard about it. As long I choose not to surgically change my skin color, my pigment rich condition remains an obvious one. And one that greatly determines which little box the world will attempt to assign me to.
Walking through Brooklyn, my birth home and now mecca of all things cool and hip(-ster), it was easy to not consider my color. I had other things to consider. Like being the daughter of proud Afro-Panamanians in little West Indies, East Flatbush or being a Black non-American descendent while moving through downtown Brooklyn. But, those are stories for another time.
Since moving to Boston much has happened, or should I say, has re-awakened within me. I thought I was conscious. But, from what I understand of consciousness, there are yet more levels and dimensions, possibly an infinite amount, to become. In Boston I realized I was Black. Not my Brooklyn-Black, swaggering down Fulton Street owning my strut and personal style of Brooklyn-ness as I flowed, either through the Gospel Den/Restoration side of Fulton, or the Moshood/Cakeman Raven side. But the kind of Black that gives me the impression that I need to constantly explain away the mis-informed concepts of Black-ness that sneak out in soft-spoken, sly remarks during supposedly intellectual conversations. You would think that in a city that is pretty much college-ville, and the home of, what most believe, are the finest houses of higher learning (and where the average Black student has to be that much more “intellectual” and has to carry themself accordingly), I wouldn’t have to, on behalf of every Black person in the world, have to check folks for attempting to assign me to the “another nigger allowed in here, but I know they are really just an illiterate rapper from the hood” box (run-on sentence ends here). Pause… I believe that Hip-Hop and the art of Spoken Word/Poetry are two forms of modern art that honor African culture in its mastery of rhythm and language as in the African traditions of drumming and the royal Griot class. I could easily spin off into the mis-perceptions surrounding Krumping as well… I need to blog more. So much to dig into.
Walking through Brooklyn I banked on the beauty of my Black-ness (such a crazy way to define ones self… by color). I walked tall knowing my family history, embracing it all. I held strong to the part of me that is Central American, Afro-Antillean, Scottish, Brooklyn bred, and the trail from them all back to Africa. And then I get to Boston and for the first time in my life I had to actively demand respect for my color.
Just a much as I can’t blame Einstein for the perverse, spiritually and eco-unconscious use of his discoveries that are the foundations of some of the world’s most destructive creations, there is not a Black gene to blame for creating the wretched image of a being that exists in the minds of some non-Blacks (and the conditioned mind of some Blacks). If you hold this image to any degree, it’s your creation. It’s your choice to drink that poisoned koolaid that would make you think another human is (genetically or otherwise) inferior to another and attempt to handle them accordingly, either subtly or overtly.
I saw Selma on Sunday…
And wept throughout most of the movie. I wept because there were some Black teenagers who made good use of the free pass given to 7th, 8th and 9th graders to see the movie but did not make good use of their time and created their own scenes for a good portion of the beginning of the movie. I cried for them because when I approached them after a man yelled out “shut the f___ up”, they believed he was just another racist and didn’t quite understand that they were perpetuating “the image”… and there were no Elders around to love, cover, correct and train them up in the midst of a mainly White audience.
I cried because I sat with my 12 year old son as he at times cried and at times sat enraged.
I cried as I watched what was supposed to be old news from 50 years ago looking exactly like what has been (present day) happening in Ferguson, NY and... Everywhere.
I cried because I wanted to fight. I cried because I am the kind of person that is mostly cool until you attempt to deny me my freedom or harm my loved ones… but Selma's depiction of my Elders, Mothers, Fathers, Sisters, Brothers, Friends being beaten like animals (which we humans sometimes are kinder to) and murdered because of their right to be Black in America filled me with hate.
I cried because in the moment I couldn’t be a humanist. Not a Renaissance humanist, but a humanist that believes that our common tie is at the soul and spirit level and that color, sex, creed, sex nor sexuality matters. Yet, I found myself hatefully angry at every White person represented in the movie, the real-life folks that either called me “nigger” to my face or behind my back and surely the ones in Boston that smiled in my face as they attempted to talk “down” to me as I attempted to relate to them at the soul and spirit level.
