On the Inaudibility of Black Lives Matter

I made the decision to go to graduate school in the summer of 2015. If you can recall, this was the summer that Dylann Roof opened fire during a Bible study in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. This was the summer Bree Newsome tore down the confederate flag from the South Carolina state house. This was the summer I heard people in my home state of Georgia cry out and cling onto the myth of “heritage not hate.” This was the summer Trump announced that he would be running for President.

I was naïve enough to believe that if I went to graduate school, people would believe what I’m saying. That they would understand the anti-Black racism was thriving in this country. That symbols of racism are damning and are attached to false narratives of rebellion. That what you mean when you insist that Trump is “finally telling the truth” is that we finally have someone willing to say the quiet parts out loud.

After five years, I’m a bit wiser. Or maybe a bit more cynical.

As someone whose life has been bookended by Black death at the hands of police and as someone who has had a lot of time to think during a pandemic, I’ve been considering the seeming inaudibility of the phrase Black Lives Matter. People seem intent upon twisting this hearing this declaration not as an affirmation of Black folks’ right to live, but as an affront to their being. As an unwarranted complaint from an ungrateful, insubordinate people.

What are you hearing when I say that my life has value? Why is there that impulse to counter with “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter,” or as I’ve heard most recently, “White Lives Matter”? I have come to realize that there are folks who believe the calls Black folks are making for freedom and liberation are viewed as literal calls for “Black supremacy.” Calls for an inversion of the white supremacist rule of law that has thrived in this country since its inception.

Now ain’t that something? That the mere utterance that Black lives matter in an anti-Black world is an affront to their (perhaps your) being?

What does this say for these folks, that they are completely incapable of imagining a world in which Black folks aren’t shot dead in the street simply because their very body is a threat to a White supremacist world order?

A Black body that has experienced joy and love and sorrow and all that humanity promises us, but also a Black body that is tethered to a long and tiresome past of racial violence– a past that these folks *refuse* to understand or reckon with?

I guess I should say what I hear when I hear these “retorts” to my life. I hear that you think anti-Black racism is exaggerated or has been overcome. I hear that you think police have the right to have access to my body and my community whenever and however they want because of a badge. I hear that you want Black people to shut the hell up and be happy. I hear that you want me dead.

Perhaps what I am hearing above all is that you have not been listening and you have no plans to do so. So, I’m done trying to explain my community’s claim to humanity to folks who consistently and willfully misunderstand a statement as simple as Black Lives Matter.

Because I’m tired.

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