On Waiting for the 'Okay' to 'Properly' Disrupt the System of Racism and Anti-Black Violence That is Killing Us

Marissa Johnson, left, speaks as Mara Jacqueline Willaford holds her fist overhead and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., stands nearby as the two women take over the microphone at a rally Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, in downtown Seattle. The women, co-founders of the Seattle chapter of Black Lives Matter, took over the microphone and refused to relinquish it. Sanders eventually left the stage without speaking and instead waded into the crowd to greet supporters. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson): https://jamieutt.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/dem2016sanders_cata.jpg?w=682
Marissa Johnson, left, speaks as Mara Jacqueline Willaford holds her fist overhead. Source: https://jamieutt.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/dem2016sanders_cata.jpg?w=682

A few days ago, in Seattle WA, Marissa Janae Johnson and Mara Jacqueline Willard engaged in direct action activism during a Bernie Sanders rally by taking over the stage. There has been lot of focus and attention given to these women; a lot of it negative and not very compassionate responses that I will now write about. Maybe if you haven’t already you can read their reasons for their actions from their own mouths.

First of all, many feel that Marissa Janae Johnson and Mara Jacqueline Willard’s approach to activism is representative of the entire Black Lives Matter movement… and that this representation is ‘bad’. I disagree. I keep on hearing a significant number of people say that because of what these women did, they have lost respect for BLM. It is quite disappointing that one would lose respect for the core goals of BLM movement because of how 2 people did what they did. If people think, “I didn’t come to listen to this,” during Sanders’ time to speak, and are annoyed by these women’s actions, I am honestly feeling that this speaks volumes. Perhaps it wasn’t the BEST method but the point is to understand the context and how their actions are a microcosm of fighting against a systemic and violent problem that has been on-going for 500 years in this country.

I repeat, Black Lives Matter is a continuum of liberation from systemic anti-blackness and dismantling white supremacist violence at the systemic level. I just wonder if ‘irritated’ people have these same negative reactions about similar types of ‘disruptive’ tactis that happened 70+ years ago. You know, when Black Civil Rights activists  (and allies) were not being ‘civilized’ and ‘disrupted’ spaces of normative whiteness in the USA? I think that people who are irritated with what these two women did would find themselves supporting what Black folk did 70+ years ago; they would understand the context which is—Yes, disrupt disrupt disrupt and get the reality of racialized violence into the mainstream’s face. (The KKK are lynching black people… The police are beating the crap out of Fannie Lou Hamer and her supporters in jail…. The Tuskegee Experiment…)

Disrupting systems of privilege in a public space is suppose to make MOST people who don’t need to think about certain forms of systemic privilege, ‘irritated’, ‘uncomfortable’, etc. That is what transformation is all about. It’s not supposed to be EASY and COMFORTABLE. 

What these women did made me cry; the anger against what they did made me cry. As a Black mother with 3 children, I understand needing to do what they di (and one not need to be a Black mother to understand, but wanted to write more from that perspective, now that I have that new experience and worry about my children).

These two women are attacking systemic racism and anti-Black violence– not necessarily attacking the ‘individual’ Bernie Sanders. They are using a public platform. Let’s face it, often when people have limited resources to beg mainstream society to stop killing us for ‘breathing while Black’, I understand this tactic. Most of us do not have the money, resources and political power that the presidential candidates have to ask for us to stop being killed for, once again, ‘breathing while Black’. I totally get it and I am compassionate, not judgmental. Activism isn’t perfect, but at least these women got up there and DID SOMETHING. And by the way, some people also are rehashing the same, “But ALL LIVES MATTER” mantra in response to the rally disruption. (Click here to read why this is problematic).

Just wondering if two white people had gotten up there and spoken about ending systemic racism and anti-black violence, would there be similar response? What if it had been Tim Wise or John Stewart? Would  he or they have been received differently? I’ve noticed the ‘whistleblowers’ of a corrupt and violent system that are highly revered tend to be white and usually cisgender men (Julian Asange and Edward Snowden quickly come to mind). They are more likely to be treated as vanguards and heroes (often traitors too, yes). Books are written about them! Movies are made about them when they do the same thing that many non-white people have been doing for years. Though everyone will not agree with what these white, mostly men do, they seem to be recognized more as ‘heroes’ by the mainstream. Just take a look at the top 10 whisteblowers profiled here. Notice they are all ‘white’. They include Manning and Snowden.

