I SHOULDN'T HAVE TO
By Asante Haughton
Asante Haughton is a TEDx Speaker, Human Rights Activist, Change-Maker, Dream Chaser, Visionary.
Link to his TEDx talk here.
Watch him speak on the importance of being an ally in turbulent times on The Morning Show here.
Artwork: Complacent by Jaylon Ashford
I shouldn’t have to say this.
Black Lives Matter.
This does not mean that Black lives matter more than anyone else’s lives, it means that, ‘Black lives matter, too.’ We have to say this because of the underrepresentation of Black folks in society, because the voices of Black folks and the experiences of Black folks are minimized or simply just not included in society’s story.
Let’s take pop culture for example.
How many times have you seen a movie trailer and only white faces appear on screen but upon watching the film it becomes clear that there are prominent Black characters in the story, played by famous Black actors and actresses? If you haven’t noticed, I have. It happens quite often.
The first time I watched the movie Contact, starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey, I had no idea that Angela Bassett, an extremely talented and accomplished Black actress, was even in the movie. And not only was she in the movie, she was a rather important character, playing a role that drove the plot forward throughout the second half of the film. Why wasn’t she in the trailer?
Here’s another example—how many of us were surprised to see Morgan Freeman appear as Batman’s ‘gadget guy,’ in the Batman trilogy directed by Chris Nolan? To go a little further, how many times have we seen Morgan Freeman or Samuel L. Jackson pop up in a movie starring white actors and thought, “I didn’t know he was going to be in this!” Too many times for me.
Even though we just got started and I want to go a little deeper than just looking at pop culture, I must admit I’m already exhausted writing this. However, before I move on to my next point, I’d like to look at a couple more examples detailing how Blackness is diminished in the movie industry.
First, the next time you see a movie poster for a film with a Black character in it, take a gander at where the Black actors are—Pst!! Here’s a hint—it’s usually to the side or in the back. Imagine growing up, as I did, seeing yourself continually being literally and figuratively pushed as far out of the picture as possible, but still being included only to say that you’ve been included. And oftentimes this pushed-to-the-back Black character has few meaningful lines, if they even speak at all. Why even put a Black person in the film if they’re not actually going to really be in the film? It’s demeaning and insulting and teaches you as a Black person that even though you’ve been included that you really actually don’t belong.
And finally—this one is more of a question than an example—how many films or TV shows with a mixed cast can you remember where the lead was a Black person that wasn’t a comedian, athlete or action hero? Probably not many. This is because there is an assumption, perhaps a correct one, by movie studios that non-Black movie goers will not show up at the box office to watch stories about Black people. And this, my generous reader, is how stories about Black people never get told for everybody to see.
We are diminished, removed, silenced and rendered invisible.
Examples like these teach us that Black people and our experiences don’t matter because if they did then Black folks wouldn’t need to be sidelined, left out or not represented. This is not only unfair but works to create a narrow-minded view of who we as Black people are because you never get the full story, just the snippet afforded by being a sidekick.
If you are a white person or a non-Black person of colour reading this and this is a revelation for you, then I would like you to ask yourself, “why haven’t I noticed this before?”
I shouldn’t have to do this.
I shouldn’t have to consider changing my very African first name on my resume in order to get a call-back from a potential employer, nor should I have to omit all of the work I have done in Black communities, on Black committees and with Black people so that I can appear as a legitimate job candidate and not like an institution-threatening, Black-fist-raising, Malcolm X-adjacent revolutionary (not that there’s anything wrong with raising my Black fist in pride or liking Malcolm X, a man whose legacy has been twisted into one of hate rather than one of anti-racism and equality, which is what he truly represented).
