Defending Our Blackness, Unapologetically | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Defending Our Blackness, Unapologetically


Maya Miller

I didn't watch the 2016 BET awards last Sunday, but I did partake in the Black Twitter awards watch party where I retweet, lurk from afar and pop some tweets off for the sake of humor. It's probably one of the rare things that brings us together on social media. Well, that and exposing racists.

One of my favorite actors and TV doctors, Jesse Williams, accepted the 2016 Humanitarian award and gave a speech that lasted less than five minutes but stuck with me all of last week, in which he called out those who benefit the most from white supremacy, but also those of us directly affected from it, the fearful yet determined.

"We know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day, so what's going to happen is we're going to have equal rights and justice in our own country, or we will restructure their function in ours," he said, to which the room lit up.

His speech, impassioned as it were, brought a flurry of responses online, and though I wasn't surprised, it made me incredibly disappointed in humanity. There were people calling Jesse out for benefitting from "light-skinned privilege," attacks on his wife's appearance and angry "journalists" like Tomi Lahren and Stacey Dash calling him racist and saying he's promoting a divide between races. It's depressing to think that a man who fights for all of us, who owns his blackness being targeted for uplifting people that look like him.

One thing I've always struggled with in the last quarter of my life is embracing my blackness. I've had to defend my blackness to both white and black people since my mother moved me out of Jackson Public Schools when I was in the second grade into a school where I was one of maybe two dozen kids of color in my class, and even then, I was one of the few who were at the top of the class. That changed when I moved to another majority-white school when I was in the 10th grade, and somehow, even with the demographics split in half, I could never find that spot with "Maya Miller" written on it, academic or otherwise.

I'm plagued often with the fear of not being black enough, not being urban enough, not getting the lingo, my AAVE being too precise. Hell, I can't even rap along to most of the songs my friends listen to, but that doesn't keep me from bobbing my head and being in the background of a million and one snapchats, then running home to learn everything there is to know about the artist. I pride myself on being a vessel of useless knowledge, but not many people want to break down the chemical compounds that form our solar system at a random Thursday happy hour.

As a teenager, it was tiresome to always have to defend my interests, my choice in clothing, the people I've liked and dated, and as a freshman in college, everything was exacerbated tenfold. I was known as the girl who somehow managed to attend a Historically Black University and have not one, but three white roommates, whom I still love dearly. It was as though I went out of my way, subconsciously, to stick with what felt safe to me.

In seeking out what's safe, I denied so many aspects of myself that I'm almost ashamed to admit it. I denied Trayvon Martin more than absolutely anything, simply because the reality that this poor black child was killed by some paranoid lunatic with a gun was too much for me to process. I hadn't had an interest in having children at 18, but this whole idea of my future babies being killed for being black turned my heart cold, and I gave up on the black resistance. What was the point?

It took me reading about Akai Gurley, Mike Brown and Rekia Boyd, or watching the video of Sandra Bland at a traffic stop, unwittingly knowing that she would die in jail or Eric Garner being choked to death on a New York street.

It took 12-year-old Tamir Rice lying dead at a playground and John Crawford III in a grocery store for me to realize that it's not my job to sit here and be silent and pretend that if they hadn't done something wrong, they would be alive today. I'm not here to give a pass to police officers who kill innocent people, either accidentally or because they didn't know how much force they were using, and I'm definitely not here to comfort racists who believe that black lives somehow matter less.

"The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That's not our job. ... If you have a critique for the resistance, of our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression," Williams said.

"If you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions for those who do."

Just about every day, I see commentary on the Black Lives Matter movement, mainly from people who want us to stand down and be quiet, because slavery was so long ago, or because it's not like we don't deserve it. "What was he doing? Well, he did have a gun. Well, why did he run?"

It's people who have the most to say that seem to be blowing the most hot air around and calling it a solution. And yet, black people are still being killed twice as much as our white counterparts by police officers, and over-criminalization sets us back into this systemic cycle of oppression that hasn't changed since the '60s. The oppressors changed, but the effect remains the same. They kept us from voting. They kept us from buying homes in wealthier neighborhoods. We have some of the worst educational resources for our black children, and we're overlooked for jobs that would allow us to do better than the generation before us.

Williams' speech reminded me that I have a voice as one tiny part of a community that wants better for our people. There will always be a critique of the black resistance, but we can't be afraid to step up against police brutality, racism and white supremacy. Black people aren't here to protect white fragility. That's not our job.

Deputy News Editor Maya Miller writes about crime, mental health, juvenile justice and her ever-growing obsession with Beyonce. Email her news tips at [email protected]. Read more about solutions to change the cycle of violence at

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