So, just let me know when it’s ‘okay’ to ‘disrupt’ the system of racism and anti-black violence that could kill me, my dad, my mom, and my beautiful lovely 1, 4, and 6 year old children. Let me know when you ‘approve’ of how I do it. Let me just sit here and wait for the ‘okay’ and cross my fingers that my brother will be okay. That my 6 year old son, while playing at the playground, won’t become the next Tamir Rice. Perhaps as I move to the next job I get, hundreds of miles away, I will or won’t become the next Sandra Bland. Let me just sit here patiently and wait for those who are ‘irritated’ to let me know the CORRECT way for me to make sure we don’t inconvenience you with our lack of ‘civility’ in not going through the ‘proper measures.’ Let’s spend more time debating that then you actually doing something more. And please, let’s save the, “Breeze, you just don’t understand. For change to happen, the best way for [Black] people to be taken seriously is to go through ‘proper’ procedure, like voting or engaging with the political system another way, or getting ‘real’ jobs (because activism isn’t a ‘real job’ to some critics.)”

And yes, thanks for just becoming irritated, annoyed, and disappointed by these two courageous women instead of actively engaging in how you can help us survive and dismantle this ongoing hell that many of you claim “isn’t so bad.”


sistahvegan06

Dr. Amie “Breeze” Harper is a diversity strategist and analyst with Critical Diversity Solutions. Dr. Harper has a PhD in Social Science with emphasis how power and privilege operate (i.e. racism, sexism, heterosexism) within systems (i.e. food system) . She holds a MA in Educational Technologies (emphasis in black feminist theory, social impact, and educational technologies) from Harvard University and a BA in feminist geography from Dartmouth College. She has 10+ years career experience as a diversity and inclusion consultant, ranging from curriculum development, to conference planning, to research and reporting, to publishing books and articles. Harper is also an accomplished writer. She created and edited the ground-breaking anthology, Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak On Food, Identity, Health, and Society. Her most recently published book, Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England (Sense Publishers 2014) interrogates how systems of oppression and power impact the life of the only Black teenager living in an all white and working class rural New England town. In 2016, Dr. Harper’s latest book Recipes for Racial Tension Headaches: A Critical Race Feminist’s Journey Through ‘Post-Racial’ USA’s Ethical Foodscape will be released. You can learn more about her professional work at www.criticaldiversitysolutions.com and her publications at www.abreezeharper.com


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7 thoughts on “On Waiting for the 'Okay' to 'Properly' Disrupt the System of Racism and Anti-Black Violence That is Killing Us

  1. Appreciated your comments on the BPF forum and love what you’ve said here. Thanks for such powerful, moving articulation of this message. I am quoting one paragraph from this on my blog – unless you object. Thanks!

  2. I think they called our attention to something urgent and tragic. I agree that black lives matter. I care about justice and my black friends and the stain on the history of this country. Whether their action makes me uncomfortable or not is not the central thing.

    I think the Black Lives Matter movement is consequential. I look at the responses of the Clinton and Sanders campaign, and I think, ‘maybe we’ll move forward here.’ But this specific action doesn’t seem particularly consequential to me. It was a disruption of an event, not the system. I don’t think we’ll still be talking about it in a couple weeks.

    I know Sanders came out with a racial justice platform the next day, but looking at it and knowing how these things are produced, I think that was at least several weeks of work involving a lot of people, editing, and time. Maybe someone made a push to get it out a few days earlier. Maybe.

    I like that platform, though as a white person I don’t think I’m in a position to give it a critical inspection or vet its completeness or sufficiency.

    But truly ‘disrupting the system’ is a much larger project than what they did that day. It’s probably a generation’s work. I hope we can keep our eye on the ball for the long term.

    1. True. But the long term probably involves many such present moment confrontations, all adding up to something consequential. At least we may find it hard to say as they’re happening which are and are not important.

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