I’m not an activist. I speak out against things that I see are wrong or unfair but I wouldn’t consider myself an activist. I am quite outspoken about a few issues so I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t people in my life that may think otherwise. I’m ok with that. I’ve always rooted for the underdog. As I got older and became more aware of the world, I quickly learned that I was a double underdog. As a black woman, I have to deal with racism and rape culture with a liberal sprinkling of low expectations overall.
So I’ve always been sensitive to news stories where black people were involved whether they were on the right side of the law or not. The shooting of Trayvon Martin wasn’t surprising to me neither was the lack of legal ramifications for George Zimmerman’s poor choices. It was sad, but not surprising.
I’ve noticed the class level of many of the highly publicized black people killed in recent officer involved shootings has been working class or lower class. Yes, Trayvon Martin was from a middle class family, but many of the people since him have not. But the recent assault of UVA student Martese Johnson has turned that broadcasted image on it’s head.
Now don’t get me wrong. I know that black people of all classes have to deal with police harassment (ie, Henry Louis Gates being arrested in 2009 after trying to force open the locked door of his own home) but those cases where the person is of a higher class tend to be moved through the news cycle much more quickly. However, the stories of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and those like them have lingered on in our consciousness with regular mentions on national and local news (depending on where you live).
But when we were bombarded with the upsetting image of Martese Johnson on the ground with a bloody face, we were reminded that no black person is completely safe from becoming the next victim of racist violence. Well, I wasn’t reminded. I’ve always known this. Which is why when I hear black people saying that all we need to do is speak well, dress nicely, go to college, get a good job and stay on the straight and narrow to be safe, I get annoyed.
My behavior and life choices does not give anyone the right to beat, harass or kill me. But I’ve never lived in a place where I felt safe from being mistreated by someone because of my race. Not even when I was a college student studying Journalism on the highest of seven hills in Tallahassee, FL at Florida A&M University (Rattlers!!).
So when I read this article, written by UVA alumni, Dr. Jason Johnson, about the level of privilege that black students at that institution think they wield by attending, it made me think. I got some background into why there are so many black people preaching that we need to modify our behavior to be treated properly.
By all accounts, Martese Johnson did everything right. He got into a prestigious college, studied hard and thrived while there. When you see him, he’s a clean cut college student. When you find his Facebook page, you see a smiling profile picture nestled in a smiling group picture of college students (mostly white) with Martese on the far right. And this picture doesn’t seem forced. This is clearly a real aspect of his life.
But I remember having conversations with fellow students when I was at FAMU about our “chocolate bubble” and how we felt safe and supported but that it wasn’t going to be the case once we left the hill and went out into the real world. But when things would happen in the city and FAMU students were called out for being perpetrators when it was, in fact, a local resident of the Tallahassee community, we were reminded that we didn’t have privilege.
I hate that Martese Johnson was assaulted by the ABC police in Virginia. I love that he has the means to actively go after them and keep the story in the press. I love that he shows up to press conferences with his black attorney dressed in a nice suit and lets his attorney read statements on his behalf. I love that his reputation continues to precede him.
I really hope this story shows everyone that it’s not black people’s responsibility to stop white people from treating them poorly because of their race. We should all want to live our best lives and be our best selves, but not as a tool to combat racism. We should do it because it makes us happy.