My friend and I are both teachers. Last year, during a cold fall month with no snow on the ground, we were driving around the south side of Chicago looking for notable graffiti. My friend was teaching a unit on hip-hop, and since graffiti is a key component of the genre, he wanted to find a noticeable piece for a possible field trip for his students.
As we drove around searching for some urban artwork for his students, I found myself suddenly overwhelmed by the still bareness of most of the community. It is a bareness that I am used to since I am from the ghetto. And it is a bareness that I used to despise, because the lack of education about our nation’s true history teaches us that the existence of the ghetto is the fault of Black people. Growing up, my lack of consciousness had led me to believe that this ghetto was the result of the mismanagement of Black people, the lack of care for our own communities, or an inability to be productive citizens. Of course, I now know that ghettos were constructed. Racist housing policies, white flight, and the failure of desegregation has created and sustained the ghetto. This knowledge was nothing new to me. But perhaps it was something about driving through this community, looking for something, that I came to a heavy and yet subtle conclusion. A conclusion that came upon me like an idea sparked by a dream: No one is coming to save Black people.
In the past, our civil rights leaders envisioned a nation wherein we learned to legitimately negotiate our differences and care for each other. This is lovely and necessary for our country, but the side effect of this vision was that it perpetuates a false and often mismanaged idea that reconciliation across our differences is the key to our collective survival and success. While I would love for us to work across our differences, I am becoming increasingly doubtful that we will ever get to a place where the humanity of Black people is fully recognized. For all the talk politicians offer, for all the urban theories that take place in universities about urban communities, the real fact is that the ghetto was created for Black people to live in the waste of white supremacy. No one is in a hurry to fix the ghetto because the ghetto is Black.
And while I do not expect us to ask for handouts, the truth of the matter is that our local and state governments, the many neighborhoods that provide the tax base for those governments, the myriads of people who would need to vote on the ballot initiatives that would improve all of our lives—all of these entities are dominated by people who do not recognize Black humanity. And by failing to recognize Black humanity they are failing to see the reality and circumstances of our time, and are failing to understand our history.
Yesterday, Renisha McBride’s murderer, was found guilty in the court of law. While I celebrate this abnormality of justice within the typical arc of white supremacist law, I also understand that Eric Garner is still dead, and his murderer still runs free. I understand that there are hundreds of unnamed and unseen black girls and boys who still have been murdered by the people sworn to protect them. And what’s worse, is that despite the numerous videos across social media documenting instances of these racist murders—which we call police brutality—the nation still seems to be stagnant in its urgency to save Black lives.
Police brutality is unequivocal and undeniable, but because Black bodies are the ones being killed, murdered, beaten, and abused—the heart of the collective consciousness of this nation barely births a tremor.
No one is coming to save us.
And so, while the Nation of Islam might have been judged as slightly ludicrous to suggest that Black Americans be granted their own state, the truth is that it has become increasingly clear that perhaps expecting this country to finally empathize with us, finally see us, and finally build with us, is expecting too much.
If Black folks are drowning, in need of a lifeboat or a shaft, this nation and its white supremacist leaders and its white supremacist consciousness won’t give us one.
So perhaps we need to use an ounce of the master’s tools available to us to achieve some semblance of access, resources, legal wit, and emotional deftness, and we will truly have to bring that energy and skill to organize and uplift our own communities. We as Black people will have to get what we can and take what we may. We will have to innovate and humanize the weapons we have gathered and uplift ourselves.
This is not in the service of separating ourselves (because the fact is that we are already separate and unseen), but in the effort of empowering ourselves to realize that no one is coming to save us. So we must do for ourselves what we can. Dream for ourselves, uplift for ourselves, and fight for ourselves. I do not know or cannot fully say what this looks like. But I know that the time is now. Perhaps, somewhere along the line of our own empowerment, and realizing that we are enough, this country will finally recognize our humanity. But until then, we have to use our own creative tools, our own paint, to graffiti up the bare walls of our communities. We must do for ourselves. As June Jordan offers us, we are the ones we have been waiting for. So we must certainly stop waiting.