A Peek Inside the Progressive Middle: A Danger to Black Lives

Hands up don’t shoot! I can’t Breathe! No Justice No Peace! Say Her Name, Breonna Taylor! Say His Name, George Floyd! The shouts of Black people echo off the air of crisp blue days and starry night skies.

Ain’t no going back and the time is now to ask for what is ours…to demand respect and burn this place to the ground if we got to right? By any means necessary right? Night after night day after day my block stained red with the lives of my boys, parents, somebody’s little sister. How you think them guns got here and stay here illegally? I got a right to my second amendment yea but this different. This feel like a set up… ain’t nobody coming to stop this…Bad enough our blocks broke down cuz the government don’t care about us having a fun place to go…don’t care about our education. NOTHING! Everyday I wake up and we still ain’t got clean water and folks expect me and mines to be grateful with what we have and ignore the fact that y’all killing me bruh?! Absolutely not! So here we are, now what? We making everybody uncomfortable cuz ya’ll wanna erase us and we ain’t going.

A few weeks ago, I sat in a meeting with various organizations that are ‘Progressive’ and listened to them debate about whether or not to adopt a platform that brings seriously needed accountability to the Chicago Police Department; a platform that was built by Black people and Black grassroots organizations that were tired of the status quo. I listened to the remarks of how folks didn’t know how their members would respond, how it seemed too radical, how they should support it since they have been doing work that supports police reform right? I heard comments like “is this winnable” and “how are they expecting to do this…whats the plan?” And then I heard the comment, “ …our goals are to polarize and win the middle…” That set me off in a whole new way…in a way that had me flipping over my books and pacing the floor with anger and frustration because I’m tired of hitting this wall each and every time in Progressive spaces. I’m tired of having Black voices, dreams, demands, and ideas critiqued through a Progressive or if we are being completely honest, a white gaze and approval test.

This is the danger Black people face within Progressive spaces; spaces that claim they want to help liberate and erase injustices that Black folks and people of color face everyday. The danger of a second erasing, compromising, and silencing. The danger of having our voice muted (you are to be seen not heard little negro) at powerful tables while others collect money off our trauma and pain. The danger of using our experience for a proposal or grant but not giving us room to be a lead voice and writer in the proposal process, hire us for positions of influence and power, or involve community based ideas/solutions from those who are directly impacted for issue campaigns. The danger of having to decide what part of our humanity is palpable, makes people want to show compassion, empathize and is acceptable for white America.

Approaching my right to live and thrive, my people’s right to live and thrive, with a measuring stick of “what’s winnable” is what’s getting us killed and keeping us from true salvation. There should never be a question of what side of my Blackness gets to be placed in political messaging, liberated this legislative cycle, or this grant period, or this election cycle because you can’t split human dignity down the middle. With everything that Black people have given, have endured and survived while in this country, we shouldn’t have to beg for freedom, peace, wholeness, and liberty from Progressive spaces when we are simultaneously being beaten and killed in the streets by systemic racism and the violence of white supremacy.

I’ve realized that the Progressive Middle is a place that compromises pieces of my humanity. The Progressive Middle is a place where racism and anti-blackness doesn’t have to be fully confronted as long as the right flowery words of intention to be an “ally” are used. The Progressive Middle is a place that will allow some of the pain Black folks experience to be eased without fully being erased because certain power dynamics have to stay in place. The Progressive Middle is a place where Black women and men that come from the hood and fight for our people are told they can’t run for office and that “now isn’t their turn”.

What’s infuriating is that we have not moved far enough from the harsh truths written in 1963 from Dr. Martin Luther King.

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection…” — Letter from the Birmingham Jail

The Progressive Middle has become my enemy and has joined a long line of enemies. I won’t allow myself and my Black sisters and brothers to be told to hold on a little bit longer because now isn’t a good time to fight on an issue, or speak up radically and boldly, or march, or demand our place in this country be fully recognized and protected.

Black people don’t need permission from anyone to breathe, stand firmly in our convictions, fight for ourselves and live freely because we are the ones who suffer. We are the ones whose backs are broken first for freedom.

We will dream out loud and as the young people say, “Respect my existence, or expect my resistance.”

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