Stop Expecting Us to Teach If You're Not Going to Listen

By Veronica Agard The initial dust may have settled on the unscripted confrontation between Nicki ...

By Veronica Agard

The initial dust may have settled on the unscripted confrontation between Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus at the Video Music Awards, but the ongoing conversations on the subject are far from over. Tone policing and the debates on calling out versus calling in are critical and intense conversations to have, and the best examples of this can be found through discussions on #BlackLivesMatter. As the hashtag continues to move from the keyboard to the streets, the frequency of confrontations and debates has increased.

Sometimes, you may be pleasantly surprised that the responses of your friends and family, of all identities, are not as problematic as you had anticipated. However, even with the advent of technology and access to information at the drop of a hat, access can also lead to misinformation. Therefore, I gain a renewed sense of hope when I can successfully dialogue with someone after sharing articles that break down the divisiveness of #AllLivesMatter.

I am grateful for those interactions because it means that the person is still open and willing to engage on the subject with people who are directly impacted by these systems of oppression. This does not always happen. A more public example of this dangerous type of closed-mindedness is what Franchesca “Chescaleigh” Ramsey experienced behind the scenes of the VMAs. The famous vlogger and host of MTV’s Decoded confronted an All Lives Matter proponent who said that “black lives matter is bullsh*t.” Her husband tried to step in as a white ally, but what followed, as you can see in this clip, is that after engaging with him on the subject and attempting to educate him, the man literally cups his ears and disengages from the conversation.

We can try and figure out why the in-real-life troll did what he did and spend a lot of energy on someone who clearly did not want to (re)learn, but that might not be healthy. Conversely, we can utilize this moment as a living example of the policing of Black women by white trolls (both off and online) and the trauma of being repeatedly asked to educate folks. The emotional labor that is a part of the core of being a Black woman is something that is not often discussed both inside and outside of our communities. The levels of trauma inflicted on our minds, bodies and spirits by the system is a part of historical memory that can manifest in health issues throughout our lives.

In this case, Ramsey took a leap of faith and lent her time and energy to attempt a dialogue with this man. However, after watching the video, it is clear that this man was not trying to listen. He, in a space where plenty of Black folks were present, decided to pick a fight. He made a conscious effort to simultaneously enrage those near him and then invalidated their feelings, experiences and knowledge by ignoring them. He became a living example of what happens when someone attempts to tell a person what they already know but aren’t trying to hear. This type of person is probably hanging out with the folks that are upset about the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen discussion. Given the chance, he probably would have given Taylor Swift a tissue for the “white tears” shed over Nicki Minaj calling out the industry for devaluing and eventually appropriating Black music.

This type of mindset doesn’t promote lives beyond the ones that are already protected by this racist system. This is not the kind of ally you want to call into any movement, let alone one who tries to rationalize that Black folks somehow “had it coming.” Yet, we, Black people, are constantly expected to perform this intensive labor and inform folks who have no intentions of listening to us. Or, when presented with the information, miseducated allies will try and tell you what your narrative should be instead of honoring what it actually is. This is just another method in a long line of demoralizing tactics to inhibit Black folks from thriving and challenging this system that never loved us.

Looking ahead, it is vital that we continue to curate and protect our safe spaces on the streets and behind the computer screen. For those who have the capacity, keep having these important discussions with those who truly need to hear it. If you can’t have the conversations yourself, share the words of Ramsey and our other sisters who continue to affirm and defend our livelihoods. If you’re on the verge of burning out from these kinds of conversations, take out time for your healing process, whether that’s taking a social media break or connecting with family and friends. In this struggle for Black lives, we’re going to need everyone so that they can go back engage with their communities on the struggle and draw connections in the name of true allyship.

Photo: Shutterstock

Veronica Agard is a regular contributor at For Harriet. Thriving in Harlem, she is a Program Associate at Humanity in Action, a City College of New York graduate and a Transnational Black Feminist with the Sister Circle Collective. She tweets at @veraicon_.

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