Below is a copy of a speech I gave at a Jews United For Justice Event on Black Lives Matter. It was a great night and I’m really proud to have been a part of it. It was hard to come up with the words to use to express my feelings in the right tone: both healing and producing productive discomfort. I do believe that it is not the duty of Black people to teach White people how to not be racist and it is not our duty to prove our humanity to them. Yet, my 26 years in America have taught me that White people need to have the pain of being Black made real to them in order to take actions to stop it.
It would be easy to dismiss White people for this were not for the dozens of White feminist who articulated their pain to me and explained to me, in great detail, my own privilege as a man. I recognize that my thoughts and analysis on gender is rather half-baked, flawed, often rambling and sometimes to focused on me so I am willing to forgive White people for the same. Though to be honest, mostly still begrudgingly.
What I enjoyed about the night most of all was lending a hand to my dear friend Rebecca who planned the event. Working with White allies can be frustrating, infuriating and tiring but it can also be incredibly validating. Working with Rebecca reminded me that we are all in this together, fumbling along the path towards righteousness, as unsure of where we are headed as we are of how to get there, making mistakes, asking for forgiveness, lifting each other up and rebuilding stronger bridges…hopefully eating fried food and singing along the way.
A Complex Argument For Love
I am at once honored, saddened, angry, hopeful and deeply ambivalent to be here this evening. It is eerie to see the pain of your internal emotional universe reflected in the faces of so many strangers particularly when you are used to spending so much mental energy debating whether or not that pain is justified. In fact, it is in many ways profoundly frightening.
Everywhere I turn in America I am faced with an unavoidable specter of whiteness. As I walk through the streets of downtown D.C. I am acutely aware of every white woman who clutches her purse when I am near, every white person who walks straight at me and refuses to acknowledge my presence expecting me to step aside. I am aware of every police officer that slows down to get a better look at me. I am aware of the eyes of our society watching and waiting for me to prove them right.
I am also acutely aware of the times I have pointed this out to white friends only to have my concerns explained away. She was just cold. That’s just how business people are or, the police stopped to look at me too!
Here I am always torn. On the one hand, I am upset that once again my experience is so easily explained away. On the other hand, I want so desperately to believe them. If every look held malice; if every time I am called “articulate and well spoken” is the testament to low expectations; if every eye is waiting for me to prove them right–how can I possibly exist in this place without being torn asunder by the unbearable whiteness of it all?
So to be here, in front of this crowd, speaking to this issue is profoundly unsettling for me. As nervous and anxious and angry as I am, I’m going to talk to you today about the necessity of love. As I see it, love is the only practical way forward. But I want to be clear that my arguing for love, for forgiveness, for restorative justice does not nor cannot negate my pain nor absolve white people of their complicity. Tonight I would like to make a complex argument for the pragmatic necessity of love.
What you have to understand about this movement, this fight to make an America so infatuated with a blind justice system see the humanity of Black people, is that it is not actually about police brutality. Police brutality is terrible but it is a symptom not a disease. Militarized policing is only part of the problem. Anti-Black racism is the illness that rotting away the foundations of our illiberal democracy.
Michael Brown was not just simply gunned down. Before he was shot he was forced to live in city in which the majority of the population was Black and the vast majority of city officials were white. He was forced to live in city that preyed on low income Black residents by ticketing them for minor offenses at outrageous rates.
Then he was executed.
Then he was lynched by the media and by the politics of respectability.
Like the strange fruit that used to hang from trees in the Bayou, or still hang from North Carolinian porches, Michael Brown’s public lynching was a message, a warning, to all Black people. Every time this teenage boy was called a criminal, “a grown man robbing a store” or a demon was the sound of the noose tightening around his neck.
His body hung in the public conversation for over 120 days before the white powers that be decided that no crime had taken place.
