As Pride month ends this June and the Black Lives Matter protests rage on, I have come to a stark realization; I am tired. Tired of logging on to social media and seeing the pictures of my white classmates at the beach, tired of reading insanely false and offensive articles of Trump claiming that he “made Juneteenth famous,” tired of people actually believing him. Tired of feeling scared each time I walk outside, tired of breathing the same air and having the same color blood as my white neighbors but never feeling comfortable in their spaces. As a Black woman fighting in the 21st century for the rights that my people deserved 400 years ago, I am tired.
Photo credit: narcity.com
But I was to experience a newfound rejuvenation today. My mom and I got into our car and drove 45 minutes to see the newly painted Black Lives Matter mural in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida- my hometown. When we arrived, the brightly colored mural was being guarded by ‘road closed’ signs and my Black brothers and sisters surrounded it with smiles plastered on their faces. As I approached the mural one thing was clear: this was a Black space. The few white people who were there were silently observing while Black families were singing, dancing, and taking pictures with their families- celebrating the life that they still have and mourning those they have lost.
Young Black girls and boys walked hand-in-hand with their parents, their shirts reading “Black Fathers Matter” and “Activist in Training,” unaware of the historical relevance of these words, of this mural, but learning that we are in a time where a phrase that should be common sense must be plastered largely on the road, on shirts, online to be heard. From early ages, they will learn to keep their hands visible, to not wear a hoodie, to stay inside at night, to fear the people they should feel protected by, to simultaneously look out for danger and to acknowledge that to white eyes, they are the danger. But in this space, surrounded by people who look like them, they are free to just be a kid.
That is the importance of Black spaces. As a group of people who have endured centuries of and suffered at the hands of systemic oppression, constant abuse of power, political violence, and extensive overt and covert racially-driven remarks and actions, we deserve to have spaces that make us feel safe, understood, and seen. We deserve to have places where we can dance, sing, honor life, and mourn together. We have a lot of pain to heal from and every tear you see leaving a Black person’s eye is just scratching the surface of the depth of our historical and generational trauma.
And each time we hear a white person say, “It’s racist if you don’t let us into your space” or “why can’t we come to the Black people party?” (both of which I heard within my first-year at a predominantly white university) it amplifies the ways in which our society suggests and socializes white people to believe that all spaces are for them, that they are welcome everywhere they desire to be without negative implications. We do not have that same luxury. We never have. Every table that white people walk right up to is a table that we work twice as hard to even approach. So, let us have our parties, our dinners, our murals, our spaces. We deserve it. And stop questioning why you get excluded. Because your momentary feelings of “exclusion” is the way that all my Black brothers and sisters feel every time we walk into predominantly white classrooms, business meetings, houses, hallways, restaurants. Your feelings of exclusion are not accompanied by the fear of not making it out alive; ours are.
Savannah Henderson is an incoming second-year student at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri and a Food Systems Analyst Intern at A Red Circle.