Jamia Wilson is a writer and activist. The views expressed here are her own. Bad breaking news is my grim new alarm clock. From tweets and texts displaying grisly footage of two Black men slain by law enforcement to Facebook notifications about a deranged sniper murdering police officers during a peaceful protest, awakening to terror has become an everyday nightmare. I wish I could say my new habit of rising automatically at 5:30 a.m. emerged due to stellar sleep hygiene and my unending devotion to meditation. The reality is, trepidation from the unrelenting influx of tragedy has affixed itself on both my brain and my heart since the Orlando, FL, shooting and hasn’t left me since. For a while, I wondered if my family’s recent loss of both my beloved grandmother and my 28-year-old cousin (who was brutally killed by gun violence) contributed to detonating my wary alertness. But I soon realized that my restlessness has been ignited by the pattern of waking up again and again to terrible reports of violence that, while sometimes distant geographically, hits close to home in every other sense.
Speak up and don’t wait for someone else to take a stand, even if you feel like you don’t have “the right” words.
As a news junkie who grew up abroad as an expat, my ritual of reading my favorite outlets for global updates has always helped me feel connected to friends around the world. Daily headlines have never been without tales of great suffering and stories about state violence targeting my community. But this has literally been a hellacious week. By the time the news of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile’s murders reached me, the weight of the epigenetic inheritance of trauma and my own disturbing experiences with law enforcement overwhelmed me. The gravity of the culmination of acts of terrorism, from Istanbul, to my former home in Saudi Arabia, to Baton Rouge, LA, to St. Paul, MN, to Dallas has shaken me to my core. Although the pervasiveness of widespread violence is the source of my anguish, the complicity of denial, silence, or rationalization from some white and non-Black friends, family, and acquaintances has also contributed to my heartbreak. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I’m still wondering how to reconcile the unique synthesis of desensitized alienation juxtaposed with a sense of constant community online media provides during crises. During disorienting times like these, I find myself with fewer answers than I have questions. Yet, as I struggle to make sense out of senselessness, one point of clarity emerges for me — that’s a call for courage from white co-conspirators and comrades (who understand that their freedom is inextricably connected with ours) to step up.
We need righteous bravery to transform our society during these challenging times. The social and physical violence won’t stop until each and every one of us is audacious enough to take ownership of building a more free world by tackling the root causes of systems that perpetuate violence, hate, and injustice within our institutions and culture. Here are a few ways you can flex your courage to help build a better world for all of us: 1. Demand fierce accountability from perpetuators of state violence, from individual officers who commit harm to the institutions that fail to hold them responsible. Support the work of organizations like BYP 100, Black Lives Matter, and Color of Change. 2. Hold media outlets accountable for promoting harmful speculative and false narratives that can leave a damaging impact. The Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook outlines helpful guidelines. 3. Mind your memes. Consume and share media in ways that help, not hurt. Fact-check before you retweet. 4. Listen. I wrote about this last year in Rookie Magazine and it’s painful how often I have to reiterate this point: When a person expresses frustration about oppression that you haven’t experienced, it’s time to listen. It is unfair to judge the merits of other people’s experiences when you haven’t walked a lifetime in their shoes. Even if you believe your intentions are good and that you only mean well, derailing conversations or diminishing people’s stories does more to advance oppression than dismantle it. One recent example: The ever-present quip in response to #BlackLivesMatter, "But don’t all lives matter?" The New York Times asked the critical theorist Judith Butler (a white woman) to respond to that very question. In her response, she said, "One reason the chant ‘Black lives matter’ is so important is that it states the obvious, but the obvious has not yet been historically realized." Unlike asking, "But don’t all lives matter?" her answer drew attention to the issue at hand without undermining it. 5. Recognize the inherent and precious value of every life lost, without caveats. No one deserves to die, regardless of previous arrests or allegations. 6. Reject, name, and call out divisive coded language and dog-whistle politics when you hear it used to justify violence. 7. Speak up and don’t wait for someone else to take a stand, even if you feel like you don’t have “the right” words. Communities who are targeted by this sort of violence aren’t responsible for the emotional labor of educating everyone about race and state violence. We need you to organize in your own communities and take action. If you don't, who will?
Jamia Wilson is a leading voice on feminist and women's rights issues whose work and words have appeared in and on The New York Times, New York Magazine, The Today Show, CNN, TED, The Washington Post and more. She's a staff writer for Rookie Magazine and has contributed to several books such as Madonna and Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop, The V Word, Slut: The Play, When Grace Meets Power and I Still Believe Anita Hill.