What Are We Fighting For?
I have been on the race beat (relentlessly) for years now. I have covered every murder, social movement, and tragedy affecting Black communities with timely and critical analyses. Every month, week, and day, I have reviewed footage of unarmed Black folks who have been gunned down by law enforcement, Black mothers who have been beaten in public, and Black children who have been murdered in cold blood by armed state officials and vigilantes. I have borne witness to the systematic isolation, repression, and marginalization of Black citizens. And, a few weeks ago, a friend asked me, “Jenn, what are you fighting for?” For the first time in my life, the answer was “I don’t know.”
I have been in a state of mental fatigue for some time now. Writing story after story about Renisha McBride, Marissa Alexander, Trayvon Martin, John Crawford, Hadiya Pendelton, Jordan Russell Davis, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown has left me with little more to say. I continue to write. I continue to push forward in a struggle which functions to deny my right to do so. Therefore, when I was queried about my central cause, my horse in this race, my first thought was “well, obviously I’m fighting White Supremacy.” But, that wasn’t the right answer.
The ubiquity of White Supremacy is indeed part of my fight. I would argue it is a central part. Yet, fighting White Supremacy won’t do much to end misogyny, cissexism, transmisogyny, ableism, heteronormativity, or fat shaming. It certainly won’t guarantee my equal citizenship or anyone else’s. I have grown to fight for something more measurable than that.
When I think about unarmed Black people who have been unapologetically murdered – without cause or repercussion – in this country, I think about the rights that were denied them. Black unarmed citizens like Walter Scott and Freddie Gray, whose only real crimes were existing in public while Black, remind me that my fight requires a broader focus than my individual efforts to overcome White Supremacy.
Frankly, I’m not totally sure White Supremacy will ever go away. Mainstream Whites still behave as though they are allowing us to be here rather than coexisting alongside our communities. I still hear comments like, “We let you come here,” “We gave you freedom!” and “We were the ones to made you citizens.” There is still a pathological commitment to othering Black people, in particular, that often baffles the mind. But, at this point in history, we have no comparable circumstance through which to envision a world with no White-heteropatriarchy. There are no examples of a universe unemcumbered by the repressive politics of racial discord. Thus, there really is no finite definition of what the “end of White Supremacy” looks like.
How would we even know it when we saw it? Would it look like a Hollywood chock full of Lupita N’Yongos, America Ferreras, Jamie Chungs, Mindy Kalings, and Q’orianka Kilchers? Would it articulate itself via diverse news rooms and multi-racial Fortune 500 boardrooms? Would it rest upon a police force which actually protects and serves our most vulnerable citizens? Or, would it just look like freedom? If so, how does that freedom present itself?
The fact is: I’m not sure what the end of White Supremacy looks like. And, an equation with no answer isn’t a mathematical problem I want to kill myself trying to solve.
I say all this to say that I think what I am fighting for has evolved a bit. For me, my fight is about the sanctity of my mere existence. I am fighting so that I (and other marginalized people) can walk outside without it having to necessarily be an act of revolution. I am fighting to be recognized and acknowledged as valuable by a society which codifies my citizenship. I am fighting to ensure that my children have access to liberty. The freedom to exist is the most basic of rights. Perhaps, that is a better summation of what I am fighting for.
For so much of my life, I have forsaken parts of me so that I could fit into a society that clearly didn’t accept me as I was. I straightened my hair, attempted to speak “better” English, aspired to achieve the “American Dream,” and expected my respectability to pay me dividends in life outcomes. In essence, instead of fighting to exist, I became complicit in a system which denied me that right.
In this society, existence for socially deviant bodies (like racial, gender, and sex minorities) has been interpreted as a privilege. Every day is riddled with negotiation, entanglements, tension, and isolation. These are the reasons why I keep fighting. For me, they are not just rooted in White Supremacy, they are inherent to our hegemonic, neoliberal society which is, at least in part, co-constitutive of the oppression and repression of “non-normal” (where normal means straight, White, and likely, male) people.
That’s it. At this point, I am just fighting to exist. I’d like to move freely throughout public spaces. And, I just don’t think that should feel as nearly impossible as it does.
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