Friday Speak Out! We Will Not Be Silent #BlackLivesMatter

Friday, June 05, 2020

by Angela Miyuki Mackintosh


“I can’t breathe.”

The words of George Floyd echoed in my head as people took to the streets across our country this week to protest the systemic racism that has targeted the Black community for hundreds of years.

On the first night of the protests, I was driving home from an errand when a local college radio station here in Los Angeles started spinning tracks from Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. Powerful rap like “Endangered Species” and “Rollin’ Wit The Lench Mob.” It instantly brought back feelings of anger from the 1992 LA Riots. We protested against the police’s use of excessive force against Rodney King. By the time the riots ended 2,383 people were injured, 12,000 were arrested, and 63 people were killed. I was in Venice Beach protesting with everyone else, a twenty-year-old, trying to make a difference. We hoped our voices would be heard. I can’t believe I’m forty-eight now and it’s the year 2020, and we still can’t breathe. None of us can breathe until we start laying the groundwork for change.

It may seem overwhelming, but as writers, we cannot stay silent. Silence is a form of complicity. We must speak out against the violence inflicted on our fellow human beings if we are to breathe. Write about what angers you. Write about the current administration’s enablement. The abuses of power. The ignorance. Write about what’s going on around you right now. How this affects you personally. Write to educate others and yourself. And if you really can’t write, highlight voices of the oppressed and marginalized and share resources.

Earlier this year, my writing partner encouraged me to write a piece for The Sun Readers Write column’s “Work” theme, which is still on submission. As I sat down to write, a story popped into my head about the first time I fired someone and how it changed my life. I was twenty-five and worked at a lingerie store. The new owner promoted me to manager and gave me my own store to run. As manager, my first assignment was to fire the previous manager, who was an African American woman twice my age. It was a terrible ordeal and I ended up crying. She pulled me into her arms and told me it would be okay as I fired her. At the time, I thought it was part of the job. I didn’t realize I was a pawn. I didn’t realize that the new owner didn’t want her as manager because of the color of her skin.

A few months later, I promoted my best sales person to assistant manager, who also happened to be Black. Well, as soon as I did that, the new owner transferred a woman from another store to take her place as assistant manager. Right then, I knew for certain that the new owner was a racist. As an Asian whose mom was first generation, I am no stranger to racism, but I was inexperienced, and didn’t think something like that actually happened in real life. I also felt used. I remember consulting a customer who was an attorney, who told me it wasn’t my fight. The owner had written up the previous manager and had a paper trail to justify the firing. Plus, he told me, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, an agency that protects our workplaces against harassment and discrimination, closed more cases than it investigated, leaving less than 2 percent completed. I quit the next day, opened an art gallery, and never worked for another company again. That experience had such an impact on me that it changed my life’s trajectory. And yet; still, to this day, I regret not taking a stand.

When we stay silent as writers and as human beings, we are legitimizing the harm that will be placed on future generations.

As I write this, I just finished watching the emotional debate on the Senate floor as Senator Rand Paul tried to amend the anti-lynching legislation on the day of George Floyd’s memorial service in Minnesota. Both Kamala Harris and Cory Booker spoke out with raw words that brought me to tears (video link). Booker said, “It would speak volumes for the racial pain and the hurt of generations.” He raised his voice and continued, “I do not need my colleague, the Senator from Kentucky, to tell me about one lynching in this country. I’ve stood in the museum in Montgomery, Alabama, and watched African-American families weeping at the stories of pregnant women lynched in this country and their babies ripped out of them while this body did nothing.”

The time of doing nothing is in the past.

There are many things we can do. Writers are talking about books you can read to educate your children, and we’re proud of our team member Sue Bradford Edwards for writing Black Lives Matter (Essential Library, 2015). Her book was recently mentioned as essential reading in a tweet by the Richland Library alongside The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Hands Up, Don’t Shoot by Cobbina.

Take steps to invoke change locally. Here in Los Angeles, since Mayor Garcetti and the district attorney Jackie Lacey have been in office, 601 people have been killed by the police, and our district attorney refuses to charge those officers. We need to engage in a practice where police who are criminals are prosecuted when they abuse, brutalize, and kill our community members. Take action by joining your local Black Lives Matter chapter, and remember to vote in local elections.

Additionally, check out this Anti-Racist Guide created by Victoria Alexander, which includes organizations to connect with, where to donate and sign petitions, articles and books to read, videos to watch, Black businesses to support, and children’s anti-racist resources.

When we take steps forward in ending the hateful practice of anti-Blackness, we take a collective breath and commit to change.

As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in a similar time of great moral crisis for our nation, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” We will not be silent or complicit. We will speak up and say, “Black Lives Matter.”


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Do you have any books or resources you'd like to share? We'd love to hear from you.


Angela Miyuki Mackintosh is editor-in-chief of WOW! Women On Writing. WOW is committed to promoting the work of women, people of color, disabled, LGBTQ, and all marginalized people. Angela currently writes the introduction for WOW's monthly Markets Newsletter and E-zine. Sign up here.

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to blog editor Marcia Peterson: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration.

11 comments:

Sioux Roslawski said...

Angela--You are right. The time for silence is in the past. The time for inaction is over. It's time we all wake up and say, "We're mad (and hurt) as hell, and we not going to take it anymore."