It is difficult to describe the level of anger and pain I felt over these past few months. White people whom I knew and cared for were participating in this public shaming. Even when they didn’t, it upset me how easily they could go about their day knowing that this conversation was not a warning for them. It would have been easy for me to let my rage turn into hate. It would have been easy for me to let that hate build a wall between me and everyone else.
In that moment, I saw a cold dark path open up before me. A path through which I could cast off my connections with the world in order to limit my accountability to it. I could embrace hate and welcome the solitude that it would bring.
You can only be wronged by a society if you accept the premise that you need to be part of it. It would be so easy to walk away from that idea.
I was tired of holding in my emotions, of processing them, and analyzing and checking them before I shared them or fear that I would be seen as just an another angry Black man. I just wanted to rage to express the part of me that was hurting.
The part of me that wanted to stop thinking, that wanted to succumb to the apathy and give up the moral complexity of being human. To give up building relationship with people who may hurt you and disappoint you. Give up with building empathy with people who will be hurt, or striving for an inclusive community, all for a break from being restrained by a concern for building a tomorrow.
In that moment, I choose love.
I didn’t choose it because it was easy. I didn’t chose it because it sounded nice, and soft and familiar. I chose love because I knew that hate or apathy would tear me apart. I knew the unbearable weight of it all would crush me if I was full of hate.
Hate, for all it’s bluster, just isn’t not strong enough to keep the world at bay until it destroys your humanity. Without that humanity, without the ability to love, and laugh and grow, nothing else matters.
In choosing love, I stepped back from that path. I chose to take responsibility to help change the world.
I choose to love my fellow humans, to feel their pain as my pain, to feel their injustice as my injustice because in that love I am elevated. In that love I am able to transcend some of the pain. In that love I can laugh. In that love I can create, and learn, and grow. In that love I can hope.
In essence: in that love I am human.
In that love the pain doesn’t go away completely. In that love their hate isn’t vanquished. The oppression doesn’t cease. The killings don’t stop. But in that love, when I feel my humanity resonate in soul of another, suddenly it all feels worth it.
It is, again, ultimately a false choice. One made out of a need to survive this with some measure of my humanity intact. I do not believe that all of those that I choose to love deserve it. But it is the narrative that I choose to arm myself with. I know that my love is not magical. But my love, my commitment to see the humanity in others allows us to work together.
In this way, this narrative, my love, is powerful. That power is transformative. It gives me the ability to continue on. My love for other Black people gives me to solidarity to help shut down streets. My love for my fellow man allows me to see past all the whiteness and work with allies.
It gives me to power to speak truth to power and not concede an inch for half measures and compromise. It gives me the fuel to carry on, watering the seeds of justice planted before me. It gives me the clarity to take the time to plant my own.
I will love, despite the pain, because it is only through the experience of loving that I have ever felt truly human.
I will love, despite my rage, because it is the most politically radical act I can conceive of.
So, this speech is statement of my love for all of you; a promise that I will never stop seeing your humanity; a promise that I will never allow you to deny mine. I promise I will never stop agitating you. I will never stop pushing you to see the errors of your ways.
So I leave you with this call to action, understand that I call you to rise as strangers whose inherent humanity I find beautiful:
If we as a nation cannot all agree on the simple fact that All Black Lives Matter, regardless of gender, age, sexuality, ability or religion, then we can never be whole; we can never heal this gaping wound across our nation. This festering sore that is one of America’s foundational sins will continue to grow, to ooze and to infect every institution of our nation.
Because I choose to love my fellow Black people, I will no longer allow this infection be contained to Black bodies.
No longer will Black people be the ones who bear the weight of their oppression by shucking and jiving on the razor thin edge of white racial sensibilities.
No longer will we let the tonnage of white racism sit on our chests, crushing us slowly while we pretend it isn’t there.
No longer will I dismiss white people as monolithic mass of privilege.
If this movement is anything it is based on the belief that all of you can and must do better.
It is the articulation of a promise that if we can’t breathe, you can’t either.
So all of you! Get off the fence. Join the struggle.