DONT SLEEP Discussion Series: I Am Not Your Negro was a MONUMENTAL success. Thanks in no small part to such an amazing film and the prophetic words of James Baldwin. Thank you to the attendees who made this event a legit sell out with folks seated in the aisles. Thank you Georgetown 14 Digtal Cinemas for honoring this partnership and committing to the continued success of the Discussion Series initiative. Thank you to Eric K. LeSure and Satchuel Paigelynn Cole (and X), and Star Jones for holding down DONT SLEEP as always but most importantly, thank you emphatically to Januarie York, Manon Voice and Eric D. Saunders for your words both in and out of this event, your passion and your heart for the people.
As we neared 10pm, some people had to leave that night and there was some questions about the context of my final statement.
James Baldwin made a statement in the movie, then asked a question.
“I am not a nigger. I am a man. The nigger is in you, that’s what you call me. Not me. You need the nigger. Now you have to ask yourself and America indeed has to ask itself, why do you need me to be a nigger. What use do you have for a nigger and why do you need it to exist…”
To me, the answer came swiftly. The heart of white supremacy is the preservation of privilege. Even today, America has a love affair with the preservation of privilege. It fuels oppression. As those who seek to be liberated but have never seen freedom, we idealize that freedom LOOKS LIKE the patterns of abuse executed by the oppressor. Therefore we actively seek to preserve OUR privilege as a misguided modicum of freedom and in the process further marginalize and oppress those intersections of our own social groups.
This is why acknowledgement of intersectionality is so important. I recognize as a Black cisgender, straight, christian man, I am the most privileged in my social group. If I do not do everything I can to center the experiences and amplify the voices of black women. Of queer siblings. Of trans siblings. Of siblings who are differently abled; if I see the fight for their liberation as a burden or meet it with apathy. Aside from my complexion; how much more different am I in the pursuit and preservation of my privilege? How have I NOT too made these people my “nigger” and not in the affectionate sense of the word?
If I balk at the notion that my sisters earn a fraction of what I do in the workplace. If I let the phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner” (for the sake of argument because I hate that phrase and it’s premise) pass my lips without acknowledging that my queer siblings are dying in the street, not lifting a finger or making a passing statement to fight for their equal rights (that’s love?). That my trans siblings are targeted and murdered and misgendered and dead named and I remain silent. If I ignore the active exclusion and marginalization people who may be low vision or blind, d/Dead or hard of hearing, have mobility challenges, mental health issues or cognitive issues, I’m guilty of passively contributing to their oppression.
Yes, for white supremacy to thrive; they have always needed someone to be their nigger. But if you passively contribute to the oppression of those most marginalized and do not use your privilege to amplify the voice of those most intimately affected; you’re not just apathetic. You’re sleep.
View a FB Live Feed of the event below (the lights come up at about the 1:15 mark in the video)…