Notes from a Black Womyn in America
Words by BLEU BECKFORD-BURRELL
Photographs by DENICE FLORES-ALMENDARES
Early in the am, I struggled to sleep. I watched video after video – from the media and social media platforms – and read tweets, posts, articles, and found an incredible and dangerous amount of noise. This is my understanding of what is going on and why this is a crucial moment to get it right.
1. This is not a riot. This is a REBELLION … a REVOLT
Each time you use the term riot or rioting regarding the protests across the nation (and now worldwide), you are actively taking part in White supremacy, inadvertently or purposefully. Riot is a term that has been used, disseminated, and propagated by White supremacists to minimize, disqualify, and label the racialization of Black people and our trauma via state-sanctioned violence, genocide, institutional/systemic racism as animalistic lawlessness. This is a REBELLION against the oppression and subjugation of Black people in America by those in power aka White supremacists better known as White people.
2. Protest is, by definition and design, DISRUPTIVE
Each time you bring up the “peacefulness” of a protest and pontificate on the excellence of a well-ordered protest, you are working within the framework of White supremacy. A protest is meant to give life and action to the disapproval of the status quo. There are infinite ways in which one can protest. MLK’s civil disobedience was only one example, and was strategically used and employed during the time when America desperately wanted its branding to be “Land of the Free.” Non-violence was a way to force the hand of White America to reconcile its ideological inconsistency and dissonance: the violence on Blacks, the imagery being documented and distributed, and the morally superior reputation it was seeking to uphold and propagate globally. A protest is not confined or limited to keeping the peace, keeping order, and most importantly non-violence. Each time you ask for protestors to be peaceful, what you are communicating is: your own safety and peace of mind is more important and valuable than the life and lives of Black people in America. We are not safe. We do not have peace of mind. We are conditioned to live in the unjust trauma of being in our skins from the day we are born to the day we die; peace does not exist for us. Why should it exist for you?
3. Police brutality is NOT the core issue/problem
Here’s an anecdote (because we are in a pandemic). You have been coughing with the chills and a high fever. You go to the doctor and they check your vitals and declare you have a fever. The doctor brings your fever down and states you are cured. But when the test you demanded to take for Covid-19 returns positive, the doctor tells you not to worry because the problem was the fever you no longer have, therefore you are healthy, fit, and safe to return to your everyday life – ultimately disregarding the actual virus causing the symptoms for your fatal illness.
Police brutality is a symptom of the disease/virus (problem) in America. The problem is systemic racism held up on the principle of White supremacy. This should not be mistaken as a dismissal of the deeply inherent issues of policing in this country. Historically, policing of Blacks has always been to maintain the power structure and dominion of White people. The KKK, whose sole purpose was/is policing, was birthed to violently and forcefully discourage the participation of Blacks in politics and government positions, and actively obstruct recuperation and reparation attempts. The police is just another arm of this type of oppression, but it is not the cause of racism in America; and the demand for charges and litigation against specific officers will not quell the ire, nor solve systemic racism in America. To ask for officers to JUST be “charged” is the same as asking a doctor to give you a Band-aid for a gunshot wound. Yes, I want justice for all the countless names and lives that were taken by the force of police brutality, but what I want more is the structure which provides and supports the policing to be dismantled, and so should you.
Blackness and police brutality
If you are going to involve yourself in conversations on police brutality, it is imperative you know and understand that the term African-American is not synonymous with and/or equal to Black. African-American is one ethnic identity of the many cultures/communities of the African diaspora. Not acknowledging this is erasing the lives and experiences of all of us who do not and cannot identify as African-American. Saying “Black” includes us all.
This also leads me to Black women and men. Because America was founded on capitalistic-patriarchy, there continues to be a disservice in the dismissal and erasure of Black women. The equivalency made, specifically regarding police brutality as well as the BLM movement, is that African-American men are the predominant and only victims of policing. They are not. Black men and Black women are ALL targeted without discrimination. To continue to only mention African-American men only illustrates the idea and belief that the lives of men and women are not inherently equal in value and to do so only once again confines you to the framework of White supremacy, which idolizes and operates from a patriarchal fundamentality.
And, if it does not suggest the patriarchal belief that men’s lives are more valuable, it does instill the racist idea that Black men are inherently threatening (without regard for the fact that Black women are also perceived as threatening in the eyes of White supremacy and are therefore also unsafe and unprotected). If you are going to discuss policing, include ALL BLACK bodies. #SayHerName did not evolve because Black women were bored. It’s because she (I) exists in the margins of invisibility, and as the shoulder to lean on when visible.
4. Assimilation, persuasion (uplift suasion) are FORMS OF RACISM
Any time a non-Black person suggests, advises, and demands me, or any other Black person, to conform to White culture – White culture is real, it exists, and White people will deny its existence because it is the fabric that stitches them together and grants them deniability against anything White individuals or groups do that is perceived as “bad” – you are asking us to contort ourselves into the image of Whiteness. The inability to accept me in all my Blackness and the ability to find fault and intolerance in my Blackness is bigotry. Bigotry is rarely mutually exclusive of racism. Promoting the idea and belief that I can find resolution in conforming to Whiteness is inherently a racist idea/belief.
