When the Smoke Clears: Why We Must Live a Life of Protest

First, allow me to start by saying that seeing and experiencing black people unified in what was designed to divide us as a people depicts a cultural unity necessary for overcoming anti-black adversity. I will say though, that protesting in its singular form performs in isolation what we, as oppressed people in a colonized space, must practice every day in our lifetimes.

While the fires set in Minneapolis and throughout the United States matched the simmer in my soul, I remain most concerned with what happens after the smoke clears. I want to burn the world the color of my ancestors, but that symbolic bliss does not compensate for the work that must come next. A conviction and a trial engenders protocol, but what does this mean for the pervasive adversity that haunts the African in America? Specifically, while the fires we set today illuminate an inner rage, what happens to supremacy when the smoke clears?

As a child, I recall Amadou Diallo’s murder where media coverage socially reproduced the words “forty-one times” like the videos bearing live footage of black men in today’s society.

There was outrage. There were charges. There was no change.

The “plain-clothed” soldiers of white supremacy, faced second-degree murder charges like George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who murdered a seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. All murder of black people on the US constitutes a 1st-degree murder charge, as the ubiquitous cavalier disregard afforded to black life betrays the pre-meditation and planning that comprises 1st-degree murder.

Thus, murder, as evidenced in the George Floyd’s autopsy which cleared the murderous police officer from his deadly deed, is not only physical but mutilating the truth into what will come to comprise history.

Black death embodies justice in the U.S. Therefore, what we want as a people not justice; what we need as a force is something more.

Whether legally executed for crimes cast against them, miseducated, coerced into seeking employment from our adversaries, performing essential work under hazardous conditions, and persistently having to work against the winds of white supremacy—protest must commensurate reality and not a transient reaction. Though black life is not without happiness, things have never been collectively great for black people. I make this point to elucidate that these moments or blips of outrage illuminate a larger narrative reduced to pages. This abridgment deflects from the reality that while one black individual graduates from college, buys a house, or receives a raise, a good majority of our minority collective endures solitary confinement for years at a time, while others withstand systemic harassment behind doors we found tirelessly to get through, and another encounters abusive work conditions that require long hours for small wages. While some individuals dined out to commemorate special occasions, many of our counterparts struggle to eat, while others have not seen the light of day for over a decade. I say this to say, even in the moments where we as individuals smiled and felt like life was good, there was collective cause to burn cars and shout our outage from the mountaintops many stopped striving for under the farce that a good moment or western accolade consummated this feat.

Furthermore, our cup cannot runneth over, as we encounter the world with a full brim.

So, I guess in examining the recent events, I’ve been forced to examine and inquire about the times that I was okay, or complacent in a world that proved a stage for black insult, assault, and collective injury. This contemplation resurrects the question that has lingered in the air for centuries: Is a single moment, or collage of moments dedicated to systemic assault and legal lynching enough to encapsulate the fullness of anti-blackness?

The answer is, of course, no.

The performative component to physical protest serves those seeking a seat in history. This plight, however, too often engenders its repetition. In protest, it remains imperative not to forget that the black collective encounters in an adversary a racial psychopath, not a rational being. Thus, in exhibiting public distress, or appealing to pathos, or even assuming ethos in those who conflate the truth to fester supremacy, is to walk blindly over a cliff under the verbal promise that each step taken will lead to greener pastures within the racial paradigm of white supremacy. In A Stride Toward Freedom, Dr. King details the bus boycotts that demanded change by challenging white supremacist espousal to capitalism. It was not about crying. It wasn’t about appealing to the reasoning of a racial psychopath. Rather, the movement spoke the language of anti-black adversaries. Years prior, the black collective actualized a similar feat after Emmett Till’s murders where outrage lead to Till’s murderers losing their business.

In contemplating and actualizing advancement in an anti-black society, we as black people must understand how we participate in an anti-black culture. My words do not function to castigate the black collective, but to highlight that we have far more power than a hegemonic culture can or will ever acknowledge. It remains impossible to truly protest when whiteness, whether the Ivy League white university, white accolades, or white commerce, remains how we, as black people, conceptualize and mold our ambitions and worth. Protest remains espoused to performativity when an anti-black world remains able to rely on black support during holidays, where a country that does not love us measures the love we have for people in our lives based on how much money we put into their economy when they say so. This too is a form of colonial violence that we must challenge if we are to overcome the hegemonic forces cast against us.

To successfully challenge anti-blackness through protest, decolonization, not an arrest, or indictment, must stand atop the anti-black ashes. Frantz Fanon tells us, decolinization which “is always a violent event,” constitutes “an agenda for total disorder” that results in the “creation of new men.” The African descended must consummate this new identity through a life of protest.

To live a life of protest is to withdraw from attempting to actualize white behavior with black ideology. It is to overstand the power we surrender in succumbing to “normal” in a world that deems black death customary.

Furthermore, living a life of protest is to make every stride in our lifetimes as black people a march toward blackness. Striving to live and work black, to support black businesses as a lifestyle and not a transient indulgence, is not only to maintain sanity in a supremacist space. To assume blackness as a lifestyle extinguishes the flames of white supremacy with a self-determination that epitomizes the sole protest that actualizes our power as a people.

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