I seldom watch the news these days. But as I was getting some writing done, the background noise of MSNBC chimed in with a breaking news story. The camera panned out to capture a woman on the flagpole in front of the South Carolina capital building. It was hard not to be glued to the news for the next hour.
Activist Bree Newsome took matters into her own hands because lawmakers aren’t putting action behind their words fast enough. Bree Newsome did what so many black women do every day when they’re sick of your shit. Ms. Newsome reminded us of the greatness we all come from. Black women are the alpha and the omega. Her act of peaceful civil disobedience reminded me that a community united can accomplish a lot of great things; the operative word being “united”.
In the first half of the 20th century, we had so many prominent male orators to look to. We studied great black men who were the pulse of the civil rights movement; from Harlem to Atlanta. We overlooked the women who made these movements viable and organized. It’s so much deeper than Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King. That’s why I really loved Selma. While the movie is about MLK Jr. and the maturation of leaders Andrew Young and John Lewis, special attention is paid to the women behind the men. Black women, for as long as civilization has existed, have always been on the edge of social change. Their actions are sometimes ignored because even though the civil rights movement was progressive in nature, women were still limited in their visibility. This is a generation that has an invaluable opportunity to change that.
The #blacklivesmatter was borne from the spirited genius of black women. In Ferguson, so much of the firsthand information we received came from black women on the ground there. I recall reading this feature on The Atlantic on Johnetta Elzie – in it, she poignantly stated “I didn’t even know what I was doing was considered organizing until someone told me. I didn’t know I was an activist until someone told me.” Sybrina Fulton became a symbol of strength and grace as the nation mourned the death of Trayvon Martin. Last July, when Eric Garner was choked to death, his wife took the bold step and stated that she couldn’t and wouldn’t extend forgiveness to his killer; the same forgiveness white privilege subtly commands from us in the wake of injustice.
Something Elzie said in The Atlantic piece holds so much truth. Black women aren’t born knowing how to fight or be strong. But they develop a resiliency that forces them to act when their sense of security is compromised. They have this unique empathy that allows them to act and respond in a way that aims to see the humanity in people. To me, that’s what Bree Newsome’s act of scaling that flagpole represents.
I didn’t come from a black woman. But I know what it’s like to love a black woman. I know the beauty of a black woman selflessly giving of herself. I also know what a black woman being fed up looks like. In the face of adversity, no one is more composed than a black woman. In the face of hatred, no one turns the cheek more often than a black woman.
There’s so much connotation to what the strong black woman embodies. Although the reality is black women are just doing what they have to do because it’s instinct.
So many black women put their bodies on the line for this cause, because we birthed the people that the police are killing. So not only are we out there for ourselves, but we’re out there for our husbands, our boyfriends, our kids, our cousins, our nephews.
– Johnetta Elzie
I hesitate to call Ms. Newsome and the women on the front lines for us heroes. What I am saying is that when a black woman is fed up, you can expect change to quickly follow; be it for herself or an entire nation.