by Jonnaé Bryant
I sometimes wonder what it means to be black in America as I watch expressions of solidarity and radicalism bloom and blossom into action that is predicated upon love, community, support, justice, and courage. As in the myriad examples of collective action that have ensued since the murder of Michael Brown, these values lie at the core of those willing to resist state-sanctioned violence and systemic oppression.
The prolific and condoned murders of black men, women, and children daily at the hands and guns of militarized police across the United States should make us question the state of democracy that we live in today.
We should question the principles and legitimacy of a deeply flawed, race, class, and gender- biased criminal justice system that daily employs racial profiling and disproportionately targets minorities. We should question an institutional structure that swallows unprecedented numbers of black, Latino, and poor people into its machine and spits them out disenfranchised and stripped of basic privileges and rights. We should question the authenticity of a nation that can call itself “the land of the free,” yet can claim the largest prison population in the world. Not only should we question, but we should challenge these issues that have long affected us and our communities. The morality of this nation is at stake. The lack of authenticity of this government almost seems surreal. Persistent state-violence and murder is what tipped the ice burg, tumultuously waking masses from deep slumbers. We begin to critically think and question the conditions of concrete reality. Anger conjugates with love and our hearts and minds shine with the intensity of supernovas. Thus resistance is born.
Rightful resistance can be transformative in ways that are rich in strength and eradicated of fear, especially in the case of fighting for the preservation of life, humanity, and dignity. Some of us transform in ways that were once unimaginable and we are reminded of the beauty and aesthetic that surrounds collective thought and action, unity, organization, revolutions, and progressive movements that transform our world. We see lives being taken and devalued and these lives matter to us. We matter to us. We are filled with a love for us and ourselves that is prophetic, unconditional, and flowing within our souls. We are reminded of history and that it is repetitive and we know that we have always had to fight for our humanity in this country. We are reminded of modes of repression and barbarism: tear gas, surveillance by police and military forces, and police dogs. Still, we demand justice because we love us so much that we want better for ourselves, our sons, our daughters, and posterity. We want to live and be, simultaneously and peacefully.
This becomes us. Fear is no longer an option as we refuse to accept death as a fate and consequence simply for having brown skin. We think, connect, and act in ways that prove necessary and conducive to a better future, for democracy and for justice. This gives us meaning in a society that defines us in ways that are deadly and detrimental to our collective self-esteem and self-image. We find ourselves in each other, in struggle, and in solidarity. We begin to define ourselves for ourselves, something that is crucial “to the striving in the souls of black folk,” in the words of W. E. B. Du Bois.
We have known struggle. Struggle requires us to continually insist on and affirm our humanity, reveal the ways in which racism covertly informs our institutions, and to envision a world that can offer us hope. We cannot budge. Saying goes “the struggle is real” and we have to persist or we die effortlessly and carelessly in vain. I think of struggle and the blood of ancestors, freedom fighters, and martyrs from every generation. Blood sheds, stains, and leaves us with brown residue. Unequivocally, this is what it means to live, to be black, and to die in America.