There is something about it, though, that makes me step lightly. And, I don't know that it has to do with the film itself. I have no doubt that Duvernay is a skilled director, that the story being told is one that hasn't been before. Still, for me, it fits somewhat into the discourse of Civil Rights activism and Post-Civil Rights activism. One might even say civil rights activism/activists vs. post-civil rights activism/activists. While I don't believe that this dichotomy is so cut and dry, the conversation has been highlighted most recently in the ill-timed and uninformed comments by Oprah Winfrey, the "backlash" against Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson's assumed leadership of the current organizing around the killing of young Black men, and, perhaps even, the much deserved failing/decline of the (not the only one) accused sexual predator/icon Cliff Hux--Bill Cosby.
In general, Oprah's comments sum up a feeling by, sometimes self-appointed, civil rights leaders in her comments about Ferguson and the current protests happening throughout the country:
"I think it's wonderful to march and to protest and it's wonderful to see all across the country, people doing it," Winfrey told PEOPLE exclusively in an interview in the magazine's new issue. "But it's not enough to march, said Winfrey..."What I'm looking for is some kind of leadership to come out of this to say, 'This is what we want. This is what has to change, and these are the steps that we need to take to make these changes, and this is what we're willing to do to get it.'"Harpo?
That top down narrative, the constant search for "the" leader that Oprah speaks to, namely, one that fits a particular (King) profile speaks to a loss in Black social movements, Black struggle and Black politics that is both individual and collective. I've been thinking about loss in academic settings, particularly as it relates to Blackness, organizing, and community. What has been lost over time and between generations. How that manifests in this moment. For instance, even the name "Black Lives Matter" the brilliant organizing call by Patrice Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi represents a loss related to Blackness in the last 50 years. The fact that one of the basic premises of the 1950s/1960s (30s, 40s) Black Civil Rights Movement was that Black people were human, were equal, that Black folks mattered has been forgotten in the larger cultural imagination and that in the 50 years since, the discourse has shifted back around to Black folks are not human, social problems, and expendable is a loss. That kind of loss and grief. That kind of back and forth. That kind of wrestling with history and time, a wrestling, for me, with ghosts. The ghosts of previous social movement discourse, with discussions of racism then and now and sometimes with the very leaders themselves.
But it can also be personal.
I've been wrestling with my own ghosts, as we all have, in this discussion. It's taken me several rewrites of this post/several weeks to finish this discussion. As we are collectively kicked in the gut by the non-indictments of anyone or any structure--police, white supremacy, the media--for the violence enacted upon Black bodies by police officers in cities across the country. It started for me, not with the decision not to indict Darren Wilson for murder, but with the killing of Micheal Brown itself. The nuances of race, racism and anti-Blackness that permeates Missouri and other parts of the Midwest. I grew up in Missouri. Spent half of my life there, some three hours south of St. Louis, where Ferguson is located. As a teenager, I spent many summers in St. Louis, running the streets of Ferguson, Florissant, Normandy and other Black neighborhoods. The racism that informed the killing of Michael Brown and the subsequent response is something I know intimately. The specific kind of racism between white people and Black people that remains in my bones even though I haven't lived in Missouri in almost 20 years. And it reminds me of another "ghost" that resonated when I first read and re-read "On Becomin Successful," a poem by Ntozake Shange. There she recounts her experience growing up in St. Louis in the 1950s. I was struck by her story of going to a summer camp in the Ozarks, the area that I grew up in, and emerging from a Jesse James cave (Missouri is known for its caverns/travel destinations) and having her white "friends" waiting to see the whites of her eyes.
be a blk girl in 1954/ who's not blk enuf to lovingly ignore/ not beautiful enuf to leave alone/ not smart enuf to move outta the way/ not bitter enuf to die at a early age/
That's what Missouri is like. Was like for me. And, it's the reason I left Missouri. But it hasn't been something that I could shake, which I'm reminded of in this moment and in every visit to the Midwest. And that's heartbreakingly similar to ways that racism and the current movements around racism are being discussed. Wrestling. Something we can't shake. The expectation was that I as a post-Civil Rights child would never have experienced the racism that Shange experience in '54. And certainly that no one born after me would have either. But, I did. We have. We do. Even with a promise that it would get better and with the continued assurance, as President Obama recently stated, that it has gotten better.
And so we will continue to wrestle and see what comes out of this loss. How community can create from a space of loss, and revel in what has already been created.