Any time anyone, including Blacks and POC, asks Black people to only present Black excellence and exceptionalism as the sole representation of Blackness/African-Diaspora as a means to impress White supremacists (and essentially persuade White supremacists of our worthiness for an egalitarian-state), it is not only problematic but a by-product of internalized racism. The class, education, socioeconomic status, and successes of Black people cannot be used as a measuring stick of how deserving we are of freedom, justice, and equality. Blaming fellow Black people for their inability to gain access to upward mobility or resources, which provides limited opportunities given and afforded to White people, is choosing to blindly dismiss the reality of being Black in America.
In both cases, what you are communicating is: Whiteness is ideal and superior. In the former, we are told White culture is the only one we should ascribe to and indoctrinate ourselves in. While in the latter, we are pressured to meet and present an unrealistic image of Blackness, which many times mirrors and imitates the values found in White culture. Our Blackness cannot be defined by our proximity to Whiteness because that, too, is inherently a racist idea/belief.
5. If you are White (or White-adjacent or identify as White) you benefit from RACISM
As a White person in America, you have inherited a responsibility that has been shafted for centuries. From the birth of this nation, the conception of White supremacy was engrained and seeded into the doctrines (e.g. The Constitution) and fabric of American society. It is your responsibility to eradicate systemic racism, individual racism, institutional racism, and the propagation and dissemination of racist ideas. If you are White in America and you are NOT upholding your responsibility to Black people, you are a racist. You are a willing participant and benefactor of our oppression and subjugation, and to do nothing is as powerful and traitorous as overt individual racism. To be White in this country is to live with the privilege of woeful ignorance in the cloak of your binary principle of being morally good vs bad. You cannot be a “good person” or as “good” as you think if you cannot accept what it truly means to be White in America.
6. What do I – a Black Womyn in America – want?
Before I say what I want, which is just the initial thoughts on what I perceive to be steps towards a future of an egalitarian state, I want you, the reader, to understand I am not affiliated with any organizations – not by an unwillingness, but more a matter of pure happenstance. I do not speak for all Black people – we are not a monolith and I have come to my ideas, thoughts, beliefs through life experiences as a first-generation Jamaican American Black womyn, and autodidactic measures on the subject of the African diaspora and Black women in America. The re-education and enlightenment process is a painful journey we must go on (because our history is so often rewritten and hidden) to fully understand and comprehend the magnitude of what we face as Black people every single day. And because of the challenge and futility we feel in moments like this, it is a necessary journey – only then will it be possible to conceive of an answer to The Black Question.
What I want for the outcome of this rebellion is:
The abolition of policing, and with that an overhaul of the criminal justice system. Prison is just modern-day slavery.
All formerly incarcerated individuals in America regain their right to vote, with Black people and POC given pathways to earn a quality living.
All individuals who have demonstrated violence against Black bodies be held accountable in a newly reformed justice system.
Reparations in the form of profitable land ownership. Yes, like 40 acres and a mule. Except the mule is a grant (monies) to build communities for Black people across the nation on land they own.
All public colleges/universities to be tuition-free, including room and board along with student loan forgiveness for all living degree-holding graduates of the African diaspora.
Universal health care and the re-education of all medical personnel and students on racism and racial bias. The disparity of Black people dying during this pandemic is a result of systemic racism. The lack of resources and housing afforded to Black people (that increases our likelihood to exposure of a deadly virus) is not our fault.
Every facet of American life (if we so choose) must purposefully hire and incorporate Black people in policy making, consultation, leadership, and daily operations.
White people and non-Black people must educate, confront, and do all the leg-work necessary with their peers to eradicate White supremacy until the day they die.
This rebellion is NOT about an isolated incident; it is about the historical oppression, subjugation, and genocide of Black people in America. The only way I can think to address this is to have true freedom. And that requires autonomy as Black people by leveling the playing field, by fully gaining access to accumulate wealth via education, government, healthcare, and jobs. This we are owed – it is not a handout. Handouts have only ever been given to White people, strictly for being born White and maintaining the status quo. I don’t control, nor do I have the ability to stop the literal blazing fires across the nation, but what I will declare is this: I am absolutely content with it all being burned down if we are made to continue as we have for the last hundreds of years.
A word to my fellow Black Brethren:
If I have offended you in any way with this piece, that is not my intention. My heart, my soul and my mind are with you. The universe bestowed the skill of wordsmith to me. It is my weapon of defense and tool I can use to fight the good fight. If I have gotten something wrong in my facts or you disagree with an opinion, I am open to conversations and discussions. And with that, if you are interested in reading the literature I have most recently read and found incredibly useful I’ve included them below.
*Ain’t I A Woman by bell hooks
*Stamped From The Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
*White Fragility By Robin Diangelo
*These links deliberately take you to black-owned bookstores in NYC
Bleu Beckford-Burrell is a first-generation Jamaican-American actor/playwright. Born and raised in New York City, she works for non-profit organizations facilitating in the development of youth programs in communities of color. She received the 2020 Jody Falco & Jeffrey Steinman Commission for Emerging Playwrights. Her plays include P.S.365, Lyons Pride and La Race. She is an Ensemble Studio Theatre Member, I73 Playwright with an M.F.A from Rutgers University