Sitting here in a small studio in Bali, Indonesia, where I have lived for the past six months, I am currently staining the gray sleeves of my sweater with black mascara after watching Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention.
This sweater has dried many tears in the past few weeks, mostly tears of mourning for America. Tears for Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the countless lashes of police brutality that have landed on our backs. And if you had asked me last week if African Americans should seriously consider leaving America, I would have said yes.
FLOTUS and her talk of guts and grace, standing there drenched in the glory of Black Girl Magic. Her prodding our willpower, ancestors deep, to stay, to fight.
If you are wondering whether or not “I’m with her,” I am. I am with Michelle Obama. I still have concerns about a Hillary Clinton presidency, but… I am with Michelle.
“How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”
And, boy, do we African American women know a thing or two about choosing the high route. How we are often asked to quickly forgive our oppressors. How we are asked to and happily do fight for our brothers, and allow the pain we’ve received at their hands to sit in the backseat. Asked to forgive White supremacy that bleaches out true ideas of justice.
Will you go high?
We do. We will. Black women have forever lent our bosom to feed this county. But going high has to look different in 2016.
Because the honest reflection tells me, shows me, that the desire of “fight or flight” is a real one African Americans are facing, after a long history of always having to choose to fight. Sometimes, it feels damn good to get suspended in thoughts of a new kind of freedom. A freedom that allows for Black skin to not be synonymous with sin, violence and death due to wide-frame noses, selling CD’s or cigarillos, walking home armed with iced tea.
But there are troubled waters abroad too. I have just clicked away from a story of a Black man facing death here in Indonesia on drug charges, a crime punishable by execution. I have been told not to explicitly write or talk of West Papua, New Guinea’s suffering – a suffering of people that look like me here in Indonesia – for fear of being deported. There is unfortunate pain everywhere, yet I know Black America’s more intrinsically.
And I applaud our ability to find levity in pain. Our ability to fight while in pain. It’s a delirium we do not ask of others who have just been released from the hospital bed of trauma; the repeating plays of Black death, trauma.
So, it takes a hell of a speech to remind me that flight is not always the best option. Remind me of the blood that’s been seeded. It’s not that’d I forgotten, but that I’d just grown tired.
“That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”
The White House has gotten a taste of Black Girl Magic; the country has been suspended in a flight of Black girl realness, and pain and tears and will for generations to come. The land does not forget and we must not let the work that has been done, the irrigation of our struggle, our highs and our lows, to be in vain.
"We cannot afford to be tired or frustrated or cynical."
There have been times, I’ve been caught in the hems of cynicism. Times I very much believe this system has to be completely overthrown for real change to erupt, but we do not have that luxury in the short few months before November.
I have said to trusted friends often, I do not vote because I believe and am certain that it makes a difference. I vote because my ancestors suffered and died for me to have this right. A right that new voting laws have tried to repeal as recently as last year. We do not have the luxury and enough of us do not have the privilege of flight.
We have local governments, congress and a presidency in our hands. We have a new country to shape. A country that is breaking. Bigots who are taking last measures out of fear, because best believe they see us rising.
We’ll do what needs to be done, we always have. Sometimes, going high means staying grounded.
Chelcee Johns is a writer, editor and digital media strategist (and red wine "connoisseur") passionate about social justice, purposed living and all things literary. She is currently living the Eat, Pray, Build life in Bali working on a start up company. In a recent past life, she was an editor at Moguldom Media Group and a NYC literary agent. Chelcee has written for MadameNoire, Essence, and Official Black Wall Street amongst other publications.