I attended #MillionsMarchNYC on Saturday, December 13 because I am angry, tired, frustrated and scared that police all across this country continue to kill Black lives (men, women and children) every 28 hours with impunity.
I wanted to join my voice with the tens of thousands of others so that those who want to pretend police execution of Black people isn’t happening or doesn’t involve them had to see us marching, and hear our chants and pay attention to us, even if only for a few inconvenient moments. Marching was also a form of self-care for me. My fifth march against the state-sanctioned murder of Black people, I came out to stand with the crowd of others who felt exactly the way I did, so I could feel less alone for a few hours.
For the most part, I received just what I wanted to from this march. The crowd was beautiful and diverse, peaceful and powerful. I am thrilled to have been a part of that moment in history.
Unfortunately, all of the participants weren’t on the same page.
About 10 minutes into the march, during a too-quiet moment in my section, protestors behind me started chanting “Black lives matter!” But quickly changed it to “All lives matter!”
I don’t know why this has to continuously be explained to “allies,” but this march wasn’t about you. This movement isn’t about you. Your feelings will not be prioritized. Your desire to be centered does not outweigh Black lives, which are actually in consistent danger of police brutality. We do not need a reminder that white lives matter. That is a message we received loud and clear in the protection of killer (former) cop Darren Wilson and killer (current) cop Daniel Pantaleo.
Since before this country’s inception, Black lives have not mattered, legally or otherwise, and the ramifications of that still permeate every institution in America, especially the criminal justice system. So when we say #BlackLivesMatter, it is very specific to this continued history of dehumanization.
It’s intentional. Get on board, stay on message or make your own movement.
Without giving that history lesson to the protestors behind me, I simply shouted them down with #BlackLivesMatter, until enough people joined in that the #AllLivesMatter crew changed their tune. At least while I was nearby.
About 20 minutes later, a brass band came up behind my friend and me playing some upbeat song like we were marching in the Macy’s Day Parade instead of for our actual lives. Our chants were being drowned out by their music and I was becoming infuriated, so my friend and I decided to quicken our pace to get away from them. Not long after, they were right behind us, again, drowning out our chants with their saxophones and trumpets. So I went over to a woman leading the band and asked her if she and her band would stop playing.
She responded with some “oblivious ally” word salad, including the words: “We’re helping!” She smiled wide at me and started playing again.
“No, you’re not helping. You’re hurting!" I said. "We’re out here because we want our voices heard and guess what?! They can’t hear us over your 5-piece band!”
She looked despondent.
“Maybe you’re right,” she said. “Maybe you’re right.” They stopped playing and I didn’t hear them anymore for the rest of the time I marched.
“Why does someone have to tell them that, though?” My friend asked rhetorically, because we both knew the answer: it’s not their lives on the line. Why not have some fun?
Don’t get me wrong: Drummers have been amazing assets to all of the protests I’ve been to. They keep the beat and hype us up and add some much-needed noise to our voices. Whistles are also great. I even saw a lone guy yesterday with a harmonica. Awesome. He complimented our chanting in a very cool way—without overpowering us.
And that’s what an ally does: she stands in solidarity with us, helps to amplify our voices and our message without overpowering us! It’s not that hard.
I saw many more troubling and distracting signs and displays from “allies” that I didn’t have the energy to confront, because who wants to go around educating other people all day? I just wanted to march!
And this was with people who were supposed to be on the same page already. So the guy I saw with a sign that exclaimed, “My students’ lives matter!” [emphasis mine] I walked on by. The two protestors who held cardboard cutouts of presumably Black people in hoodies with their hands up, a target as their faces—and bullet holes riddled through their heads—it took everything in me to pretend like I didn’t see it.
This is not solidarity. This is recentering non-Blackness in the former case and at best complete insensitivity in the latter. This is not what allyship looks like.
Allyship means putting your ego aside and maybe not leading chants of “I can’t breathe,” when you can actually breathe just fine or if you can’t, your police attackers will face immediate consequences.
And when we’re chanting, “Fuck police brutality! This is our reality!” Maybe sit that one out too. Or blow a whistle. Beat a drum. Play the woodblock like George Michael.
It’s okay for something, for once, to be so much bigger than you.