By Ryan Edward Perry •
Originally published on The Backlight Blog •
I was talking with one of my best friends today. She has recently, to my delightful surprise, become quite outspoken and engaging regarding social justice and the current state of American culture and the movements that have risen in that space. My friend, who is of Afro-Latinx descent, is married to a Black man who is also a very good friend. They share a home with two beautiful children, a boy and girl. She explained to me that she has been processing through a lifetime of microaggressions and in some cases, blatant racism and bigotry from a multitude of places but most tragically, members of her own family. Her own experiences combined with that of her husband’s, and not least the deep concern and fear she has for his safety as well as that of her children, has motivated her to speak out for justice for Black lives.
As we spoke she shared her disgust and agony over the events in recent weeks sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minniapolis. We talked about our anger over the actions of the police during protests and demonstrations, about the inaction of white moderates, the seemingly indifferent, dismissive attitudes and lack of understanding some in the older generations are displaying, Breonna Taylor, the “respectability” debate, sexism, anti-queerness, the school to prison pipeline, capitalism, all of it. She recounted to me how her tolerance for those who speak negatively of this movement or who claim a middle ground is rapidly deteriorating.
What I have noticed the most since talking with her these last couple weeks though, is just how much emotion she has displayed about these issues. In fact, I have noticed that almost everyone, from my generation of millennials, as well as younger folks in Gen Z, are filled with emotion over what is happening, and it isn’t some knee-jerk reaction or some fomented discord. This emotion is visceral, raw and deep seeded; almost intrinsic. I have come to realize that the reason for this unfiltered emotion is that we are all painfully aware that at any moment, in any place, at any time any one of us could be the next to die.
“To be a negro in America is to be in a perpetual state of rage”– James Baldwin
This is our reality. This is our life. We wake up every morning and even if we compartmentalize it, that feeling of dread and hopelessness pervades our psyches. It is a feeling that is impossible to escape. The people who are marching in the streets, doing what they feel they need to do to be heard and seen, they aren’t doing these things for clout. This isn’t Instagram or Snapchat. We live in fear of our lives every single day and it quite literally pains us. Studies are being produced that show the stress of being Black in America today changes our physiology and lowers our life expectancy.
Society has already failed us as a generation; we can’t afford rent, much less even dream of buying a home. We are the most educated generation of young people to come up since World War 2 and yet salaries for professional positions are the same as they were in the 60’s when adjusted for inflation. Our environment is collapsing, the world is constantly on the cusp of war, hospital bills and insurance premiums put more Americans into bankruptcy than any other financial burden, AND NOW, ON TOP OF ALL THESE THINGS, we can’t trust that the police or some random white vigilante won’t try to kill us or our loved ones for simply existing.
When they stole Eric Garner away from us, his daughter Erica went to work immediately. She made appearances on network television, lobbied Congress, got involved with politics and social justice, and organized people centered movements all over her home city of New York. But in the end, the grief and anguish of losing her father was too much for her and the same system that murdered Eric murdered her as well. Erica died of a broken heart fighting for justice and the memory of her father. I must say that of all the deaths in the era of Black Lives Matter, hers has affected me most profoundly; I tear up every time I think of her.
Erica could have been me. Eric could have been you. George Floyd, Kalief Browder, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Stephon Clark, Daniel Shaver, Emmitt Till. Saints and martyrs, all of them. For us this movement is not peripheral. These brothers and sisters are not simply a figment or a bedtime story. They are not adjacent or removed. They are us.
They are a mirror.
To Ryan Edward Perry, social justice is meaningless without inclusion and intersectionality. He strives to write in a way that emphasizes the importance of this factor.