Anti-Racism Nora Gaines Race and Oppression

The Joy and Frustration of a (Woke) Dream Come True

In this follow up to her essay, We Are Not All Strong Black Women, Nora Gaines, while calling out systems of institutional injustice, urges that, even in dissent, constructive and encouraging movement building that furthers a growing continuation of liberation activities be our approach. 

In this follow up to her essay, We Are Not All Strong Black Women, Nora Gaines, while calling out systems of institutional injustice, urges that, even in dissent, constructive and encouraging movement building that furthers a growing continuation of liberation activities be our approach. 

The Joy and Frustration of a (Woke) Dream Come True
by Nora Gaines

NgainesI remember my brother telling me that he could hear me through the walls talking about hegemony and that I was relentless. I don’t think he meant it as a compliment, but I took it as one. That was fifteen years ago and cultural hegemony is still one of my favorite topics to discuss – followed closely by paranormal experiences and whatever novel I’m reading. I tired people with my indignant assertions that the lower-ranking socioeconomic and political status of African-Americans was not the manifestation of our cultural dysfunction but rather a insidious and systemic hierarchical design.

I believe that the manufactured social hierarchy hurts us all; and that all oppressions and liberations are connected. I also believe that being committed to social justice at large needn’t mean disclaiming an ardent interest in a particular faction. Much of my academic and activist work has focused on systemic racism, particularly as it relates to African-Americans, and the Movement for Black Lives has got me all in my feelings.

untitledI am happy and excited that within the last three years systemic anti-Blackness has gone from what I experienced as a public secret to something that is being widely called out and challenged. It exasperates me  that many people can’t/don’t/ or won’t comprehend that the legacy and culmination of the un-redressed enslavement of our ancestors and subsequent de jure and de facto racist policies and discriminatory practices in schools, workplaces, banks, insurance institutions, housing institutions, Police Departments, courts, media, etc. produce and perpetuate inequitable outcomes.

I understand why it’s comfortable to avoid acknowledging the anti-Black systemic racism embedded within the institutions that govern our lives. Doing so often immediately brings forth feelings of guilt, blame, defensiveness, culpability, indignation, helplessness and challenges the supposed meritocracy and justice this country is supposedly founded on. ‘Black Lives Matter’ has become a rallying cry, not only to stop the state sanctioned killing of Black people but also to acknowledge, end and repair the interconnected systemic racial injustices that indicate that Black lives are not as valued or deserving.

I remember sitting with over 1,500 people just over a year ago at The Movement for Black Lives National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio- working in small groups to brainstorm what would become an exhaustive Policy Platform.  Visioning of a national policy platform was not the only important thing that came from the convening. There was a call for solidarity, love and acceptance across socioeconomic standings, sexuality, gender, religion, culture, education, aesthetic and whatever other things keep people apart that was nothing less than transformative. When I participated in the collective recital of the last few lines of Assata Shakur’s letter, To My People: (Read her full letter here.)

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.unnamed-1

It is our duty to win.

We must love each other and support each other.

We have nothing to lose but our chains”

I took these lines as an oath. A pledge of allegiance to our collective liberation, a promise and obligation to love and protect. For the last year I have shared more nods, smiles, and acts of kindness both small and large with other Black people than ever before.  Loving ourselves and each other in spite of constant messaging that we are not worthy is revolutionary.

There are people that I wish would embrace this message more, especially as we encounter the growing pains and disagreements that are inevitable on an issue as exhaustive as how to redress the ills perpetrated against African-Americans. I’m scared that we don’t have much space for dissention because our government has a history of successfully undermining political movements that threaten the status quo.

I am disappointed that so much energy is being put into criticizing the movement by some of the very same people that I have worked with over the years in efforts to rouse mass resistance. Many of the criticisms, questions and concerns over strategy are valid; however, I am frustrated by how and when they are being voiced. Too often they seem to be in the spirit of soapbox finger wagging. I can’t help but wonder how much of the fault-finding comes from people being salty at not being called upon for their wisdom and or being threatened by the young, women, transgender and queer people claiming space as leaders and doing things differently than they are accustomed to. It is also possible that people don’t feel a sense of ownership and connection to the movement and are simply looking at it with a distant and no-nonsense political analysis.

No matter the cause of disapproval my visions of going forward look the same. I urge people to be constructive and encouraging. If you are unable to get in or behind the work that is underway, take advantage of the doors that are opening to build out your own work. I brighten at the idea of folks reframing fractions as additional elements in the broad continuum of liberation, struggle and protest; at folks not expecting things to be perfect but knowing that every hit that the set-up takes upsets it. Every nod and smile is a much needed affirmation of how far we have come and strengthens us for the road ahead.


“When one commits itself to the struggle it must be for a lifetime.” - Angela Davis

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