A dream de­ferred: Re­peat­ing the good and bad

Ash­leigh Atwell is a queer les­bian writer and or­ga­nizer born and raised in At­lanta, GA.

GA Voice - - Out in the Wind - By Ash­leigh Atwell

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

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