A Week Of Activism Brought Up A Lot Of Insecurities I Thought I'd Gotten Past
Updated: Jun 22, 2020
For the first 10 days or so of protests, I struggled to find my place in the civil rights movement currently unfolding before our eyes. In retrospect, a week and a half isn't exactly a long time to figure out a plan of attack for fighting for the lives of your community. But in the call-out culture we currently thrive in, anyone who didn't immediately catapult themselves into formation with the self-proclaimed wokest among us has been made to feel less than.
I consider myself to be vocal when I have to be, and most times I only openly express my thoughts on a subject if I believe I'm adding something new to the conversation. I don't like to debate, I'm not a fan of confrontation, and I hate a devil's advocate ass mother fucker.
It's for that reason I've been called passive-aggressive more times than I care to think about. The reality is my response to most negative experiences is to shut down first. And that's exactly how I first responded to news of George Floyd's death and the subsequent protesting that ensued across the nation.
When Floyd was killed I was still in the throes of my own personal grief. Between April 14 and May 11, I lost three family members. As of last Friday evening, that number rose to four. Every day since the second week of April I've worked through mixed feelings of rage and sadness, each death setting me back to square one in the grief process. The challenge of not only trying to work but lead has left me exhausted and angry. By the time the Black Lives Matter movement had its resurgence I didn't feel like I had any more fight in me.
And so I sat on the sidelines as other people took a stand. I liked and retweeted some comments, shared a few posts in my stories, but few words were my own. A pang of personal guilt weighed on me because I knew I had things to say, but it wasn't until I saw an increasing number of posts about people's silence that I started to wonder, am I being judged? While most comments about inherent complicity have been directed at white people and mainstream brands, there's been no shortage of fingerpointing within our own community, and in some instances necessarily so. As a Senior Content Director over two sites whose audiences are Black women who hadn't uttered a word, I kept wondering whether some were pointing a proverbial finger at me. Or had the publications become so irrelevant nobody even expected us to step up and do anything? I couldn't decide which hypothetical problem I created in my mind was worse so I stressed over both.
The first moment I actually "said" something I fucked up. When I got called out for putting the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on my #BlackOutTuesday post it confirmed another fear: I didn't know enough about my own people's movement to speak up. That morning I decided to stick to what I do best -- write -- so I began working on a series of Black women-owned businesses to support. Of course, I was already late in the game and when I saw other editors do the same thing and receive massive amounts of praise I became frustrated. I hadn't even published all of my lists yet before I developed a defeatist mentality and decided nobody gives a fuck about what I do even when I do it. I was pressed y'all. So pressed I had to call a friend and tell on myself.
Thankfully, my friend wasn't as embarrassed by me as I was of myself as I told her how in the midst of people getting arrested and shot in the street, I was sitting behind my computer sulking over social media likes and followers and stressing over page views. She did laugh at me though, as she should have, before reminding me at the end of the day I have a platform, no matter how big or small, and I need to use it.
After our conversation, I realized a few things about myself. First: I have to learn to be comfortable not taking the lead. At the core of my insecurity around my lack of activism was a sense of feeling useless. I realized some time ago whenever there's a dynamic in which I'm contributing less than other people- for whatever reason- it makes me feel insignificant.
I simply don't know enough about social justice reform and I have to be OK in my limited knowledge. Yes, I can continue to educate myself, but there are people who know exactly what needs to be done to dismantle the police, see that cops are prosecuted, and eliminate harsh sentencing and mass incarceration in our community. Following their lead is not being silent or weak.
Second: I was projecting. When you spend Monday through Friday being largely unheard between the hours of 9 to 5 it weighs on you to the point you start to question whether your voice matters in any capacity. I thought I'd relieved myself of the burden of other people's disrespect and disregard nearly a year ago, but the feeling of not being someone worth listening to crept up on me in many moments throughout the days. I was letting the lack of value some people have for me in one setting lead me to believe no one saw value in me anywhere and, consequently, I felt like I had nothing to contribute.
Third: I've never done things for the sake of attention and now is not the time to start. I told my friend on the phone I feel like the Tinashe of Black media (I'm pretty sure that's when she laughed), but the middle of a race war was not the time to try to be Beyonce. The reason I started writing my Black women-owned lists was to highlight the businesses that never receive media coverage. I wanted to shine a light on those who are overlooked, maybe in part because that's sometimes how I feel myself. It was about amplifying other women's work, not being admonished for mine. And truthfully that was always my intention when I decided to study journalism in the first place. I wanted to write about Black women because Black women are the overlooked.
I received a couple of sweet comments from some of the women I wrote about on Friday and it brought me back to my core purpose. One woman told me seeing her name and her brand featured among so many other bosses made her day. I told her her email made mine. I'd gotten over myself enough that night that the next day I accepted a friend's invitation to help hand out supplies to protestors in downtown Atlanta with her company, Aunt Jackie's. True to form, as soon as I arrived I popped open the cooler and put two bottles of water in one hand and a Capri Sun in the next to give people as the marching began. I felt the need to immediately make myself useful. When the first wave of protestors declined my offer of refreshments, I had no choice but to calm down. I was out demonstrating and available to offer support if it was needed and that needed to be enough. About an hour later I took hold of the wagon with masks and started offering them to people. One Black woman walked by me with nothing on her face so I asked her if she wanted one. When I told her they were free, she paused and an expression of sheer gratitude spread across her face as she hugged and thanked me. In that moment everything clicked. This is what service is about. I don't have the reach to serve 10,000 that's okay; the feeling of bonding with just one is enough.
So yes, I got caught up -- in social media numbers, in perceived perceptions about me, in Internet rhetoric, in a bunch of shit I thought I was no longer worried about. Thankfully, it only took me a little over a week to check myself and come back to my senses. Just like many people have had to remind themselves that any form of activism in this fight is enough, we have to know that any number of people we reach is enough. Sure, we can always do more, but if you're only doing so for personal gain, you might as well throw it all away.