Black “No”

Deep down, people know that the police officer who tackled and dragged that girl was wrong. They know that. They know they would be horrified if a video of a cop manhandling  one of their loved ones went viral. Some will say that this is not about race. And in many ways, it is not. It is about broken school systems. It is about state-sanctioned violence. It is about unchecked, militia-like police with no accountability to the community. It is about our society’s dysfunctional relationship with authority. It is about so many deeply entrenched problems that would still be there tomorrow, even if we all woke up tomorrow and were the same race. And also…it IS about race. One need only examine the evidence :

Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected

Study: Black Girls are Being Pushed Out of School

10 Examples That Highlight The School to Prison Pipeline is Disastrous for Black Girls Too

But today, I am less interested in the Spring Valley High incident and all the sociological phenomena that explain it and the many other incidents like it. Today, I am more interested in how society responds to the “Black no”.  What constitutes the “Black no”? Any utterance/action of resistance or insubordination deployed to assert self-possession or self-determination. It is defiance. It is disagreement. It is pushback. But not just for the sake of being contrary–rather for the sake of dignity, humanity, validation, and power.

Historically, Black No has been met with fire hoses, rape, tear gas, attacking dogs, lynch mobs, billy clubs, gangs of white-hooded rogues with guns…
Ours is a society that unequivocally cannot abide Black No. Black people are expected to “obey” no matter what, even when it is quite obviously dehumanizing.  And not just obey but do so with not an ounce of attitude. That attitude that reminds people of the quiet rage right beneath the surface, a rage everyone (deep down) knows to be justified. Historically, our options have been to fall in line or be extinguished. Why? Because to permit Black No is to admit Black intelligence, Black capacity, Black power, Black humanity, and Black creativity. And to admit, rather than assume, any or all of those is to indict yourself on numerous counts of white supremacy. Not necessarily the KKK flavor of white supremacy, but more so the flavor of white supremacy which upholds the belief that Black folks do not know what’s best for them and do not know how, of their own accord, to live civilly and thrive. To permit Black No is to lay bare the bloody history of this country and strip naked the myths of Blackness that have corroborated the social oppression and economic exploitation of Black people.

I got into a debate with someone on Facebook recently about the Spring Valley incident. This person’s chief argument was, “Well, if she had done what she was asked…”  As if we should just take for granted that it is acceptable to call police into the classroom for even the most minor of infractions. As if we should just take for granted that disobedience is the problem. The problem is that we live in a society that only knows how to kill Black No, so Black folks are left with the biggest existential and corporeal dilemma imaginable: yes or no.


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