COVID-19. The social uprising. The Capitol riot. Ongoing police violence. The kids are still in cages, and Biden’s probably going to finish Trump’s border wall. The Derek Chauvin trial. Candace Owens’ edges are still struggling. To say the least, there’s a lot going on. If you’re feeling like your inner revolutionary wants to take action but that you’re also frozen in place, you’re not alone. You want to “do the work,” but you’re unsure what that means or what it looks like. Does it mean using the likeness and name of a police brutality victim to promote a barbecue celebration (about beauty and money), despite complaints from local activists that such an event would be distasteful? Perhaps, it means raising money off the deaths of people slain by police but giving none of that money to the families of the victims. You’re probably thinking, “of course I’m not interested in doing those things! I’m not a maniac!” So what are some things you should do to become a better leader for social justice?
Based on the strategies I’ve observed from many of our leaders today, I’ve compiled some suggestions about how you can hold space for the revolution and show up for social justice. Check out the five tips below!
1. Fight against mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex by unapologetically supporting one of its biggest cheerleaders just because she shares your complexion.
Yes, you built your name off interrogating mass incarceration and the prison system as a racial justice issue. But, look, sometimes we have to set aside principles and just support a black woman who gleefully locks up single moms and laughs when recounting it later. Support black women, even if they perpetuate white supremacy embodied by our prison system! Periodt.
2. Tell black people we’re not ready to revolt against oppression, then scold black folks who decide to revolt, and then call for black people to revolt against oppression.
You must remind black folks that we’re simply not ready to revolt because we just ain’t bout that life like that. But when revolting we certainly shouldn’t be doing things that people do during revolts, such as burning down our communities (which we don’t own because of gentrification and, you know, racism). Nevertheless, remind black folks that we need to get off our asses, show up, and revolt against our oppression. Basically, you should just do like Rage Against the Machine told folks last summer: “Listen to Killer Mike!”
3. If you run a chapter of a racial justice organization that raises money off black trauma and lacks financial transparency, you should rebuke mothers who demand a portion of the money your organization raised from their loved ones’ demise (and imply that these mothers are trying to “disrupt the movement”).
At the end of the day, running an organization is messy. You shouldn’t be expected to keep up with every 90 million dollars raised. You shouldn’t be expected to explain why so little of that money went to support the actual on-the-ground local organizers. People just need to stay out of your business and mind their own. The point is you’re showing up and doing the work (i.e. embarking on a self-aggrandizing promotional tour about your new book on “building power” in the struggle and turning “conversation into action.”). RevolutionsTM don’t pay for themselves, am I right?
4. Make sure you take every opportunity that comes your way to raise your personal profile off the backs of black people murdered by police, including doing a commercial with Cadillac, even if they’re just using you to clean up their very racist track record.
Come on, do people think leadersTM don’t need to eat? Do they think leaders don’t occasionally want to ball out? Leaders got desires and shit. Besides, black people like Cadillacs, so what better way to get the message out! Holding space for the revolution means recognizing that in our era branding opportunities are everything. This is about chess not checkers, y’all.
5. When the mothers of sons murdered by police see you at the Grammy’s getting your spoken word on and accuse you of using their children’s deaths to build yourself into a celebrity, you should remind them that you are a leaderTM and tell your Instagram followers that the mothers are unwitting agents of the state sent to destroy leaders and the movement.
You understand their pain, but they are also standing in the way of the movement. The best way to respond to these heartbroken mothers is to say “thank you for sharing and being vulnerable,” “it’s important for me to acknowledge your lived experience,” and “I want to hold this space for you.” But, unless you want to look guilty of the accusation (because, let’s face it, you’re 100% guilty as charged), you have to quickly pivot to how you’ve been “doing the work” for twenty years and “showing up.” After all, you are a leaderTM. All leaders want to share a stage with a guy who calls himself Da Baby after reenacting a traumatizing police brutality incident.
PUMP THE BREAKS! DON’T DO ANY OF THAT SHIT!
After reading those tips, you’re probably thinking, “wait…what the hell? I thought you were giving me tips about what to do…? This is awful advice! I don’t want to do any of that! People actually do these things?!” Congratulations, you have a conscience. As it turns out, you actually care about black people rather than about pimping the struggle for personal and financial gain.
The reality is the revolution will not be a business enterprise. The revolution will not be funded, nor will it be trademarked. It is not about you or your brand. So if you want to be a leader in your community and hold space for the revolution, here’s the best advice: don’t be an egotistical, opportunistic asshole. Learn to listen, accept critique, check yourself when called out, and help people harness their own power. Don’t center yourself. The revolution is not about you. In short, you should listen to and follow the lead of Samaria Rice and Lisa Simpson whose sons were murdered by police:
“People like Tamika Mallory are making money from this, while I’m homeless living in a hotel. If they don’t give us justice, we’re taking it by any means necessary. That goes for the Tamika Mallorys, the Shaun Kings, the NAACP, ACLU, Al Sharpton or anyone trying to get in our way.”Lisa Simpson
By Berneta L. Haynes, lawyer and writer of paranormal and fantasy novels that center queer black women. Many thanks to Lornett Vestal and Courtney (@coco_mariel20) for their contributions to this article!