Lenox Rally Against Racism, 26 July 2020
A speech given at an anti-racist rally hosted and organized by local youth
Mos Def, an artist, says in a song “tomorrow may never come, for you and me life is unpromised”. This is a statement that resonated with me for the lack of a life promised for people of color.
There is an acknowledgment to accept hopelessness as part of our daily lives. It may be the loss of life, loss of opportunity, loss of dignity, or type of losses. We, people of color, know this experience is not the same experience of white people. And I acknowledge privilege and oppression act in a variety of ways through different racial communities. But it’s different.
Today a majority of the speakers were the youth talking about their experiences with racism, bigotry, and hate. Whether directed at them or observed, these are acts of violence against all of us. This violence has a legacy that dates back generationally. The artist H.E.R. plays with Billie Holiday in saying “ look at the strange fruit hanging from my family tree”. If you’re not familiar with the reference, the strange fruit is the lynched bodies of black and brown folks. These fruits are not the result of blackness but carefully and strategically placed by whiteness.
The inequities experienced by young people remind me of my own. In school I was told in so many ways that I was not smart, that I was not able to do the work of my white peers. I was kept in remedial classes. They never saw the potential in me because the teachers wanted to see something else. This is a sorrow I carry with me, not for my experiences but knowing that these young folks are experiencing the same thing. It has got to stop.
We the people here make up the community. And the community makes us. My wife often says we invest in the things that we want in our lives. What are you investing in? When people in positions of power act in hateful ways, call them out. If we don’t we are investing in hate. Doing nothing is an action that empowers the status quo of oppression.
Black Lives Matter rose out of our constitutional right to free speech and against white supremacy. The movement started with the strength and courage of female identified people of color. The call is to recognize the value of black and brown people from around the world. The irony is that white supremacy created the need for Black Lives Matter. Now racist elected officials are calling the movement a terrorist group. In North Adams, Robert Moulton Jr. a member of the school board called BLM a terrorist organization. And we must remember how hard people argued that white mass shooters, like Dylan Roof, were not terrorists. The war on terror has been called on to enforce white supremacy across the country and at our youth. If these are the people making decisions about our society and the education of our youth we need to ask why have we invested in this.
Unmarked Federal agents were deployed to cities across the US to take protesters into custody. Who are the terrorists here? Let me be clear the message to people of color is currently “stay in your place, you do not belong here. Step out of line and you will be punished. The promise of more fruit on our family tree.
This is the American nightmare living unseen, next to the lies of the American Dream. The meritocracy only exists for some.
Mos Def, the artist I opened with, also says “shine your light for the whole world to see”. Our light is the youth who stand up and speak out and that organized this event. Thank you for shining your light on us. I leave you all with the idea that we need love to counter hate, and that by speaking out, being active and supporting anti-racist movements is an investment in love.