In 2014, Black people made every effort to reclaim our humanity by exclaiming the importance of #BlackLivesMatter. Sadly, however this also was a troubling reminder that Black lives didn’t matter to many individuals, particularly those who were hired to protect and serve everyone and not just the privileged few. Despite this insistence of humanity, many discovered new and improved ways of appropriating, self-aggrandizing of non-Black people, usurping, and derailing conversations on race, gender, and sexual orientation, among others.
What was once the common experience among Black and brown people this year quickly turned into a perpetual “we are the world violin” or a “but we experience mistreatment too” mantra. This is nothing new. Black people understand all too well mainstream media and the American public using, abusing, and recycling our experiences.
The beautiful thing about ending a year is beginning a new one. A new time to reevaluate goals and press the reset button – and an even better time to leave things behind. As 2015 beckons, let’s collectively release the burdens of this year by remembering to #LeaveItIn2014. To that end, here are a few of the people and things we should leave in 2014.
4. Bad "allyship":This past July, Steve Friess wrote an article for TIME, “Dear Black Women: White Gays Are Your Allies, So Don’t Push Us Away.” Throughout the entire article, the author compares the oppression encountered between white gay men and Black women, and concluded that because both communities are “ostracized” and “pushed down,” to a degree, that they experience the same levels of discrimination. Never mind intersectionality, disregard the fact that oppression on some part (i.e. sexual orientation) does not erase privilege on others (i.e. gender and race). Don’t do this. Ever.
This linear thought process of “we’re in this together because we both experience some kind of oppression” is problematic. In standing in solidarity with groups in which one doesn’t inherently belong, one must comprehend that allyship isn’t spoken but acted upon, maintained, and nurtured. When a person screams “I’m an ally, I’m your friend,” which is exactly what Steve Friess and other alleged allies attempt to do, that is usually the quickest way of knowing who is not an ally. Steve Friess’ letter and subsequent responses taught me that, in 2014, what I want to leave behind is faux allyship.
3. Iggy Azalea’s cultural appropriation and TI’s defense of it: First things first: she is not the realest; no amount of accent-changing will make this true. Iggy Azalea is racist and LGBT-phobic – there, I said it – and her own history proves this to be true. Hence, the irony (or perhaps, not so much) of TI using every fiber of his being to defend his protégé. Whether she is defending her ability to use the word “dyke,” “fag,” or wanting to be the slave-master, leader, she is taking the cultural appropriation world by storm.
According to Travis L Gosa, Ph.D., Iggy Azalea is “[a]n heiress to White supremacy, the mix of unearned racial privilege and racial fetish that has historically made Black music without Black people big business.” Indeed, Iggy Azalea is popular and problematic. When you fuse the influence of hip-hop with the power of white supremacy, you produce Iggy Azalea. You also get individuals who see dollar signs, which don’t necessarily align with Blackness, even in the music industry. But don’t tell this to TI.
The world would be a much better place, if we could leave Iggy “I want to be Black until it is time to be Black” Azalea in 2014, and while she’s there, TI can stay in 2014 defending her cultural appropriation all in the name of American capitalism.
2. Pretending Bill Cosby is Heathcliff Huxtable: Heathcliff Huxtable is a lover of hoagies and an HBCU-advocate. Bill Cosby is a man accused of rape/sexual assault by many victims and receives enjoyment from respectability politics. Got it? Good.Yes, the man who we thought we knew and loved has been accused of raping multiple women. Since we live a society that promotes rape culture, however, the natural reaction of many people was to vilify the victims and to stand in solidarity with American’s respectability politician himself, Bill Cosby. It didn’t take long before celebrities like Jill Scott rushed to the defense of the beloved “pull your pants up” star.
One year ago, I unfollowed Jill Scott on Twitter, not because I was no longer a fan of her music, but because I was no longer a fan of her. One of many reasons were statements like this: “Rape is a despicable, cowardly crime. If you get raped – plz (sic) do NOT shower, go to the police IMMEDIATELY, have a rape kit done. GET EVIDENCE.” Dear Miss Jilly from Philly, as my friend would say, please have a long walk of seats.