Earlier in the day I attended an anti-racism symposium led by the Trinity Episcopal Church community in Copley Square. Trinity Church has a committed anti-racism team that is actively researching their history regarding its role in racism since the church’s inception. Trinity is also actively engaged in the work of personal introspection through open weekly conversations and book-reading discussions.
I was introduced to the Trinity community by my former professor and now-friend, Dr. Felicia Sandler. Felicia is white. Our conversations are grown-woman dialogues, honestly and boldly trusting as we share the insights behind what we choose to release and embrace in the new seasons of our lives, raising sons in a racially charged world as we are passionately ready to stand for what we believe in without the dropping of a dime. Our sons are good friends who literally don’t see the differences of their color nor their obvious height difference.
Upon my first visit to the church Felicia introduced me to every possible leader in the church and when she understood they would be holding the symposium this past weekend she re-introduced me once again. Felicia’s introduction led to an invitation for me to participate in Trinity's inaugural "Anne B. Bonnyman Symposium - We Still Have A Dream: End Racism" Dr. King celebration. While going through the music I would share in singing for the event I had moments of apprehension as I saw some of the titles: “We Shall Overcome”, “This Little Light Of Mine”…
Whether in NY or Boston, when I attend Black or African-awareness events, lectures, dance classes, museums, plays... all too often I see more White faces than Black. Maybe it’s the venues or events I select. But I wasn’t sure how I felt about attending or participating in what may possibly be another mainly White-attended event being one of few Black faces present singing those sacred songs. Please do understand that I am deeply grateful to have been a participant in such a sacred space, for such a sacred moment during a time like this and during this sacred weekend. But, there’s another level of being Black that I have to be mindful of. The Black that wants to be sure I’m doing right by those who share with me in color and struggle. That I don’t sell-out or make light (pun intended) of the fight.
In my young Black awareness, in the midst of singing those songs during the symposium, I understood the meaning and strength of those precious and simple messages like never before. Because I’ve spent way too much time talking with my son, not about what used to happen to Black Boys, but about what is happening to Black Boys, as I sang the songs I meant it when I sang We Shall Overcome and that I was Not Afraid Today. I promised that the Little Light within me is gonna Shine and I would teach my son to live his long life doing the same. I sang from my heart as a guest of the Trinity Hallelu Singers and as I looked into the affirming face of respected Elder Marian Wright Edelman. I listened intently as Mother Edelman gave us our marching orders to address poverty and reminded us that religious institutions should be the engine and not the caboose of the train in matters of race-relations and social concerns such as the “Crib to Prison Pipeline”. I listened as Bishop Michael Curry unapologetically propose that being a crazy Christian is what it takes. The crazy Christian kind like Master Teacher, Jesus, in the temples, and the same One that broke bread with those considered to be the heathens. I related to Rev. Liz Walker when she confessed that she needed help getting rid of the justified hate she felt towards some Whites for the violence they perpetrated against Blacks in the name of Christianity and white supremacy. I listened as Debbie Irving related to the White audience in a way I just can’t (partially because its just difficult at times for black folks, or maybe just me, to have a shared conversation with someone who is oblivious to the hard-learned, centuries of lessons on how to stay alive while being Black in America) when she urged them to actively look at and be willing to let go of their white privilege. I was on the edge of my seat when Tim Wise gave us the hard facts and shared his in-your-face, well-informed thoughts that neutralized our color difference and made me feel like if and when I would ever have to go into battle he would be one of the first people I called to gear up with me.
And then later that evening I saw Selma…
Unfortunately, we are not in a day and age where I can be passively Black. I can no longer simply remember Dr. King and that time of racial unrest long ago during a single weekend in one month... or ever again, as far as I can see at this moment. Mother Edelman, in her wisdom, shared that these current days are the worst times for Black folks since… slavery. This type of human regression is unacceptable. It is also evident in the way we handle our Elders, the family unit, our bodies, planet Earth, and in the way we worship money and power over humanity, love and peace.
I saw Selma on Sunday. The passive celebration of my Blackness is over.