Soon after the tragic and horrific flooding in Baton Rouge (to donate, click here), many Black folks affected by the disaster were asking, “Where are all of the Black Lives Matter organizations now?” In a video by Jerry R. Washington, he states, “When it came to all the drama with the Alton Sterling killing, [BLM] came out with guns and ready to go to war.” It raises the question: When it comes to issues of the death, destruction, and violence against Black people, are BLM-centered organizations invested as much as they are in police brutality as a threat to Black life?
This is a very complicated, critical issue that has more than “right” and “wrong,” or “yes” and “no” as answers or understandings. And while these critiques are difficult to access and unpack, the critiques of organization/activist response time, investment and outreach matter. While we can’t expect the Black Lives Matter network to hold the responsibility of dispatching to all incidents of antiblack violence, we can ask why many activists, organizers and organizations who operate through a Black Lives Matter lens do not respond to natural disasters, poverty, resource crises, domestic violence, antiblack misogyny and other forms of violence against Black folks as much as they respond to antiblack police brutality and state-sanctioned murder.
There is a clear hierarchy of violence and empathy when it comes to Black lives mattering. And most of the time, we romanticize the death of Black people when it is death by cop, but we are seemingly not as responsive to events that read as normal, everyday tragedy. Let me be clear: when I say everyday tragedy, I mean our normalization and adaptation to antiblack violence that doesn’t seem unusual or intentional.
Hey, BLM: what about the everyday antiblack struggle we go through?
When you grow up in the hood, most of us are used to being broke, used to being hungry, used to hearing gunshots, used to struggle as a theme of living. When you grow up poor, most of us know what to do when your water or electricity gets cut off to preserve and survive until someone can pay the bill, don’t know how to save because something is always due and know what it’s like to survive on Cup Noodles and hot fries. When you grow up Black, all of us have learned assimilation as survival in some way, shape or form to hide from being too Black when we walk by white people, to shrink ourselves when we walk into white spaces, to hide our fullness, our language, our culture to survive.
When we’ve grown so used to struggle as our reality, it’s so much easier to position antiblackness through police brutality — a death/violence that is simpler to reason as morally and intentionally wrong — than it is to position poverty, internalized antiblackness, domestic violence, natural disasters, resource crises, lack of access to healthcare, homelessness, antiblack misogyny, toxic Black masculinity, etc. as violence we should be outraged by. We have unknowingly grown immune to the deeper levels of systemic antiblack violence that we have never deserved and survive through every day.
More so than focusing on one stringent, one-dimensional answer to the question posed within this essay, I hope that we as Black community members — as activists and organizers, as regular-ass Black people surviving and wanting to get free — can talk about how to provide for our people and each other in real time and push the importance of all antiblack violence rather than just that of police brutality. I hope that we can have conversations about how to understand that all of the antiblackness we suffer from is interconnected to each other.
Ashleigh Shackelford is a queer, nonbinary Black fat femme writer, artist, and cultural producer. Ashleigh is a contributing writer at Wear Your Voice Magazine and For Harriet. Read more at Facebook.com/AshleighShackelford. Support my emotional and intellectual labor by donating to: PayPal.me/AshleightheLion.