I’ve drafted several versions of this post. First, one about the history of statement tee’s, then one about what this shirt means to me, and finally a combination of the two that felt a hundred miles long. After the news last night and some other news I received this morning this post is taking an entirely different turn.
For as long as I can recall I have been a black woman in a white world. I’ve gone through seasons of silence where all I tried to do is survive in the environment, I’ve been through seasons of boldness where I claim and hold space for myself no matter where I am, and I’ve been through seasons of exhaustion where I’ve done nothing but hold my head down in mourning. Now, I feel like I am finally reaching a season that is sustainable. A season in which I refuse to betray myself for the comfort or company of others.
I bought this shirt in 2014, on the heels of Micheal Brown’s murder. I was in a Christian ministry at the time on my college campus. The community I had grown to trust over the past few years asked me questions like, “If he wasn’t guilty why did he run?” or made statements like “God would want us to honor the police.” The way I saw it, I could cower in submission, nod my head, and pretend like I agreed and understood, or I could make a statement and risk losing those relationships. Well, I didn’t do either. Actually, I bounced. I left with some friends and found a ministry that aligned more closely with what I believed about God’s heart for black people – but before that, I bought this shirt and another as sort of a silent protest.
At the time these shirts served as a voice because I wasn’t ready to speak. Over time my relationship with this shirt has evolved with me. It went from being a voice to being an act of protest to being a conversation starter, to being a form of healing. Depending on the day it can be any combination of the few.
Today, the shirt reminds me.
Yesterday, Anthony McClain was stopped for a traffic violation. When officers asked to search him it is reported that he ran and was reaching for a weapon in his waistband when the officer fired two shots with at least one striking him. Anthony McClain was pronounced dead at the hospital. Dead. After a traffic stop?
“Well, what did he do?” Someone’s well-meaning neighbor is asking somewhere.
What did we ever do? What do we ever do?
Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Elijah McClain, Martin Luther King Jr., Breonna Taylor, George Floyd. Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Carol Denise McNair, Molu Zarpeleh, Kids dying in drive by’s and at parties.
Men being harassed bird watching.
Black couples being harrassed getting married in public parks.
Perfectly capable students being denied admission to certain universities.
Perfectly talented artists not being cast for certain roles.
Exceedingly qualified folks being denied jobs.
Land being stolen from folks again and again.
Well, all we ever did was be Black, Brown, Indigenous, or different.
Our country still actively oppresses and attacks people of color. Then blames fear or fatherless homes like oppressed people are oppressing themselves.
The structure of our nation -actually the world effectively places people in the margins then actively harasses, works to destroy, and profits off of the marginalized.
And what did we do to “deserve” it all?
All We Ever Did Was Be Black or Indigenous, Brown, or different.
Being Black, Indigenous, Brown, or a Person of Color is being aware of the world around you and understanding the rest of the story. Cause there is a whole story that some of us are choosing not to see. It’s not the story that “doesn’t see color” or chooses not to acknowledge the systemic oppression one may play a part in.
It is the story that has a foolproof answer to the question, “Well, what did they do?” A story that gives context to this narrative that paints marginalized people as “problem”, a story that righteously rebukes rose-colored glasses. Jesus knows the whole story, marginalized people get the picture but privilege makes sure you’re only grabbing pages one through five in a four hundred page book. Unless you choose to do the work.
T-shirts like this one have a way of reminding people that there is work to be done. They reveal that there is more to the story because it’s so easy to forget in our day to day. Especially, when it’s not something you live.
Til Next Time,