Trust me, the last thought on a rape victim’s mind is “how can I save the evidence to prove my attacker’s guilt.” Survival, in the best way possible, is usually the first thought. Telling a rape victim to “GET EVIDENCE” is, in virtue, telling victims that unless you have specific proof, we will not believe you were raped. Let’s be honest: our society perpetuates rape culture so much that even with evidence, people won’t believe a rape victim’s recount. The problem is not lack of evidence, the problem is our lack of believing victims.
And it’s quite ironic that many people, Black people especially, have this “wait for justice” attitude as if the American criminal system is a bastion of justice, freedom, and equality. In the same weeks we were screaming for Mike Brown is the same week we wanted Bill Cosby to be publicly exonerated because lack of evidence – that is, if you don’t consider 30 accusations a slight substantiation of a criminal act. Holy patriarchy, Batman!
The interesting thing is, we had a full trial of Trayvon Martin’s killer in 2013 and were – rightfully – angry at the verdict. We can’t now, in 2014, take the same justice system in which we were enraged to now pretend the system is perfect. Whenever Black bodies are involved, it never will be. Leave it in 2014 and take Bill Cosby’s silence and Jill Scott’s defense with you.
1. Only protesting when presumably straight Black men are killed, but silent when Black women and Black LGBT people are killed: This year, particularly in the age of social media, we have seen blackness being highlighted. #BlackLivesMatter has begun a paradigm shift for how many view blackness, but the one thing noticeably missing is those who are often on the frontline of these battles, marches, protests – Black LGBT people and Black women – are the same ones that many in our community are silent about when are killed.
It is scary thinking the same people you protest for wouldn’t even notice when your blood is the one on the ground. Like presumably straight Black men, Black LGBT people and Black women are killed by the police, too. Even when Black gay men, lesbian women, and transgender people have been killed by non-police officers, it rarely receives news coverage. A few tweets and Facebook statuses? Maybe. But if #BlackLivesMatter, we must be intentionally inclusive of Black LGBT people and Black women. All Black lives matter, and no, this is not a derailment from what we’ve been hearing. We’re Black too – let’s not forget.
Like presumably straight Black men, we, too, experience oppression because of Qhite supremacy. Intersectionality is not a myth; and the multiple dimensions of race, gender, and sexual orientation can make this life difficult to live, particularly for those who are at the top of the most-marginalized totem pole.
This past July, Kimberly Foster wrote “Why I Will Not March for Eric Garner.” In this piece, she indicated, “I will not rally for him because I am reserving my mental and emotional energy for the women, the Black women, no one will speak for.” And. The. World. Imploded. Or, at least, that was the reaction of many people.
Some people believed this statement, and ones alike, were selfish, divisive, and not proper timing. This made me wonder when is ever the ‘proper time’ to address acts of injustice. But I understood exactly what Ms. Foster was saying. Think about it. When you hear names like Islan Nettles, Renisha McBride, Aiyana Jones, Tarika Wilson, and Miriam Carey, among others – Black girls and women – who have been killed and we barely even know the name, wouldn’t it be tiring to only and always hear about the deaths, protests, marches, and humanity of cisgender, able-bodied, presumably straight Black men? For me, it was beyond exhausting.
Surely I’m aware that we can’t march for every death, but how about one that doesn’t only specifically involve the community in which the victim belonged? That’s a start. In 2014, let’s leave behind hierarchy of life and death in the Black community and recognize that if #BlackLivesMatter, we must be intentional about it being all of them.
The new year is always a time to reflect on being a decent human being, and in the spirit of building a more safe, secure, affirming, and intentionally intersectional Black community, it is imperative for us to leave people and things in 2014. The list above is a mere start.
Preston Mitchum is a civil rights advocate and legal writing instructor in Washington, DC. He has written for The Atlantic, Huffington Post, theGrio, Think Progress, and Role Reboot. Follow him here.