On Dallas, Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights: As long as The Matrix exists the human race will never be free
By Kierra Johnson
I live in D.C. but was in Dallas when I got the news about the murders of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and the police officers shot just minutes away from where I sat. My heart broke yet again for the senseless violence in the United States of America, land of the “free.”
I was watching “The Matrix” with my mom last night in our attempt to take care of ourselves while staying woke. Morpheus says to Neo “You’ve felt it your entire life, that there is something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.” I won’t attempt to speak for black folks, but this encapsulates the reality of so many of us as we try to walk through the world with hope, dreams, ambition and goodwill that consistently gets dashed by bigotry, racism and misogyny. We try to explain what we know in our hearts is wrong in this country but the words elude and bullets, humiliation and poverty take us out before we can ever get the words out. Our modern day “Matrix” tells us justice will prevail; that with hard work and a pure heart we will thrive, that love conquers all. Neo asks Morpheus after his rebirth out of the matrix why his eyes hurt and Morpheus answers him “because you’ve never used them before.”
My eyes hurt.
They sting from the Technicolor red of black bodies drenched in blood. They burn as the picture becomes clearer that civil, genteel actions intended to make change have been centuries in the making, and we celebrate incremental progress as we compromise on the bigger vision and sacrifice lives along the way. These eyes are tired from trying to make sense of the complexity and simplicity of this violence.
I come from a family of people who served in the military and gladly sought upward mobility by joining law enforcement agencies across the country. I am the mother of a black son, and I worry every day about how to raise him with confidence and compassion and create a society that will value his brilliance, beauty and contributions. I am a career feminist, and as such, between absorbing reports of black people dying from gun violence, I am inundated with the epidemic of sexual violence that is also pervasive across the country.
I am trying to reconcile all that I see and feel, including:
· hatred of a system that insists on proving the victim is always at fault, wanted it or was deserving of the violence that killed them or change their lives.
· love of black, women and queer police officers I know, who step in and make a difference for women, black folks and queer people who find themselves at the hands of police that fear, hate and dehumanize them.
· fear that my son, his mother ( a black queer officer), or my niece, nephew, cousin, mother, grandfather will be next.
· The realization this violence stems from the systematic dehumanization of whole communities, and these dehumanizing narratives are often passed down in families and perpetuated in the media, music and politics.
If humanity were tradeable in the stock market, my guess is that the decline of its value over the years would be undeniable.
If humanity were tradeable in the stock market, my guess is that the decline of its value over the years would be undeniable. This may be the hardest truth for my heart and consciousness to handle. I believe dehumanizing people is at the root of gun violence, sexual assault, gay bashing, bullying in schools, the disregard for immigrant families, the lack of investment in public schools and affordable higher education, the denial of quality health care and a living wage and the violence we export around the world in the name of freedom.
“I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it”
We have an opportunity to do better. We have a responsibility to be better. First we have to know we have the power to create the change we want to see in the world. Latino, Black and Asian people will make up over half of the U.S. population by 2050 and 20 percent of the population will be foreign born. Millennial voters (18- 29 year olds) will make up one-third of the electorate by the 2016 elections. Young people and low-income consumers are now seen as a major force in ensuring a healthy economy.
We have the experiential power to inspire, the purchase power to shift markets and the political power to create legislative change. We have to own it before we can leverage it. And the first order of business is to take back and reinvest in our humanity and the humanity of our people. Until we see and value the perfect imperfection of each of us and our humanity, until we see diversity as an asset and a gift, the key to solving age old problems of the world, until we are willing to stand together as consumers, artists, activists, voters, politicians, parents, community members, people who serve in the military and in law enforcement to demand better for the sake of our humanity — how can we ever expect any of our lives to matter?
As Morpheus said: “The matrix is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”
Kierra Johnson, a Ms. Foundation Public Voices Fellow, is executive director of URGE (Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity) based in Washington, D.C.