I have spent the last year in a constant give and take between devastation and awe. As images, news articles, and videos flood my Facebook feed, with yet another death, yet another act of violence fueled by hate and racism, I am devastated by the state of our world. I don’t even have the words to express how sad, and scared, and angry this news makes me feel.
I have spent a lot of time outside of the United States this year, and I’ve had to explain what was happening to host families, and friends. I’ve had to explain what people meant when they said “Black Lives Matter.” When I told my host family in Guatemala that people were being killed by the police because of their race, they were saddened but not surprised. They had lived through dictatorship, armed conflict, genocide. But I haven’t lived through those things, and I am shocked every time a new article appears on my Facebook feed. Another death. I guess I shouldn’t be shocked by it anymore.
I am shocked and devastated, but I am also in awe. I am in awe of how our communities have come together to protest the violence. I am in awe of the way that people continue to stand, to fight, to speak up. In many ways I have felt distant from it all. I have been unable to attend protests and marches in my homes of Chicago and Massachusetts, but every time I see pictures, or read articles, I could not be more proud to be an American.
Janelle Monáe’s protest song “Hell You Talmbout” , released last Thursday (Aug 13), spoke to how I’ve been feeling this past year. Its power comes in its simplicity. Repeating the names of some of those who have been killed, with the refrain “say his name”, reminds us that in silence we are complicit in the violence. It is only with a voice, it is only be speaking up, standing up, noticing, and remembering that we can fight violence. This song simply, and beautifully, memorializes those who have died, and incites people to action.
Perhaps Monáe said it best:
“This song is a vessel. It carries the unbearable anguish of millions. We recorded it to channel the pain, fear, and trauma caused by the ongoing slaughter of our brothers and sisters. We recorded it to challenge the indifference, disregard, and negligence of all who remain quiet about this issue. Silence is our enemy. Sound is our weapon. They say a question lives forever until it gets the answer it deserves…Won’t you say their names?”
Image: Janelle Monáe at the CCT show at the University of Iowa