Barack Obama came to speak to people under the Arch before he got elected. There was a long river of people flowing onto the park grounds to hear and see him. Old people. Young people. Black people. White people. People pulling red wagons with kids in them. People pushing wheelchairs. It was electric. It was magical. It was uplifting.

The protests remind me of that time. People of all different backgrounds, from all different eras, are speaking and marching and carrying signs. Unfortunately, this is not as uplifting of a time. A black person being murdered by police is now too commonplace. So many names of so many victims, we don't know them all.

I've heard that "White Fragility" is a good book, but I have not read it. A novel I've read recently--Leonard Pitts Jr.'s "The Last Thing You Surrender--is phenomenal. It's epic, covering some horrendous, racist things, during the WWII era, and how some of the characters healed.

It is a sad, sad time for our country...

Angela said...

Sioux: That must’ve been amazing to see Barack Obama speak, and the way you describe it is beautiful. He’s such a powerful speaker. When you said people of all different backgrounds and ages coming together, that’s exactly the main difference I failed to mention between the LA Riots and protests now. Back then it was divided. Now, people are coming together and taking a stand. It is a sad time for our country, but I’m very hopeful that this time we will create change.

Thank you for the book recommendations! I will check those out. I hope your book will sit among these books soon! It’s the perfect example of writing for awareness and change. I really hope you keep submitting or indie publish because it’s such an important story that people need to know about. Hugs! :)

Ashley said...

Ang, your story is incredible. But I am not surprised—this kind of racism is still rampant in our society. THANK YOU for the courage to share your own account, and the resources you just shared. Powerful words like yours – “When we stay silent as writers and as human beings, we are legitimizing the harm that will be placed on future generations” – underscore the necessity of working for change. Black Lives Matter – their lives, their voices, and their stories – and as writers, we have a moral responsibility to speak up and take a stand.

Angela said...

Thanks, Ash! My dear writing partner who encouraged me to submit to The Sun, AND had her piece published in The Sun! Your bravery to speak up about important issues inspires mine. :)

Renee Roberson said...

Ang,

Thank you for sharing your story, and for opening up a discussion where there needs to be one. I'll admit I've been struggling. Living in the south, seeing the still-blatant racism that exists in the year 2020, and also knowing I'm sheltered by living in the suburbs of a major metropolitan area. You inspired me to write about some of what I've been feeling in tomorrow's post. Daniel and I have had some honest conversations about what is going on with the protests, and I'm happy that his employer has also opened up a safe space for dialogue among their employees. We are also trying to educate our children so that they can be a part of the change, too.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Angela,
Thank you so much for putting my book out there! That was one of the hardest projects I've worked on and I learned so much from Duchess Harris as we brought the project to completion. She helped me focus on the realties of black women as people who fight racial and sexual discrimination.

Last night, I was one of thousands of people who viewed the #KidLit Rally for Black Lives. Something that was emphasized time and time again is that we not only educate ourselves about racism and this continuing struggle, but that we also learn about the amazing stories out there, the things that people are accomplishing. So don't forget to celebrate black artists and authors. Read books about scientists and pioneers of all kinds, including as Sioux mentioned Barack Obama.

Margo Dill said...

Ang:I wrote a book on Renee's post, so I won't do it again here. :) But you are amazing. Thank you for these words.

Marcia Peterson said...

Thank you Ang, for sharing your experience and some options for what we can do. This year so far has really been one for the history books. I'm cautiously hopeful for a better future for all.

Angela said...

Thanks, Marcia. :) This year has been extremely challenging for all of us. History in the making and lots to write about, but emotional and tricky navigating those waters, for sure. Not everyone is going to like what we say, but as long as it comes from our hearts, we must try.

Marilyn BG said...

Ang, your story about the racist boss shows how racism often disguises itself or comes out in ways that are barely detectable. That's why ALL of us Americans need to remind ourselves continually and act against our racism--and sexism, and able-ism, and ageism etc., but since racism is so very deadly and damaging here in America.

In the college freshman seminar I teach, we study an "Invisibilia" podcast episode called "The Culture Inside." It's about how unconscious bias functions in racism, and how to root it out of ourselves:


https://www.npr.org/programs/invisibilia/532950995/the-culture-inside


I see that Bryan Stevenson's "Just Mercy" is on your fantastic Anti-Racism guide. This book always makes a deep impact on students. They find it unforgettable and hopeful. Stevenson is a rare gem of a human being, and one of the most fiery, inspiring speakers I've ever seen. I highly recommend "True Justice," the HBO documentar about him, his nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative (I hope donations are pouring in at EJI!), and EJI's brainchild in Montgomery AL, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice:

https://museumandmemorial.eji.org/

I heard from book club friends that many anti-racist books are sold out LOL--I hope the trend of educating ourselves about our country's very, very troubled history and of race relations continues, and is not just some fad that gets forgotten tomorrow.

Hugs!

Angela said...

Thank you, Marilyn! I'm listening to the Invisibilia episode you linked to right now, and it's an incredible episode on implicit bias. Wow. I'm moved by the father's story, and it's so sad when he starts crying.

I saw Just Mercy last week and it's incredible. I think the movie is free everywhere right now, and I highly recommend it.

Your book club friends right. Anti-racist books are on the Amazon bestsellers' list right now and they're all sold out in print--and nothing beats holding a paper book--but they can't sell out on Kindle. :)

You bring up a good point about sexism, able-ism, and age-ism! We must stay vigilant against them as well.

Hugs :)

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