Woke, But Is It Too Late?
So last night I went to an organized protest in front of the house of Senate Majority Leader Mitch Mcconnell. I participated in what has been tagged #LettertoMitch and it was another interesting performance of race and politics. I am always looking at “doing.” Particularly in a Performance Studies context. What a thing is doing, how it is doing that doing and what it might mean and for whom.
So there I was, a black male, in a predominantly white neighborhood, surrounded by white allies (one asian female I noticed) reading the letter Coretta Scott King wrote, brilliantly recounting the racially problematic history of Jeff Sessions and how completely unfit he was to be elected Judge in the late eighties. We stood in a long line in the Louisville night, to read this letter aloud, one by one. Certain passages were highlighted in different colors, (I am not sure what that signified) and there was a tall fellow standing with a flashlight making sure the proclaimer could see the portion they were attempting to read and shout out to the large crowd. The Louisville Metro Police where there, and blocked off the street so that no traffic could pass, as the protest had spilled out into the street. The police were smiling and pleasant. They even shook my hand as I left.
I was perplexed.
As I stepped up to the place I was designated to read from, it was not lost on me that I was the only person of color there, reading the words of Mrs. Coretta Scott King. The protest was organized by Facebook and the lack of people of color there spoke to the silos in social networking.
I took a moment to think of her journey, and the moment in which she wrote that letter, using her citizen power to make a strong argument (successfully then) to largely a group of white men in 1989 (the senate) as to why Jeff Sessions was inappropriate.
There I was the lone black man, reading the words of a black woman, to protest the actions of again largely a group of white men.
2017 seems to be much like 1989 in terms of who holds the power and makes the decisions for the country. The difference being that in 1989 only being 25 years out from the 1964 Civil Rights Act, race and equality were still things that mattered and had weight, even to white men in charge.
In 1989 Mrs. King was victorious and Sessions was deemed too racist to be appointed. Today, now 53 years out from the Civil Rights Act, we have a Supreme Court gutting the law, and a general idea from the white men who are still in charge that they have done enough, racism is over and racial equality no longer needs to be a consideration in hiring. Sessions is the new Attorney General. The end result being white men made the decisions then, and white men are making the decisions now. The performance of race and its effects have changed for the worse. The “racial fatigue” whites in power seem to feel has a chilling effect on equal rights.
It would seem from the reaction of the local liberal white community that Louisville is woke. I will make the point here that the city usually goes blue, and it did again this election with Hillary winning the most educated cities in the state, Louisville and Lexington. However I do not remember white women reading the words of Coretta Scott King out in the streets of Louisville before. I also saw quite a few young white men there. I was pleased to see white people doing the real work of white allyship, and that is going into a white neighborhood, in front of a white Senators house, and reading the words of a black woman. I was invited to the protest by another activist, and I was proud/anxious/happy/frustrated/sad/moved to be the lone black face reading the black text, written by black hands, typed in black text on that white page. As happy as I was to see this “progress” in my red state, I could not help but ask questions also, why were there not more activists of color there? What are the networks of race on FB that are not intersecting? Why were there not local television cameras there to report this event that the local police had been tipped off to, and that was picked up by the Huffington Post? Of the three major networks only one local affiliate posted a blurb about the protest with pics they found on twitter. These were white people protesting after all (except for me and the asian female). Every time people of color protest with local Black Lives Matter folk, it is splashed all over the news and characterized as angry black people marching.
Whiteness is the default so even when white people protest, the local media ignores and downplays it. It is only problematic and interesting to the local media when blacks march because it can be use to stigmatize and vilify black people. ‘There the blacks go again, so touchy, always complaining, wanting more than their fair share blah, blah’ -insert false equivalency and racism here.
I see the meaning here in a PS context being that us black folk and our allies have ‘miles to go before we sleep’ in terms of our activism these next four years. We have been asleep long enough. We were lulled into a false sense of security because we knew Obama had the back of all the oppressed and marginalized. Well that is over. Our parents and grandparents worked to get the Civil Rights Act passed and Affirmative Action to attempt to level the playing field and even those did not fully work, but they helped to keep the monster of racism chained. That monster is now unleashed with this administration and we must #resist and fight harder to regain ground we have now lost. One needs to only look again to the slow dismantling of the Civil Rights Act, and Fairness ordinances all over the country to see a slow and steady regression back to the politics Mrs. King was writing against in 1989.
We cannot let that happen. We are awake now (yeah some of us never slept, I hear you) and we need to make every waking moment count.