by Maya S. Zeigler
I’d like to make a confession.
I talk to myself. As in, I talk to myself all the time. I talk while I’m deciding what to wear, when I’m heading to class and riding the train. I talk as if someone can hear me. I talk as if it has the power to change something, change me, or maybe change the shitty day that I’ve had.
Hard days come so often lately. The 24-hours news cycle and social media serve an endless barrage of reminders that Black lives are taken in everyday encounters, without due cause or rhyme or reason. As a young Black woman, I see how frequent run-ins with America’s increasingly militarized police force illuminate the manner in which Black people are systematically categorized as ‘criminal’ and labeled ‘dangerous.’
Recent events make it painstakingly clear that Black life is only deemed acceptable when we follow the rules silently, unless we are expressing praise or complicity with the systems that seek to kill us. The many state murders against queer and trans Black people in this year alone are vicious, vengeful tactics that instill fear and deter us from advocating for ourselves. We are told by society, “Do not be ‘different,’ do not show your feelings, do not make ‘too much noise.’”
It seems like every day another young Black person is assaulted, choked, beaten, held down, brutalized, and/or murdered by a U.S. justice official for speaking, making eye contact with officers, or even for not using a crosswalk. My Facebook feed is filled with the same videos on repeat, over and over again. One was of a young Black girl being ripped from her school desk by a cop and dragged across the ground like a rag doll in front of her classmates and another was footage of Kajieme Powell being shot by street cops. I worry that the next video I see will be one of my friends or cousins. I am absolutely terrified that it could be my baby brother or little sister.
To deal with it all, I talk to myself about how I’m frustrated, bewildered, shocked, upset, confused, and fed the fuck up with how Blackness is criminalized, stereotyped, dehumanized. And yet, for so long, I sat by, speechless, rather than reacting by voicing my opinions. Silencing my rightful anger was easier than engaging in conversations about Black pain.
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Like many Black children, I was taught to be careful of what I say. I was so afraid of finding my own voice for fear of being punished. I was told that it’s smarter to keep quiet because my words could be used against me. Whether in the classroom, the suburbs, or the streets, I knew early on that vocalizing my opinions and feelings could get me hurt or killed. I told myself that I was (and had to be) straight, well-mannered, and quiet with the understanding that it is much safer to attempt to blend in with my surroundings.
There are still times when my words get stuck behind my lips, beneath my tongue. They sit heavy like a weight on my teeth, words rapid-firing in my head, while a deeply ingrained intuition tells me to remain calm, or people will think that I’m angry. As a Blacqueer woman, people always think I’m angry anyway.
I recognize that there is power in our words as Black youth and I revel in that glory. I’ve learned that speaking and thinking for myself is a superpower, and I thank my parents for uncovering mine. I inherited talking to myself from my mother. She talks often as if the still air around her could listen. When she speaks, there’s no question as to what she is feeling because her words say it all. (My father taught me self-confidence, self-defense and Black brilliance. ‘If someone lays a hand on you, what do you do?’ “You fight back as best you can.” ‘That’s right. You don’t let anybody lay a hand on you.’)
Each day, my Black skin feels a bit thicker and even more beautiful. I am growing more confident in using my words as a weapon to fight the fear that used to steal my voice on dark days. I am sharpening my tongue, as Black women have done for generations before me, because I refuse to be rendered voiceless in the face of state apparatuses that seek to destroy Black bodies and lives.
I am human, imperfect, Black and proud. I am coming to understand why it is important to write and to speak up.
And I have so damn much to say.
Maya is a young artist and dancer interested in film, dance, and media. Her focus on people of color and their livelihoods informs her research, art and activism as a Blacqueer Lesbian. Her undergrad studies and film work have served as a foundation for her activism, writing, and independent projects.
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