I shouldn’t have to bring a white person with me to meet with potential landlords when I’m looking for housing. I shouldn’t have to change my voice and speech patterns when I’m on the phone at my job, in a board room with CEOs and millionaires (who are almost always white and male), or when I go on TV or the radio because I know that if I sound too Black that there’s a chance that I will be perceived as less credible, my thoughts less reasonable and my ideas less intelligent—all of which can impact my reputation, my income and my ability to live comfortably. I shouldn’t have to google, ‘is [insert city/country] safe for Black people’ every time I want to travel. I shouldn’t have to very strategically choose the neighbourhood I want to live in based on the likelihood and the extent to which my family and I will experience racism.
I shouldn’t have to even think about any of these things. And I shouldn’t have to think about them everyday.
So much of my mental space and the mental space of Black folks living in the world is being devoted to avoiding racist abuse and strategically navigating systemically racist structures just in order to live a life where we might be able to make a comfortable wage and be safe. Imagine if we didn’t have to worry so much about surviving in a racist world and we could instead devote those mental resources to loving our families, helping our kids with homework, engaging in hobbies with friends, building architecture, curing disease, creating art (though, to be fair, we do quite a good job at this one)—you see where I’m going with this—what if we as Black people didn’t have to think about racism all the time? Just the thought of that is overwhelming for me. I can only imagine how incredibly liberating that would be.
I wish I knew what that felt like.
Imagine I didn’t need to spend my Saturday writing this and that I was spending time with my family instead. I haven’t spent any time with my family in the last week as I’ve been writing articles, doing podcasts and being interviewed on television about racism and why Black lives matter. I have missed a week of my family’s life that I won’t get back.
I shouldn’t have to do this.
I shouldn’t have to tell you this.
It shouldn’t have needed to take this—the gruesome and callous murder of George Floyd caught on video—to get us here. We shouldn’t have required two autopsies, several cell phone videos of the police encounter and a store surveillance video to prove that George Floyd was not resisting arrest when he was handcuffed, before he was even brought to the ground to get us here. We shouldn’t have needed speeches, protests, looting and more police violence against civilians to get us here.
And where is the ‘here’ that I keep repeating?
‘Here’ is this moment, a moment in time in which the world has finally started not only to see Black people and the daily injustices we face, but more importantly to believe Black people.
These instances are not new to us. These issues are not new to us. This violence is not new to us.
We have been telling the public about police brutality and other forms of racism built into society—in education, the corporate world, economics, housing, entertainment, etcetera, et-friggin’-cetera—from day one.
We have been both loud and quiet.
We have spoken up, kneeled, marched, commented on TV and radio, written articles, approached HR professionals, called politicians, voted, etcetera, et-friggin’-cetera for years, generations, centuries and we were not heard. We have done everything we could do, short of reactive violence and revolution, in order to be heard, listened to, seen.
Yet, we were not believed.
Until now—until we all were subjected to the ghastly recording of George Floyd’s death. If we mattered before, if Black lives mattered before, you would have believed us and it wouldn’t have taken so long to get here.
I shouldn’t have to say this.
Black lives have always mattered. They mattered yesterday and they matter today. If Black lives will continue to matter tomorrow and into the future that will be up to you, the person reading this, determined by what you do and how you live your life moving forward. Though, this is not my job as a Black person, I will provide a few tips to get you started.
As a start you can do a Google search on the following:
What is systemic racism?
What is white privilege?
Jane Elliott’s Blue eyes-Brown eyes study
What is a micro-aggression?
What is implicit bias?
Afterward, share what you have learned with those around you and turn your now collective knowledge into actions, holding the people in your community accountable for the things they say and the things they do. This does not mean you have to start arguments or conflict, you might simply say something like, “hey, I read this thing that said maybe we shouldn’t say that because [insert thing you’ve learned].” Do this. To start.
And here are some things that you shouldn’t do:
Do not silence the Black voice—amplify it.
Do not ignore Black culture and art—engage with it.
Do not ignore the Black experience—celebrate it.
And if you’ve read this far, I’ve saved my most important point for last. When we Black folks express the injustices that we experience, believe us.
Believe Black people.
If Black lives matter then it is up to you to live a life exemplifying this very simple fact. It is up to you.