In recent years, there has been an increase in media attention surrounding the killing of African American men, and as a result, I have spent a lot of time talking with other African American women about this issue, where we stand, and how it makes us feel. Several of these conversations has made me pay more attention to my role in the political arena, and whether I should be using my talents to demand “justice” for not only our African American men, but for our community in general.
Sometime last year, I found myself attending a meeting full of progressive organizations. Upon entering the room, I immediately noticed that I was the only African American present which, sadly, was not a surprise to me. Either way, I took a seat and hoped that another black person would attend the meeting; however, after waiting thirty minutes, I assumed it would be unlikely.
As the meeting went on, I sat quietly and listened to my colleagues talk about the updated agenda, given the November Election didn’t go as planned. They talked about what could be done legally and then the conversation shifted to “messaging”. Finally, I thought (this was the topic I wanted to discuss).
The conversation started as an overall messaging strategy about campaign finance reform but it slowly transitioned to a conversation about what type of messaging would be appropriate for African Americans and other minorities. I immediately raised my eyebrow because, as I mentioned, I was the only African American present. In fact, I was the only minority present.
The longer I sat there, listening to their messaging strategy, the more annoyed I became. I almost wanted to yell, none of you are African American, Latina, or Hispanic!. Obviously, I refrained from doing so, but instead, I decided to raise my hand and address the room. I started by noting that our overall strategy of “getting more people who look like their community to run for office” would only work if the people in that community knew how running for office would be made possible for them under a public financing system. I also brought up the fact that I had spoken with several of my African American colleagues who had no clue how a public financing system worked and they worked in politics. Ultimately, I found myself challenging us as a group to do a better job of making sure that the people within the minority community, including local electeds, knew more about the issue itself.
After leaving the meeting, I felt good that I had raised my concerns but I began to think about all of the other meetings I had attended where I was the only African American present and said the same things. I started to question whether I should even be working on public financing.
I immediately jumped on a called with some of my female colleagues and told them about the meeting. We talked about how, in today’s society, a black man could be killed by a cop and the cop could never spend a night in jail. We talked about how there are women being raped on college campuses and their white attackers are only spending six months on probation, while black men go to jail for years if they are caught with an ounce of weed. I began to express my concerns about whether I was working on the right issues. Another young lady, who was in fundraising, said that she was experiencing the same sort of doubt. Clearly there were so many other issues that were important and yet, we were still going to work everyday and lifting up our communities, to ensure that certain progressive organizations do not forget us.
The hard part about this is that some of us, especially those who had worked for an elected official, were being criticized by our friends and others, because we were viewed as not doing enough, as if not attending a Black Lives Matter protest made us any less black. However, we all agreed that we loved our black men, even though we didn’t work directly on black issues and that if we individually concluded that we were making the right choice by staying at our current nonprofit, that we needed to make sure that it wasn’t just about “securing the bag” and more about being a spokesperson for our community.