by Akilah S. Richards,
What a time we live in, when a mother blames herself for the murder of her son. A murder committed by the ones who say they protect and serve. A murder that not only affects a family’s son, but also a community’s child, and a nation’s responsibility.
I am angry. And I am not alone.
As I express these feelings, I place higher value on my practice of radical self-expression—a practice shared by many others who understand that self-expression is more than a discussion about our right to look how we choose to look.
“Mike just graduated Normandy High School and planned to start Vatterott College Monday. His mom ended the interview by telling me she failed her son. I assured her that wasn’t the case.” @Brittany_Noble (Instagram)
Self-expression is often limited to physical aspects such as style of dress, body art, hair, etc. It is all of those things, but its aspects far surpass clothing choices and bold colored hair. Some of us recognize that radical self-expression is less about the look, and more about how we choose to feel.
It also speaks to our ability as human beings to pursue expression itself. To explore our thoughts, feelings, and environments, and create space for ourselves to define and pursue joy and success on our own terms.
To decide what type of experience we want to have in the world, and then work toward that experience.
To see ourselves as part of a community, or even a society, and to do our part to enhance that community by excelling in our own private art of whatever it is we love and value.
But for many of us in America, the pursuit and process are stopped short, oozing from our life experience along with the trails of blood that gunshot wounds leave behind.
Black boys and girls are being targeted by some of the ones who claim to serve us, and our boys seem to be the primary targets. Our family trees are fast gathering exclamation marks and tear stains where names and smiling-faced photos of old men should be.
Our brothers and fathers are becoming parts of songs our grandmothers sing, and their hopes, dreams, and pursuits of self-expression are relegated to news headlines and stories we tell their children in efforts to keep their memories alive.
For many Black families, names and lives are being replaced with fear and fiction. Fear of being gunned down by ignorance, and the fiction they create to justify our people’s deaths.
What are we, as Black people in America, to do about this rapid and rampant replacement of our faces with fiction?
How do we choose to feel?
Will we choose fear and hiding?
Will we tell our boys to look less threatening and keep their heads low?
Will we live like animals corralled into a forest to be hunted by those with helicopters, loaded guns, Tasers, and coverage under the phallic shadow of the rapist appendage called Law?
Law says murder is illegal, but also that murdering Black boys is plausible; and not so quietly, commendable.
As mothers, sisters and cousins, and fathers, brothers and mentors, it is no longer enough for us to warn the boys in our family against straying away from the right path.
It is no longer about the tough decision to loc your hair as a Black boy. Or to dress comfortably. Or to drive too nice a vehicle in too white a neighborhood. It is no longer about staying out of trouble, or hanging with the wrong people.
Now, it’s just about being. Just being. Our boys are being gunned down in stores and on streets, simply because they exist. And because that existence poses a threat to someone else’s idea of safety.
What can we do? What can I do? Since it is not (nor was it ever) enough to simply keep our boys well dressed and well behaved, what do we do?
Since some of us have no interest in bending to the whims of what the larger society considers non-threatening, and since that is hardly ever a relevant factor in these murders, what can we do?
I believe that self-preservation has to be a factor in self-expression, or else we’ll get too caught up in ourselves to recognize what’s happening to our people.
And worse than that, we’ll stay in our own lanes, believing that by bettering ourselves through education and accolades, we somehow solve the problem.
The problem is not lack of education…Otherwise all educated Black children would be safe.
The problem is not sagging pants and dreadlocks…Otherwise, all well-dressed, close-cropped haired boys would be safe.
We need to police our communities ourselves. We need to hold our cities accountable for the target-and-kill practice that is costing us our legacy and our sanity.
When a woman is saying that she failed her son as a result of him being gunned down by murderers in uniforms, we need to ask ourselves what we can do for her. And by “for her”, I also mean for ourselves.
Because her feelings and her loss are not just hers; they are ours too. And if we feel broken in this way, we must find it within ourselves to create a path for healing. Otherwise, we will lose ourselves, and become extinct. Only to be replaced by a washed out, defeated version of the rich soil we once were.
That is unacceptable. We must do something. I will start by following the lead of griots like Baldwin and Cleage; I will bear witness to the truth at all costs.
BMWK – Where will you start? Wherever that is, please do so now, because it is so very urgent. We are becoming extinct. And worse yet, we are accepting it.
Akilah S. Richards writes and speaks about radical self-expression, unschooling, Black womanhood, and emotional wellness. Her work and lifestyle philosophies have been featured in Essence, Clutch, and Real Simple magazines, and online at MSNBC’s Today Moms, RollingOut.com, CNN.com, and TinyBuddha.com. Akilah is a Contributing Writer at EverydayFeminism.com, and risks expression on her own blog over at radicalselfie.com.