The past two weeks have seen our great nation flipped upside down and on top of its head as reality TV star Donald Trump was sworn in to be our 45th president. Almost immediately, buyer’s remorse kicked in and the day following his inauguration over 2.9 million women marched across the country denouncing the new commander-in-chief and his regime. However, amid the sea of pink “pussyhats” and protest placards, there stood a Black women—carefree and powerful, with a lollipop in one hand and a sign in the other that would serve as a powerful reminder:
“Don’t forget: White Women Voted for Trump”
— 𝕶𝖊𝖛𝖎𝖓 𝕭𝖆𝖓𝖆𝖙𝖙𝖊 (@saint_CHuBBZ) January 21, 2017
The photo of Angela Peoples instantly went viral as the composition of White women smiling in the background juxtaposed against her presence in front and sent shockwaves through every person witnessing the statement. As a writer, you are told to “never read the comments,” but I knew the type of backlash a moment like this could cause, so I decided to peep a few out. Unsurprisingly, many condemned Peoples for her “divisive ways.”
For Black people, this is nothing new. Historically, anytime we use the freedom of the First Amendment to display our displeasure, particularly with systematic racism, we’re accused of not being humble or “playing the race card” instead of working toward finding a solution. Black rage is often vilified in the media as being violent or unproductive, while those who try to discredit our grievances totally ignore why we’re angry—or speaking out—in the first place.
It would be foolish and irresponsible of me to pretend that White folks are the only ones who perpetrate the assumption that Black rage is problematic, though. In my opinion, there are there groups who are quick to police our emotions and protests for three very different reasons, leaving those of us in the fight at a constant battle from all angles.
- White people who feel like we need to be more kumbaya than truthful about their silence in our death as they pull out the “not all of us…” card.
- Non-Black people of color who feel that if we are going to have rage then we also need to be fighting on their behalf, as if we are their mule.
- Black people who believe respectability politics and assimilation are the best way to integrate into a culture, although both of those things have often left us dead.
Recently, I have seen these groups come out in solidarity to stand against any type of rage that does not meet the standard of approval that society feels appropriate.
For some Whites, it is much easier for them to deny the fact that Black folks have a valid issue, or totally ignore the issue we are protesting, than to actually acknowledge it and work toward solving it. The thousands of negative comments about Peoples’ poster proved that, as a whole, it will never be about the actual problem as much as it’s about picking and choosing moments of faux-allyship. That allyship, at times, only comes when the problem starts to hit close to home is rarely examined.
We were reminded of this after Donald Trump signed an executive order on immigration that caused hundreds to be detained at airports across the country. The response from many in White America was resounding as they came together with for a common cause, and within 24 hours got an injunction to block the parts of the order. However, for the past few years, Black and brown folks have been in the streets declaring our lives matter, while the “All Lives Matter” crew–many of whom showed up at airports around the country–attempted to derail our cause.
The same question could also be asked of some non-Black people of color who expect Black Americans to show up and champion their struggles the same way we have been fighting for our own since the slave ships made it to the shore. However, some are not merely asking for our help or to join our forces in the fight. They are demanding that we fight on their behalf, and on behalf of those seemingly more marginalized than us.
Now let’s be clear, Black people have always been at the forefront of gaining rights for all marginalized people; however, the ability to see more the bigger picture should not be demanded of us, especially when others have not always fought with us in return. We are not the mules of everyone’s marginalization and oppression. Our rage should not be policed or ignored simply because it is not always inclusive of everyone’s struggle. It is divisive and harmful to the cause when non-Black people of color make us out to be the enemy even though we are fighting for a common cause—equality for all.
Then you have us. When it comes to fighting for the humanity of all Black lives, some of our people are constant reminders that “all skinfolk ain’t kinfolk.” Many of us are tired of being policed by our own people who simply don’t understand that getting free requires more than just fitting into society. The Black rage in our community is often met with the same rhetoric from those who don’t agree:
“Why y’all act like y’all are surprised?”
“Who destroys their own city to make a point?”
“Stop bitching and complaining.”
I could go on about the nonsensical ways some Black folks try to police other Black folks’ emotions. It was Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “A riot is the language of the unheard,” but when the unheard finally exercise their voice through protests or uprisings it is called “violence” and attempts are made to quash it, even from our own. Respectability politics serve no place in the fight for equity and equality. There is no such thing as assimilation into a system that isn’t meant for us.
We are not surprised at all the stunts that Trump is pulling, we are angry. Black Americans overwhelmingly voted to save the country from itself, and we lost. Black people’s emotions have been policed for far too long in this country, and we will not stand to be silenced by anyone who can’t see the humanity in our pain. The ancestors fought too hard for us to have a voice, so stop trying to drown it out simply because it makes you a little uncomfortable.
George M. Johnson is an activist and writer based in the Washington, D.C. area. He has written for EBONY.com, Pride.com, Thebody.com, and The Huffington Post on topics of health, race, gender, sex, and education. Follow him on Twitter: @iamgmjohnson.