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we fail when we try to operate from trauma

April 8, 2019
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I don’t really believe in allies. To be an ally would realistically mean that you think someone else’s life that is more marginalized than your own is important enough to protect at all times. Because we are human, we know that “all” can get very muddy when dealing with situations around Black lives that come which comes with complexity. But for conversation sake, let’s talk about what it would mean if “allies” existed, what it would look like and how I and many others continue to fail at it.

When a situation arises that requires some tough conversations in the Black community, many take the Black first approach — an attempt to protect the culture at all costs. I remember conversations around Sandra Bland and her anti-queer beliefs. How many Black women and queer folx got into arguments whether she deserved full support from all parts of community, even those that felt hurt by her words.

In that moment I learned, that for one community the wounds are so deep, that they feel their protection of another who may have never protected them is not owed — and that’s fair. The other side of community feeling a Black life lost is still a Black life, one that could have grown had it not been cut short— and that’s fair too. What is unfair is that in all of this many folk sit on both sides of those statements and our whole community loses. Liberation gets lost.

This past week has been a roller coaster of emotions for the Black community following the murder of rapper Nipsey Hussle. There has been grief, grievances, and a lot of us operating from a place of trauma without the words to truly express how we feel. Even when I thought I had the words, and tried to navigate a delicate conversation with nuance there was still room for me to be better. I failed at acknowledgment of grief, operating from a place of trauma in the grievances. And whether the story was necessary or not and “points were made” as we say, I as someone who wants to be there for all of community failed in many ways and can admit that. This isn’t the first time I’ve been called out lacking in care I am around situations, from people in my own LGBTQ community as well as hetero community. I sit at the intersection of being a Black man, a queer man, and both at the same time. In white community, it is clear that my entrance into a room is Black first. However, in Black community where I often find myself, it is not my Blackness that is the worry.

It is the “other” of what many of us are that concerns folks — the intersections. That I am HIV positive, or queer, or a person is a woman, or a Black man and poor, or formally educated or not, or disabled. That “other” is what often stalls us in community building — community in-fighting over this image of a Black male that I feel we all are attempting to protect. Some wanting it to look like one thing, while others fighting for the expansion of it to include those that are still man but feminine, or non-conforming to the heterosexist norms.

I was often covering trans issues because there was no space for them in media. But I wasn’t always making sure it was coming from their voice, using my access to get them in nor highlighting anything outside of their plight. Only covering and discussing their death, never realizing I wasn’t giving them the totality of life. With the way I’ve covered certain hetero situations and people, I’ve operated from one vein that was situated in the wrong. I rarely found time or care to uplift and uphold the good parts too.; the parts that many of the people I know and love connect with. This was a duty I chose to be part of my advocacy and allegiance and I have time and time again failed. Only able to see trauma and operate from that space.

At this point, some of us have made the decision to want to build and grow community. Build it past the isms and phobias that hold us back. Build it to where we don’t feel intercommunal oppression — getting to a place where white supremacy and fighting against anti-Blackness is the common goal for us all. In knowing that, I’ve had to understand that there are some who are too marginalized and too wounded to be part of that building, so it is I and others who must build for them.

Many of us request a grace of being seen fully as we are without recognizing it in others because of our traumas — fully understandable. I’m hoping we can move to a place where that is different. I still don’t believe in allies, but I do believe in advocacy. That is something we can all do better in recognizing how we show up for one another, as we as Black folks are all oppressed in many varying ways. We are “tethered” because of our Blackness. The protection of that comes by recognizing all of its parts, and allowing space for all to be heard and seen and not think either is a reduction of that. Not talking at each other, but with each other.

I hate Black death. We lost a rapper named Nipsey Hussle. A trans woman named Ashanti Carmen. And a young Black activist named Oscar Cain all this week. It’s time we heal together.

Writer and author, George Johnson is bringing our viral conversations to real life situations.