Black people: I am speaking specifically to you.
When I say — think — breathe #blacklivesmatter, I think of the nebulons my ancestors have transcended to get my body to where it is today. My literal atoms have been passed on to me by generations before me, that, not even by conscious choice, but biologically, were combined with the intent of simply letting me exist.
The first spark really started in 2009 in Oakland — at least in my lifetime. In my mom’s room, the television was on. I was 12 years old and watching my eleven year old sibling march down International Boulevard with classmates, holding a banner that said something like “Justice for Oscar Grant” on live television with much much of Oakland. I chose not to attend the rally.
And to admit: I once sided with the sympathizers of Johannes Mehserle, the BART officer who shot Grant, and Oakland Police Department. I remember my Mom silently squinting at me when I said, “I’m not saying Grant deserved it, but …” Back then, and because I was so young, I did not realize that white supremacy had already tainted my intelligence. I said this even while living, coincidentally, in Fruitvale, Oakland, where Grant was killed. And to me, essentially, Grant’s murder was in no way related to the hundreds of years of systemic oppression Black people are constantly forced into by white supremacy everyday.
But, then again, that is a lot for a 12-year-old think about. But at the same time, it is not. How did I acquire the capacity to nonchalantly brush off the accusations of “racism” not coincidentally screamed by my people in the streets? Surely, if I was able to do this, then I had to at least have an understanding of what “race” was and how it operated.
What I am getting at is: there is no excuse. Racism is learned. And what is happening in Charlottesville, Virginia, is disgusting, and the violence needs to stop.
Moving forward, I am realizing that in my journey here, UC Berkeley unhealthily encourages its students to lambaste everything that comes into our sight, for the sake of being “an academic” or “intellectual”, and forces us to “see the other side”.
I realized that for a while I could not even walk down the street without criticizing and obsessively focusing on other people. In that, I learned something important.
My joy matters. My livelihood matters.
When I think of #blacklivesmatter, I now must deconstruct the phrase. Not only do black lives matter in the context of stopping police brutality but also in the way our history is taught. Our lives matter in the way of being intentional about who is teaching our history. Black lives matter in the way that I wear my hair; in the way that I am present(ed) in the classroom; in the way that I write my voice; in the way that I defend myself; in the way that I pamper myself; in the way that I treat myself; in the way that I take care of myself. Systemic racism is not a temporary thing. Hashtags do not disappear.
E’Niyah Wilson is a sociology and African American studies third-year student at UC Berkeley studying healing narratives for people of color.