Black Dignity and Assertion: Existing in a World that Doesn't Want Us To

I am writing a much longer post about the dignity, emotional and psychological safety, and anger of Black people. But it is too long and a little too complex in its current form so I left it in its messy state and decided to switch gears to something...different. 


First of all, argghhhh to the United States Supreme Court for overturning Roe v. Wade. I want to write about this too, but I am currently too angry and I might regret what I say. So let’s put a pin in that for now. Let’s move on.





This past year, thanks to BrenĂ© Brown as well as getting the opportunity to lead a DEI working group at my previous place of employment, I started to learn more and have more conversations about emotional safety, belonging, and vulnerability. More importantly, I started to better understand that vulnerability needs to be earned; that you deserve a right to protect yourself if you don’t feel “safe”: and that—this is the biggest—vulnerability without boundaries is NOT vulnerability.


I love how we handled complex conversations at my previous workplace, and I am just now realizing how incredibly lucky I was. I am realizing there are places that just expect Black people to remove our armor without sufficient assurance or any commitment to our safety. There are expectations of Black people to “share” and to “teach people about racism” and to be “open” without any assurance that they would be protected when they do say something you don’t want to hear. 


This world can be a rough terrain to navigate. But it is even tougher navigating that terrain in a Black body. I love how Austin Channing Brown shows us roadblocks, and potholes, and detours that Black folks encounter on that ground in her book, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness


In the end, systemic oppression, racism, prejudice and their kind leave us with several choices. Be malleable like they want us to be. Cower like they would prefer us to be. Do nothing at all and just exist like they do not mind us as. Or assert your dignity no matter the cost. This last option looks different for all of us, but I would argue it is the only option. Because not doing anything at all is just…weak.


I know what you’re thinking. How does one even go about this, how does one show anger, how does one resist in a world that wants Black people to check our anger at the door all the time; a world that requires us to always check and ask permission before we can express outrage, even at injustices like a Black boy being killed like a dog on the street. 


And if you are in the Christian community in America, it is even worse. You can’t even be angry without people shoving “love” in your face. They mention love, not because they are so great in character, but to silence you. Churches are very notorious for this. It’s why I love how Brown frames a lot of her argument from the viewpoint of a Christian. Too often, churches manipulate and guilt trip Black people into silence. They want us to endure our oppressions and to “love” our oppressors. They want us to be subservient and to just obey the law. Forgetting that God, the one I know is a God of justice. Love that isn’t angry at injustice and racism towards black people is just masquerading as love but is anything but.  


Churches want to be neutral. Brown argues they want “reconciliation” because to them that means shallow, superficial hand holding not just, deep, and transformative relationships filled with truth. They want dialogue that doesn’t lead to any action.  Yet, as Curtiss DeYoung and Allan Boesak argue in their book, Radical Reconciliation, “reconciliation is revolutionary, that is oriented to structural change”. Viewed this way, you can understand that reconciliation is not neutral; it chooses the side of justice, always. 


Let this truth fuel your reaction. Let the quest to act justly embolden you. You have to remember that as a group, Black people are vast. It is important to note that Black people do not only exist in America; therefore, our display of dignity and our assertion will differ from people to people, from culture to culture, and from society to society. We are after all, not a monolith. Whatever shape, form, or temperament we come, we do deserve freedom, dignity, and our humanity. Not freedom to oppress, but the freedom of option, as Amanda Seales rightly put it. 


It does make sense that people would want to strip us of our joy and exuberance. Have you met Black people? Lol. 


We are pioneers of language itself. We invent new words and kill old ones. We smash syllables together and watch them reverberate across the nation. We have a language we share with one another. Though our words are stolen and often misused or misapplied, we know the depth of our vocabulary when used among ourselves. Our conversations are call-and-response. Someone uncolored might assume we are cutting each other off, interruption—but all we did was move church outside the building walls.” - Austin Channing Brown


It is no wonder they either want to destroy us or be us.


Love, and dignity,


I


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