She seemed to be dressed for church, not a protest. Her hat, winter coat, and plaid dress spoke of class. Her bone straight posture, cat-eyed glasses and the way she defiantly stared out of that bus window, spoke of her strength. That image of Rosa Parks on the front of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama has become the omnipresent image of the civil rights movement.
That image and the ideal it embodies wasn’t far from my psyche as I joined the recent fervor for justice, police training and civil rights following the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. I felt a part of something necessary, something transformative, something historical. I’m the child of a father who went to jail multiple times for protesting during the civil rights movement, and a mom who sent me to lab school where we sang the National Negro Anthem every morning, and then on to Tuskegee University. I was raised understanding that being Black was beautiful, but also burdensome. It came with a responsibility. My soul is woven with the chords of James Brown’s, I’m Black and I’m Proud and my heart beats to words of Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come.”
I’m also that same child who needed to read everything: the back of the cereal box while I ate on weekend mornings, books with a flashlight hidden under the covers hours after I was supposed to be asleep, every magazine, book, and pamphlet that my parents left laying around. So after every questionable death of a Black man or child, I read, not just the countless articles, but the accompanying comments. I was ravenous to know what the world was thinking and feeling. But, when you gorge, inevitably you eat some bad stuff and get sick. Similarly, the comments around the boycotting Black Friday made me nauseous.
I am proudly ignoring those boycotts and will go out shopping. These calls for boycotts will lead to nothing.
Protesting police brutality by protesting shopping? That’s a mixed message at best, not sure how that will create any change.
I don’t see how not getting my child the Xbox he wants at the best price is going to change a damn thing.
These comments were written by Black people. Where was the unity? Didn’t they see that it was time to get off the damn bus? I felt discouraged. There would be no revolution, no change. There would only be burned cars, looted buildings. broken hearts, tense race relations, and more police brutality. Did our collective activism get buried with King, Parks and X? Were we so lost, so divided that we couldn’t organize and unite for change, to save the lives our Black boys and men?
Often my questions get answered as I sleep. I like to think my deceased mother and I have conversations at night where we curl up on the our old, ugly orange couch and chat. By the end of those exchanges, all storms in my mind and heart were replace with a mild wind. Evidently, mom and I hungout the night before Black Friday because I woke up the next morning knowing that I had simplified history, or rather, history had been simplified for me. History is presented to us in snapshots. It’s tied up in neat stories. When you take a moment to think about it, Rosa Parks and many like her ,boycotted the bus system for 381 days; but, some people most definitely got on those buses. Perhaps more people rode buses than didn’t. They needed to get to work to feed their families; they didn’t think the boycott would be effective; they were scared. Were social media around, they too would have voiced their lack of support for the boycott. The boycott went on –still. Rosa Parks didn’t get on a bus. Many people didn’t get on a bus. All that matters is that enough didn’t get on that bus. To make a difference, all you need is enough.
Originally posted December 12th, 2014