Reflections on Jemele Hill or When Black Women Speak Truth
Last week, has my head swimming. I’ve been thinking about what happens when Black women name blatant truths.
To be specific, I am thinking about the #JemeleHill controversy and the very real consequences of raising ones voice (aka: Tweeting while Black), especially when it comes to white supremacy. It is both dangerous, and powerful…
In case you hadn’t heard, Jemele Hill is an ESPN sportscaster who recently came under fire when she tweeted, “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.” As a result, she was chastised by right-wing media outlets (read: Fox News), the White House and her bosses at ESPN.
Let’s be clear. Donald Trump is a white supremacist.
Saying the Orange Menace is a white supremacist is like saying “Water is wet.” I mean, I guess you could call it an opinion. But, as a former debate coach, I’d be hard pressed to find anyone who could provide a successful counter-argument to this statement.
Let’s look at The Donald’s record…
He has repeatedly been accused of systematically discriminating against Black people in housing rentals. He took out an ad in the New York Times calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty after a group of Black and Latino teens (“the Central Park Five”) were convicted then exonerated of a white female jogger’s rape. He started and perpetuated the racist “birther” movement against Barak Obama, claiming Obama was not a true American. He retweeted massively exaggerated claims about Black on White violence. He said Mexicans were “rapists” among other insults. He issued a “Travel Ban” which essentially equated muslims with terrorists. He called white supremacists “fine people” and said “both sides” were to blame for the murder of a white anti-racist protester, Heather Heyer, during Charlottesville’s white nationalist rallies.
Oh… and did I mention David Duke, former KKK leader said white nationalists are doing all they can to “take our country back” and “fulfill Trump’s promises to “Make America Great (aka: White) Again”? And then there was the time he appointed Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Jeff Sessions…
If you are still having trouble getting this, I’d suggest you read this article, “The First White President”, by the inimitable Ta-Nehisi Coates. But who are we kidding? You wouldn’t be reading this blog if you were thatboneheaded. So, since we all know I’m preaching to the choir, let’s all just call it a fact, shall we?
Black women have little to gain, and everything to lose.
Despite the fact that this statement is a revelation to NO ONE, stating the obvious seems to get you in mighty big trouble when you are a Black woman. While Black and white male writers, and even white Ms. America contestants, are lauded for blasting Trump’s racism, when a Black woman names the obvious, there will be hell to pay.
And this is precisely why we need to listen to Black women. When Black women speak up they aren’t doing it flippantly, or irresponsibly, or to get more re-tweets as some might suggest. The Jemele Hill incident isn’t like what happened to Kathy Griffen, a white female comedian who seemed *shocked* at the backlash she received after posing in a joke photo of her holding the head of the President in Thief. (Now she says she’s sorry, not sorry).
Black women are not naive. We know there will be consequences for naming truths. We know our physical, emotional, and financial safety is at stake.
Black women don’t have the privilege of being naive, we don’t get to claim “white innocence”. We’re taught early on what happens when we are “too loud.” We are used to being excluded, spoken over, #Whitesplain-ed, #WellActually-ed, and #NotAllWhitePeople-ed. We are used to being respectability politic-ed, and tone-policed and MLK-quoted out of existence. No matter how much we smile or “articulate” or use “academic language” or speak “low & slow” or use I-messages. We know no matter what we say, or how we say it, if we have the audacity to speak up folks call us crazy or aggressive. They will use their power and privilege and their mean-girl tactics to marginalize and silence us.
Our voices matter.
So… when we raise our voices, especially when we do so in white spaces, consider that we have most likely been thinking about what we are saying for a Very. Long. Time.
If it sounds like what we’re saying is well-rehearsed, it’s because we’ve been running through these arguments in our heads or IRL forever. We are speaking up, knowing we will be positioned as the perpetrator (not the target) of racism. We do it with no guarantees that anyone will see it our way. With no assurances that anyone will have our back.
So why would a Black woman raise her voice if she could lose her job, be the target of derision, be cast out, lose social status? Because the truth is too much to hold. And holding it, means dying a little each day, killing oneself for the comfort of others. Holding it in may also mean standing by as our children are shot in the streets, pushed out of schools, told they don’tmatter.
I understand the trepidation in naming white supremacy. As Jemele Hill’s story shows, there are very real consequences when Black women speak truth to power.
These are defining moments, when we decide to name injustice and half-truths in our schools and communities in our times, not the distant past.
Raising my voice is leading to considerable change in both my daughters’ school and community. Yet, it has not come without backlash. Speaking up, together, with other Black and Brown women has not only amplified our individual voices, it has helped protect us and our children from harm. When white and Asian allies have echoed our calls for justice, that is when we have become unstoppable.
The more of us speak up, the less we are alone. The harder it is to diminish and silence us. Our voices matter. Our truths need to be heard.
Read, Follow, Re-tweet!
While I have your attention, these are some of the AMAZING Black women I’m listening to on Twitter and other social media platforms. Read, follow and retweet them. Amplify their voices. Support their work.
And if this post resonates with you, share it with others. Help me raise my voice. Help my truth be heard.
Ali M. Collins is a San Francisco-based organizer and public school advocate who has worked in the field of education equity for almost twenty years. She is an independent agent of change and active blogger on SF Public School Mom (http://sfpsmom.com), where she writes about education policy, parenting, and race.