“It is not an act of revolution to ‘rest’ and ‘enjoy things’ at the expense of Black lives. Demanding that Black women let people ‘rest’ and celebrate those who advocate for state violence, while robbing us of our agency to rest and grieve Black folks who have been murdered by the police is an act of violence,” – Stephanie Younger
By Stephanie Younger •
We said abolish the police and abolish the prison industrial complex, not “representation” of Black women who maintain those systems.
During an uprising in defense of Black life calling for the abolition of the police state and the carceral state, it seemed that liberals who were saying “listen to Black women,” were solely speaking in reference to Black women who do the labor of “saving our Democracy.” Recently, many who have been “thanking” Black women for our labor have made it alarmingly clear that the Black women they find worthy of their respect are politicians who uphold the prison industrial complex.
The victory of a Black woman who is an exploiter and oppressor of other Black women in the name of “intersectional feminism” is not a “win” for us. Silencing Black abolitionists to put a Black woman who is an incarcerator of other Black women on a pedestal is a victory for the carceral state. This is a symbolic gesture that maintains the systems that oppress Black women in the first place. In October 2020, I wrote an article about the ways liberals have been silencing Black feminists, especially abolitionists, for critiquing Kamala Harris’ track record of incarcerating Black people.
“I see it as a type of feminism that idolizes politicians like Kamala Harris, who has bragged about sending Black youth through the school-to-prison pipeline and locking up their parents, and who has degraded people who advocate for schools, not prisons. I see it as a type of feminism that silences the critiques of Black people affected by Kamala Harris’ actions and who are fighting for the abolition of what she maintains, which is the prison industrial complex.”“Black People Can’t Wait Every Four Years For Our Liberation,” by Stephanie Younger
Recently, those who have been silencing the critiques of Black feminists and abolitionists that we “just let people rest and enjoy things,” after toppling one white supremacist to replace him with another white supremacist. It is not an act of revolution to ‘rest’ and ‘enjoy things’ at the expense of Black lives. Demanding that Black women let people ‘rest’ and celebrate those who advocate for state violence, while robbing us of our agency to rest and grieve Black folks who have been murdered by the police is an act of violence. In June of 2020, I did not have a lot of time to rest and grieve when my inbox was filled with messages demanding that I do the emotional labor of ‘educating’ those who believe that I exist for their consumption. I also did not get to rest when the ‘solidarity’ white liberals extended to the fight for Black lives was a black square on Instagram, and attending one protest for a photo op.
Seeing the black squares, and the performative ‘protest pics’ on Instagram was a wake-up call that so many people see Black trauma as a trend, as a commodity, and as an opportunity to co-opt Black liberation movements and increase their own social capital. This was shown through influencers who turned the murder of Breonna Taylor into a trend, then many liberal Instagram infographic accounts who co-opted and whitewashed the activism of Black liberationists. On social media, some people have further commodified Black people whose lives were taken by police to put politicians on a pedestal. Others have weaponized the individual decisions of Black liberationists – whose ideology that they don’t even support to begin with – to shame Black people into seeking freedom from electoral politics.
During the uprisings, I have learned that liberals’ co-optation of anti-racist activism extends far beyond the performative activism we experience interpersonally from the many so-called “well-intentioned” white liberals” and their self-serving organizing environments. It has derailed Black liberation movements that threaten capitalist systems such as the prison industrial complex.
This co-optation continued into November of 2020, when people used a Black revolutionary space to celebrate the victory of an architect of the prison industrial complex and an enforcer of that system. On November 7th—the day Biden and Harris won the election—people used the Marcus-David Peters Circle in Richmond, Virginia, as a venue to celebrate. In the same space where many of us protested state violence throughout the summer of 2020, people were taking pictures of themselves holding “Biden and Harris 2020” signs and placing them on the space that was reclaimed by the community during the summer of 2020. People popped bottles of champagne, and poured it on a memorial that honors Black people who have been murdered by the police.
Many of the same folks preaching about “thanking” Black folks are erasing Black folks from their work & co-opting this space to prop up someone who advocates for state violence to happen. I’m also starting to see more folks calling MDP circle the “Robert E. Lee Memorial”…— Stephanie (@blaquewomanist) November 8, 2020
From what I’ve seen on social media and in-person, many who occupied the Marcus-David Peters Circle that day have expressed their certainty that we somehow no longer have a white supremacist as a president, and suggested that electing Biden and Harris somehow brought justice to Black people whose lives were taken by police. However, they brought a great injustice by using the space to celebrate the victory of a white man who co-authored a piece of legislation that sustained mass incarceration, and a Black woman whose role in that system has traumatized Black communities. Not only were they disrespecting the Black folks being honored in that space, but they were also ignoring that the state violence against protesters throughout the summer of 2020 was orchestrated by our Black Democratic mayor who was re-elected that week.
Many of the same people who quoted Martin Luther King’s Jr.’s warning of the white moderate on MLK Day last Monday have spent the past two weeks—let alone many election cycles—embodying the white moderate by silencing the critiques of Black abolitionist feminists, setting the timetable for Black liberation by telling us to “let them enjoy things.” Some of the same people who claimed to have cared about Black lives, and supported protestors during the uprisings are now supporting militarized police, despite their continuous attacks, surveillance, arrests and imprisonments of Black people.
Since 2020, a Biden-Harris presidency was my biggest concern, in the sense that many liberals would become complacent with the idea of not showing up for Black lives, as long as they share the same views as the politicians who orchestrate systems that put Black lives under attack. Given that many liberals spent 2020 co-opting Black liberation movements and telling Black abolitionists that the “stakes are too high right now” to not appease the white moderate, it is unsurprising to find that they are not actually going to “hold Biden and Harris accountable.”
Liberals who “listen to Black women” who are incarcerators of other Black women will continue to silence Black women who are abolitionists. Liberals who spent the past four years claiming to have cared about Black lives will continue to disrupt our agency to grieve Black people who lost their lives to state violence, to uplift Black people who are exploiters of other Black people. We deserve the agency to seek freedom beyond the electoral system, or the prison industrial complex.
Stephanie Younger is an 18-year-old based in Richmond, Virginia, whose work centers the intersections Black feminism and womanism have with prison and police abolition.