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Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy Celebration Arts Showcase

"Why I Do What I Do"

Inspiration When I thought about my project for the MLK Creativity Showcase, I had in mind that I wanted to imagine I split into the two halves of my ethnic identity (African-American and Boricua). These two identities would have a conversation with each other about their experiences and reveal that these experiences as a result of Anti-Blackness are not too dissimilar; one person could easily repeat word-for-word what the other person said because they experienced it themselves. Their combined experiences are the reasons why I actively engage in the arts as well as community and organizational work (hence the title, “Why I Do What I Do”), so this project in the meta describes my experiences with Anti-Blackness and racial justice.

My experiences as an African-American were demoralizing particularly during this pandemic. During the looming threat of COVID-19 and the eventual necessity to stay within one’s living quarters, I was forced to sit at home and watch account after account on Instagram share fresh coverage on the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Oluwatoyin Salau. It disturbed me that people reposted en masse without consideration to the traumatic impact this media would have for Black community members who would have to witness this Anti-Blackness day after day on social media. Considering social media was already addictive before the lockdowns, lacking accessibility to the outside world meant experiencing a heightened exposure to the things other users felt compelled to share. This experience was increasingly disheartening because I knew nothing would be done about these murders; “power over people’s never been more attractive,” meaning individuals take joy in their dominance over others but also that individuals will choose accessibility to power and self-preservation over building community with the people. There is also a kind of power over Black bodies through social media; I cannot stop you from posting my Black trauma on your feed if you have access to the imagery. With this power and manipulation, social media users who were not out and about during lockdowns felt a sense of inclusivity and action by sharing on social media without actively working to dismantle systemic oppression against the bodies they reshare (e.g. the “blackout square”).

COVID-19, having no consideration for the identity of the lives it took, still did not create the opportunity of large-scale solidarity for people across their differences specifically with regards to solving the issues of the virus. Even within a pandemic, Black bodies faced the threat of murder since “back when we was in the crib,” meaning we fall victim to Anti-Blackness from the time we are born but also meaning that our lives are not even safe within the comfort of our homes. Even within a pandemic, officers treated White citizens with more kindness about not wearing masks or social distancing than they did for Black citizens. Yet, amidst a pandemic, as people stormed the Capitol, Biden claimed that such aggression did not reflect the nation of the United States. Such maintenance of illusion ties into the ways this pandemic has given much room for performative activism, or the revolutionary for show. Often on social media, people will present a persona that expresses vigilance towards addressing systemic oppression. A revolutionary has never been for show but has never been “for sure,” either. False bravado and vigilance for the sake of attention, with nothing substantial to show for it, is a hindrance to the liberation of oppressed peoples. Former Black Panther Party chairwoman Elaine Brown, in a panel that the Black Alliance for Peace hosted, stated that “actions are supreme” (of course, not to be understood as the skateboarding lifestyle brand Supreme), so words are cheap to Black people whose struggles go unnoticed.

I think about Anti-Blackness and colonialism on a daily basis, ESPECIALLY when I had nowhere to go but my room during this pandemic. When Black people fall victim to Anti-Blackness, the news devastates me on so many levels because violence stemming from systemic oppression is not a joke. If something were to happen to me, however, I know that a lot of people who claim to oppose Anti-Blackness would be unfazed if not fazed for a short period of time. Therefore, I focus my attention on ensuring that my actions are supreme. Knowing this oppressive system does not want me or other African-Americans to prosper and that my actions will hopefully inspire African-American youth who come after me motivates me when it doesn’t deject me.

My experiences as un Boricua are multi-layered. Whether I am considered a colonial subject or the descendent of colonial subjects, the important reality to acknowledge is Puerto Rico, in 2021, is still a colony of the United States. This means that, whatever suffering Puerto Ricans experience as a result of imperialism, Black Puerto Ricans experience with higher intensity due to Anti-Blackness. Black Puerto Ricans also experience this suffering with heightened invisibility. The common narrative in places like Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba is the narrative of racial democracy (e.g. somos Boricua, somos Dominicanos, somos Cubanos, etc.), that all descendents of these lands are a perfect mix of European, Indigenous, and African descent and as a result go through the same experiences without racial oppression. The hyper-invisibility of darker skinned Puerto Ricans (and overall discrimination against Dominicans in Puerto Rico) attests to the fallacy of racial democracy. For Black Boricua, there is doble silencio: As colonial subjects, the voices of Puerto Rican go unheard in the ears of the United States government; as Black bodies, the voices of Black Boricua go unheard in the ears of the Puerto Rican government.

Whether the Black body exists within the United States or Puerto Rico, it will experience the current influence and longstanding effects of Anti-Blackness. Those who know the truth of Anti-Blackness, colonialism, and the overall system of oppression will constantly struggle to maintain happiness because knowing that “Black Lives Matter” or “Las Vidas Negras Importan” means constantly fighting to defend that truth. In this way, like my very existence, the African-American community and the Puerto Rican community are connected in the struggle for liberation. Just as there was the Black Panther Party, there was the Young Lords Party. Just as Martin Luther King (MLK) gave speeches to motivate the masses, so did Pedro Albizu Campos (PAC) (they were also murdered within three years of each other, MLK having been assassinated and PAC having succumbed to the effects of the enforced radiation experiments he received during his imprisonment). I believe that MLK and PAC would work in solidarity to support both of their peoples if the two leaders were still alive, and I attempt to express this through their speeches. MLK states, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and so we look to Puerto Rico, where PAC encourages us to “bring down the despotism of the United States.” Perhaps this forbidden alliance is the legacy we are meant to materialize ourselves.

 

Submitted by  Kneeco A. Hanton

 

"Why I Do What I Do" Lyrics