Thu 21 October 2021

Chantel K Watts shares her thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement and asks: who is standing up for black women?

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I was sitting in my living room, scrolling through Facebook when a video stopped my fingers.

I saw a man sitting in the passenger seat of a car in a white t-shirt soaked in blood. He was holding himself, groaning. A police officer, with a gun drawn and pointed at the man, stood almost lifeless. A woman pleaded with her partner to hold on, telling those viewing the video that the officer shot him for nothing. His name was Philando Castile and I was watching him die. It was 2016 and I haven’t been the same since.

I never needed to be taught that I was black. I knew I was. I’d look around at the students in my classes, the people I worked with in my first real job and lived in my hood. We all looked the same, and we were all black.

My grandmother made a point of instilling black pride in me. She only bought black Barbie dolls. She let me watch black movies like Juice and Baby Boy. We ate black cuisine like sweet-and-sour pork chops and read black books like Coldest Winter Ever. She taught me about slavery and the white man, about the oldest human bones being found in Africa, and about the injustices of the ‘war on drugs’ before I was 12 years old. Racism, though, seemed so distant. 

So, when Philando Castile’s death was on my screen – after reading about Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and Kendrick Johnson – I froze. Time stood still. Tears formed in my eyes as my heart sank.

I remember trying not to look into his face and realising that his daughter was in the backseat of the car. How many times had I been in the backseat of my father’s car? How many times could I have seen my father die because of the color of his skin? 

With every death, racism became clearer and clearer to me. I started seeing all the nuanced anti-blackness around me. I realised what it meant to others that I was black. It depressed me more than I thought I could ever experience.

Then Breonna Taylor was killed by police raid in March.

I could not breathe. I could not eat. I could not speak. I could not write. I could not read. I could not watch. I could not protest.

One day, by happenstance, protestors went by my apartment building. I watched them in awe. It was Day 10, and I was seeing them up close.

I got dressed and I went. I marched. I filmed a video. I watched, as protestors walked onto the highway stopping traffic. I watched in fear as the police looked me in the face before moving on to someone else. I looked at my phone and it was 8:45 pm – after the city-wide curfew.

After some moments, I left. I hadn’t even left my own block, but men were making comments and following me into the darkness of the alleys, passed rat poison signs and high fences you couldn’t see through. In less than 30 seconds, I went from fearful that the police would stop me to fearful that a man was going to assault me. I called my mother on speakerphone and spoke with her until I got to a place that was well lit. I made it home safe, but some don’t. Oluwatoyin Salau didn’t.

This time has been trying for me. I wish I had some sweet notion about how exhilarated I felt. I wish I could sit here and tell you that I kept protesting, but I didn’t. I haven’t gone outside for fear that the men who followed me would appear again. This is the reality for black women in America. The protests are being called the ‘George Floyd Protests’, even though Breonna Taylor died a week earlier.

So, who do I defend? What do I protest? My blackness being killed senselessly or my womanhood being stalked? Do I push aside everything and walk? Use my arms, my legs, my back as planks for the movement? What do I do? 

At every death, I have died. At every moment, I have holed up and cried. I screamed, and I stayed silent. I re-shared vigorously every petition, every GoFundMe, every everything I could find. It’s a truth every black woman understands: It was not my child, my husband, my father, but he is. She was my friend. She was my sister.

Who is standing up for black women? Will it be you? Will it be me?


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