You Don’t Have To Like Me — You Just Have To Believe I’m A Human Being
You either believe in justice and equality or you don’t.
“You’re just going to drive people away with that attitude.”
This comment is one I’ve received multiple times. Almost always said by a concerned white person, just letting me know that my directness, my impatience, my anger is pushing them and others away in my fight for racial justice. This message has been sent to me on Facebook, on Twitter, via email. This message can take on a friendly, helpful tone — like the white women who write to me begging me to swear a little less, so that their friends and neighbors would hear my words and not my tone. The message can also take on a more hostile tenor — such as when I’m told that I am “just like Jesse Jackson” or “my own worst enemy.” But no matter the tone, the message is the same. And my response to that message is always the same.
You don’t have to like me. You just have to believe I’m a human being.
Here’s the thing. You either believe in justice and equality or you don’t. You either believe that people of color are human beings deserving of full rights or you don’t. There are no preconditions to that. There are no exceptions to that. You believe in my humanity or you don’t.
You either believe that people of color are human beings deserving of full rights or you don’t.
I fight every day, not only for the “best and brightest” of Black America, but for all my brothers and sisters, for those of us behind bars, for those of us addicted to drugs, for those of us on the streets. I fight for us all, because justice does not leave our most vulnerable behind. I fight for the humanity of all people. And that means that I spend a lot of time fighting for people I love, but also for people who despise me, for people who will never be grateful for my work, for people who will never fight for me.
Because I believe that you are a human being. I believe you are a human being even if you are a hotep in my mentions saying that my feminism is ruining black men. And I’ll fight for you even if I have to block you on Twitter. I believe you are a human being even when you are a feminist who wishes I would talk about race a little less and focus on issues that really matter. And I’ll fight for you even if I have to call your ass out on Facebook.
If you do not like me, I will live. If you do not believe in my humanity, I may not. Lack of friendship is not killing black people in America. We are not shot in the street by police because we are unliked. We are not given substandard treatment by doctors because we are unliked. We are not being kicked out of school because we are unliked.
We are being shot because people don’t believe that our life is as important as theirs. We are being given substandard treatment because doctors don’t believe we feel pain like everyone else. We are being kicked out of schools because educators do not believe that we deserve the same level of education and the same opportunities to be children as everyone else. And if you require anything from me other than my existence to believe in my humanity, then, even then — even when all prerequisites are met — you still won’t really believe.
When you tell oppressed people that they need to be more likable in order to forward their fight for justice, what you are saying is that there are preconditions on their humanity, and that you are in the superior position to determine what those preconditions are. You are saying that you are more than, and they are less.
If you do not like me, I will live. If you do not believe in my humanity, I may not.
When you tell me that the problem is my attitude and not the fundamental injustice and inequality of our systems and society, what you are saying is that I have not earned my freedom. You are saying that I was not born with inalienable rights, like you were. You are saying that there is something different about me that makes me less entitled to the freedoms you’ve always taken for granted.
In the wake of this disastrous presidential election, I’ve heard a lot of talk from white progressive elites stating that it was the fight for equality on behalf of our most marginalized populations that gave Trump a win. It was the push for transgender people to be able to safely use public restrooms, the fight for Black people’s lives to matter, the fight for women to not be assaulted and abused — that was the real problem. We asked for too much, and we didn’t say please.
But isn’t the problem the fact that you need oppressed people to prostrate themselves before you in order to grant them the same rights you currently enjoy? Isn’t the problem that you couldn’t rally around justice for those you may not know or like? Isn’t the problem the fact that you think that you can set a timetable on the recognition of someone’s humanity?
If you believe in justice and equality then you believe in it 100% every day, for every person. Perhaps, instead of asking why we asked for so much, you should ask why you thought it was ever okay to ask for so little.