A dream deferred: Repeating the good and bad
Ashleigh Atwell is a queer lesbian writer and organizer born and raised in Atlanta, GA.
I am used to carrying the burden of an intersectional existence, but as 2015 came to a close, it became heavier. In October, I was planning an action with my friends for Atlanta Pride for weeks, and when that plan became a reality, we marched, chanted and twerked through the streets to disturb GayTL’s superficial peace. While I was letting my dyke flag fly, black people across the country were traveling to Washington D.C. for Justice or Else, the reboot of the Million Man March that occurred 20 years ago. I was excited about my work for Pride, but part of my heart wanted me to be in Washington D.C. among that sea of brown skin.
I felt guilty for not making an effort to get to Washington. Black women are taught from childhood that we must make sacrifices to ensure the well-being of the black community regardless of our own needs and desires.
Black men have no qualms about excluding black women (and other black non-male folks) from their activism. Hundreds of thousands of black people, regardless of identity, marched for Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin. #Blacklivesmatter was started by three queer black women and the community still overwhelmingly focused on men so #sayhername and #transliberationtuesday had to happen. I went to rallies around both hashtags and black men were few in number. I saw more white people at #transliberationtuesday than black men and that troubled me greatly, yet I felt terrible for missing the bus to Washington D.C.
Often, I wonder if there are black men out there who feel this same guilt and conflict when they miss a rally or action dedicated to the rest of the black community. My heart wants to believe there are, but my experiences tell me otherwise. There are black men doing and saying the right things; however, I challenge them to call in other brothers. I don’t mind there being efforts dedicated solely to black men, because they experience a special type of oppression, but they have to show up for the rest of us, too. Black women almost always show up when called. We’ve planned many of the actions that revolve around getting black men civil rights. I need black men to make the same effort.
On the flip side, I am certain many white gays don’t care about my queer black ass as long as they’re able to marry and adopt ethnic babies. Meanwhile, people are still dying because of who they are, whether by their own hands or by someone else’s weapon. They have been able to raise 40,000 bucks to badly paint some crosswalks, but a homeless shelter for queer and trans youth hasn’t been able to make half of that. Oh, and racism and sexism are rampant despite those ugly equal signs being pasted everywhere.
This month, we will be celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Bayard Rustin, King’s mentor, was closeted and largely left out of history books.
A common George Santayana quote I heard growing up was, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
We must know our ancestors past their achievements and highlight reels. We shouldn’t seek to be them; we should strive to be better than them.
January 8, 2016