After learning of the Grand Jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown on August 9 this year in Ferguson, MO, I struggled with deciding how to teach the following day. I decided to write a statement to read—or at least interpolate—for fear that I may not be able to “stick to” the point. I decided to share that statement here:
This feels like one of the hardest days I’ve ever had to walk into a classroom and teach.
Over the past few months, I’ve found myself reminding my comrades—here and across the globe—that we are enough, that what we’re doing to eradicate oppression is enough. I’ve been given the same advice.
I’ve always had—and always will have—a problem with politics that are entirely reactionary, especially since my comrades and I are committed to valuing life 365 days a year, not just when that decision is made by MSNBC or even NPR. Since, Monday, November 17, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, my comrade at The Feminist Wire, and I have been co-curating and co-editing a forum honoring the life, work, and legacy of Toni Cade Bambara. And one of my favorite quotes of hers is, “Not all speed is movement!” I appreciate it so much that I used it in the title of the essay I wrote to introduce the forum, which will run until we take a TFW break for the month of December. In my introduction, I also quote Steven G. Fullwood, who writes, “When Black people witness or experience an injustice so profoundly perverse, so vile and painful, before acting we need sustenance, we need perspective and we need to figure out how to change shit.”
Last night, Aishah and I published a brief response to the Grand Jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO this past August. In that essay, we write, Toni Cade Bambara “was very clear that we should resist being manipulated by the manipulation that is often disguised as news and/or entertainment.” For that reason, we remind our readers that Toni, “at least for us, has been and always will be the truth, the light, and the way. We are explicitly clear that our commitment to honoring her is just what we need now and every other heinous time when Black life is met with treachery and murder.”
Still, I’ve been wracking my brain since the decision was announced, trying to figure out what to do today, trying to think about what would be best for you and for me. Of course, the original plan was to play a fun and humorous game of Critical Media Studies Jeopardy. To be honest, that may still happen—it depends on what we all think and feel after I finish reading this statement.
But, if I’m being honest, part of me feels extremely guilty for even thinking about having fun and making jokes today. The other part of me feels extremely guilty for even thinking about not doing that which is true to me and my pedagogy, especially since state-sanctioned violence against the most marginalized communities in our country and throughout the world is always a “topic of discussion” in all of my classes, including this one, and it always has been and always will be—long after the rest of the world has forgotten about Mike Brown in the same way that we’ve forgotten about so many already.
Tamir Rice was 12. My son is 10. Aiyana Stanley-Jones was 7. My daughter is 8. And when we were talking about the Grand Jury verdict last night, they were distraught, confused, and angry. In my daughter’s words, they were “outraged.” She said she’s “scared of Americans.”
But you know what? My husband and I loved on them, played with them—even as I was posting rapidly on social media, reminding folks that our Civil Rights Movement “heroes” were shot, sprayed with water hoses, and bitten by police dogs because of their commitment to eradicating injustice. We laughed with them, sang with them—even as I was posting pictures of white folks vandalizing property in response to the firing of Joe Paterno at Penn State and the Pumpkin Festival this fall. Throughout all of that, we still had to maintain our responsibility as parents even as we could not and would not ignore what was happening in Ferguson or anywhere else in the world. And I feel that same sense of responsibility today, as your teacher.
Author’s Note: As I was reading the statement, I decided—with the support of my students—to have some fun and play Jeopardy. I think they learned a lot, and so I’ve done my job. Additionally, after shedding numerous tears while listening to Tupac’s “My Block” (Russell Simmons Presents The Show: The Soundtrack, 1995), I was able to stand with my students who organized a protest of the Grand Jury decision earlier that afternoon. I was, and still am, so proud and honored to stand by their side.