Without a doubt, we are all still in shock. Every single day we’re traumatized by the news. Well, at least for me and many of the people I surround myself with.
Most of us read books and have watched countless movies about the terrors and shame of our history. For me, I never imagined having to engage in a movement of this magnitude. I emphasize the word magnitude because there have been pockets of activism and protests all over the country.
I mean, when Bree Newsome climbed that pole and took down the confederate flag–that was so bravely badazz. When protestors took to the streets in Ferguson, I was amazed (not surprised) at the fierce passion of my people. Yet, with our political leadership today–whew–these pockets are no longer contained in certain areas or are major reactions to specific acts of injustice.
As our presidential election was gearing up, I began to question my role in this new movement. And on election night, I was dumbfounded and found myself struggling with hope.
What do I do? What can I do?
You must understand that artists are a particular type of people. We’re both expressive and vulnerable. I’m a writer, and writers tend to be introverts. We sit alone, becoming one with the words on our computer screens. Typing, deleting, and talking to ourselves. As an introvert, crowds are not my thing. It takes a lot to get me out of the house. But once I’m out, I’m good.
But protests? Marches?
Trust me, there’s a bit of guilt when I haven’t posted selfies of myself marching alongside friends. I believe there’s a certain camaraderie with like-minded people, and you get a sense of fulfillment for fighting for freedom. There’s also the guilt of knowing that my ancestors marched for my civil and voting rights. They were beaten down with clubs, blasted with firehoses, and attacked by dogs.
Don’t I have a duty to march, too?
Let me let you in on a little secret . . . sometimes I play this game with myself. I say, “Alicia, what would you do if you were in this ____ situation?” I’ve wondered if I would be brave enough to escape slavery or scared of Massah. Would I have given up my seat like Ms. Rosa Parks or succumbed to the intimidation of the bus driver? What about sitting at the lunch counters, would I have sat resolute or black out from the pressure?
I even play this game today. When riding through the back roads of Tennessee, would I eyeball the driver of the pickup truck tailing me? Or keep on, hoping he doesn’t notice I’m Black? Would I stand up to a bully who is pulling off a woman’s hijab or secretly record it on my phone, hoping not to be his next target? Can I go to war with ignorance on Twitter? Okay, my schedule wouldn’t allow for it. Shoot, there’d be an entire revolution happening, and folks would be mad ’cause I couldn’t check my account till ten PM. (Shout out to my Twitter warriors!) Or would I climb a pole and snatch down a flag. Well, let’s be real–I ain’t climbing no pole. I couldn’t do it in elementary school, and am more than positive that I can’t do it now, that’s for certain.
See, life is offering us too many real “what if?” scenarios. I can’t take it!
So, that brings me to my original question: What is my role in society, in this movement?
This wave of change and oppression requires each of us to act. It’s my belief that we’re required to act in the best way that suits us, right? To be honest, I may not be one of the thousands of people who’ll take it to the streets. And as the Civil Right’s Movement of the ’60’s taught us that there will be those who are also called to drive marchers, feed them afterwards, and bandage their wounds. Everyone is able to choose what works for them, but it is important to note that we should take an active role in society.
It is important to understand that with activism, fear may arise. You may be afraid to bring up uncomfortable conversations with friends and family or are comfortable oppressing others, and talking about it! You may be a little scared as you prepare for your march. You may break out in a cold sweat if your Twitter account is trolled. Activism is new for many of us. But those who seek to limit freedoms do so by intimidation. Refuse to be intimidated.
Whether you call your Congressmen/women and annoy them to action, join grassroots organizations, fight voter suppression, donate financially to organizations like the ACLU–find your role. As for me, I write. I deal with the socio-political issues through my stories. I offer hope and bravery through my characters, even though I may fail at it through my sheer humanness. Just as James Baldwin articulated, it is my hope that my words may one day change the world. None of our roles should be considered any less or more impactful for it takes a village to destroy ignorance.
So, if you’re an artist struggling with your role as an activist, know that your art can be activism.