Haiti Doesn’t Need Our Hashtags…

In the wake of Hurricane Matthew’s landfall massive suffering has hit the country of Haiti. With a death toll of at least 800 people and the danger of a cholera outbreak, the country is in dire straits. This past week many of us sat and watched the coverage of the destruction from the comfort of our homes, some wondered where the Facebook filter is. The lack of response by Facebook, the empathy generator for most causes–except those that affect people of color–seems discouraging. Yet it seems like we, too, miss the mark by staying in the realm of praying and sharing stories and our discontent about the lack of filters, hashtags, and other social media symbols of empathy and solidarity.

Empathy is necessary but insufficient.

This is a message I received from a professor last week who, while talking about the way white people respond to the systemic oppression and violence against Black people, stated that she wasn’t interested in empathy but in policy and structural changes. For her, the expression of empathy and the corresponding affect is only a starting point, it can’t stop there. In the same way, as I watch people voice their concern about the lack of Facebook filters and hashtags or saying “Pray for ____.” I wonder if we’ve become comfortable in these type of responses to tragedy.  “Pray for ‘X'” seems to serve as a kind of script that facilitates the performance of empathy and solidarity but does no actual work. It’s time to stop praying with words, sending our petitions out through social media and up to God and start praying with our feet. We’ve been praying for a longtime about a number of things and this isn’t to dismiss the efficacy of prayer or the power of God, but it isn’t sufficient of itself anymore either. God placed us here on earth to be actors in the world, to do more than throw our hopes for healing, restoration, and liberation back at God or project it onto to anyone else. It’s time to become actors who shift things more with deeds than words. We also need to move away from waiting from the great “them” to stand in solidarity for us.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

It is time to stop putting our hope in systems and people that aren’t interested in consistently supporting us. I think we do ourselves a great disservice by waiting for “them” to care about us when we already care about us. Self-determination and empowerment is important in this season and it’s time for us to stop looking outside of ourselves for recognition when we already recognize and know what is necessary. We have to move beyond chastising people for not coming through for us. We need to come through for us and spread the information about how we can wisely and tangibly help.

Our cries for hashtags may be affective for us but not effective for the people we are allegedly advocating for, and this is a problem. Those affected by Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, Cuba, and the Bahamas will not see our filters, they cannot eat our hashtags, there will experience no consolation from our efforts to gain them solidarity on social media all the while neglecting their immediate needs. They won’t care who didn’t see their struggle and how we fought to get people to recognize them, they will care about who took the time to respond, who moved on what they knew to be right, true, and just.

And with that, I conclude with a compilation of some of the sources I have shared through my social media pages:

Help Haitians, Not Disaster Capitalists (Includes a good list of Haitian-led and international NGOs)

How to Help the Victims of Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane Matthew: How You Can Help the Victims (I recommend CARE as well as Catholic Relief Services)

14494736_10207401097121849_7041621048180124315_n

Advertisements

#BlackPeopleSpeakUpinClass

Yesterday in a class, a student aired a complaint about the way they believe white people infiltrate spaces not meant for them. They spoke in general about situations on campus but then brought it to the particularity of the class, a class which by name alone, might suggest an all-black space but by the university’s student population would make that an impossible feat. The professor issued a gracious rejoinder that took a little edge off–without this the snaps in agreement to the student may have escalated to a conflict. Yet what was disappointing was when the student was encouraged to speak about the lecture at hand and the readings, they were silent. Granted the student might have been flustered and frustrated in the moment, but it made me think about an issue I struggle with being a Black person in mostly white spaces, particularly a Black PhD student in mostly white spaces. I’ve been uncomfortable with the ways that White people fill spaces too, so I understand the student(s) concern.

What I’ve discovered is, white people are going to fill spaces, especially the spaces where they’ve been privileged to be all their lives as we struggle to figure out our worth in the space. Even if it is a 20-something college student, they benefit by being a descendent of people who’ve always had access and never had to question their belonging in the world. I realized that I can’t continue to spend my time worrying about the ways they move around in the world because it won’t change, immediately–if it ever. What I can do is worry about myself.

In the first semester of my doctoral program I spent a lot of time being frustrated by the ways White people, specifically White men, take up space with their command of the scholarly lexicon and their body language. The ease with which they walk into a room, pull up a seat at the table and make seminar rooms their own–even when they don’t realize they’ve monopolized and exploited spaces for the sake of gaining social and intellectual capital with the professor–rarely is it ever to the advantage of their colleagues given the level of obscurantism present in their speech. I spent a lot of time complaining to family, friends, and colleagues about this phenomena all the while being silent in the classroom because I didn’t think what I had to say was worthwhile–because I didn’t speak or think like “them.” But I realized that the time it takes to worry and complain about them, while remaining silent, ensures I don’t move the needle forward in gaining my own social or intellectual capital or putting forth my own ideas. I realized I couldn’t spend another day talking about the ways in which I feel white people are silencing me in the classroom. I have to say it and say it without apology. Not sheepishly, not with disclaimers, not with cowering voice but with courage, certainty, and a little bass in my voice. It took me a whole year to learn that and I’ve since gotten better in the classroom because I believe I have as much as right to the space as “they” do. Now I try to take up space with my blackness and by that I mean with my perceived difference, with the determination of my people, on the prayers of ancestors, the dream and the hope of the slaves, and every freedom fighter without whom, I may not be here.

So I’ve learned that what the classroom doesn’t need is black and brown people who will idly sit in silence because they perceive the White voices in the room as too big. No voice should dim your light regardless of how big its performance–because remember, a lot of this is a performance. What the classroom needs is Black and Brown people courageous enough to decide that their voice, their ideas, their thoughts are worth hearing. Black and Brown people in the classroom, at a base level, must believe what they have to say is worth saying and worth hearing. No longer can we sit in silence or in circles after class complaining about white people and their voices and their bodies claiming spaces. We have to claim and re-claim the space against all odds and believe we are as entitled as they are–and sometimes we are even more entitled than they are.