The Revolution Will Not Be Vandalized: The State of Black Liberation in 2021
On this episode of democracy-ish, Toure is angrier than usual and Danielle is absolutely here for it.
This week, a statue of George Floyd in Manhattan was vandalized by a man who splattered it with gray paint before riding away on a skateboard.
George Floyd’s brother Terrence responded with an olive branch, telling the media he’s willing to meet with the vandal and talk about it.
Why do some folks feel it’s necessary to perform “respectability politics” for white people? And what does this situation tell us about the ongoing project of fighting for Black liberation?
Another week, another dehumanizing, infuriating incident. Toure was “disheartened but not surprised” at the defacement of a statue of George Floyd in Manhattan — just 48 hours after it was unveiled. (The sculpture was vandalized in its previous location in Brooklyn as well.)
He doesn’t think the defacement was directed at Floyd or his family as much as it was “at Black people in general,” he says.
This kind of vandalism is nothing new. A sign marking the place Emmett Till’s body was found, on the banks of the Tallahatchie River near Glendora, Mississippi, has been repeatedly shot through with bullets. Today, 67 years after 14-year-old Till was kidnapped, tortured and lynched, the sign is finally bulletproof.
Vandalism of these memorials sends the message that Black lives don’t matter, even when they’re erected to mark the fact that someone was murdered.
This week marks nine months since the MAGA insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Danielle points out that the longest sentence anyone has received so far has been four months.
“Four months for attempting to overthrow the government,” she says. “When you perform terrorism, you should be treated like a fucking terrorist and not a wayward tourist who lost their goddamn way.”
That’s where we’re at, in a world where George Floyd was “tortured in the street over a potentially counterfeit bill,” says Toure.
What does that tell us about the struggle for Black liberation? You know Toure and Danielle have some thoughts.
George Floyd’s brother turns the other cheek
In response to the vandalism, George Floyd’s brother Terrence told the media he would be willing to meet with the vandal — to sit down with him and talk.
“At what fucking point do we decide: I don’t actually care to offer you an olive branch,” says Danielle. “You don’t think that this person didn’t know what they were doing — how hurtful, how disgusting it was? And then if only we were to hold your hand, if only we would turn ourselves into a fucking sherpa for civil rights, then you would somehow come to your senses?”
Toure says it comes down to what he calls “the magic Negro respectability politics.”
He describes it as the notion that “if we are perfect Negros and show up suited and polite and genteel, we will be accepted. If we get enough degrees, if we speak perfectly … we can create equality by being perfect in their eyes.”
By their he means white folks.
So he doesn’t want George Floyd’s brother “meeting with this person, this cretin, as if redeeming him is possible or even valuable — as if the two of them should sit on the same plane,” he adds.
The ‘Beer Summit’ was an uphill battle
It reminds Toure of “that shitty ‘Beer Summit.’”
Back in 2009, Harvard history professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. arrived home in Cambridge, Massachusetts from an overseas trip to find his front door jammed. He forced it open with the help of the cab driver who dropped him off. Apparently, a neighbor called the police, because a cop showed up shortly afterward and arrested Gates for “breaking into” his own house.
A shitstorm ensued, and eventually Barack Obama, under fire for calling Gates’ arrest “stupid,” invited Gates and the Cambridge cop to the White House to hash it out over beers in the Rose Garden.
But why was it necessary to reach out to someone who’s clearly wrong, as if there’s anything up for debate? Why should a victim have to enter into dialogue with their victimizer?
Danielle feels like that’s “the role America is comfortable seeing Black people in: the role of begging for our humanity. That’s where respectability politics falls [apart] — the begging to just be seen.”
We see it in “fucking Van Jones going on a town hall to sit down and talk to white people and say, But we can come together. No, we actually fucking can’t. You want me dead, and I want me alive. Where are we coming together — for me to … what? Move back into a state of being docile to the white man? Living in fear? Because that is exactly what they want.”
The BLM generation’s ‘unapologetic Blackness’
Growing up, Toure found learning about the Civil Rights Movement to be “extremely powerful.” But respectability politics has been a bit of an unfortunate offshoot.
He “definitely grew up [with] the expectation that if we perform Blackness in a certain respectable, dignified way, then we will be able to move up in society.”
Over time, however, he learned that it’s like letting the powers that be “gentrify my soul in order to get some work.”
Now, he thinks “one of the beautiful things about the Black Lives Matter generation is that it’s about unapologetic Blackness.”
Instead of kowtowing to the “rules” set out by white people about what one must do to be treated equally, Gen BLM is showing up as they are and demanding acceptance, whether it’s with “gigantic hair, queer, trans, whatever it is,” says Toure. “Deal with us the way we want to be seen. And that is a much more powerful thing.”
He isn’t willing to perform respectability politics anymore, either.
“I need to be my whole self,” he says.
‘Tap dancing’ in the dark
Danielle argues that “America created this entire show: These theatrics of white supremacy, of the Negro, of the other. And we have been performing inside of this, not really knowing the lines — not really being given any direction whatsoever. But we’re just meant to tap dance.”
She feels the same way as Toure: “At some point in time, it’s just enough.”
When Danielle reflects on how she learned those theatrics, she thinks back to Black History Month at her all-white elementary school.
“Lord help me, how my sister and I were able to make it through,” she says, pointing out that Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., were framed as “respectable Negroes.”
The educational system largely leaves out the “so many iterations of Black folks, from being on enslaved ships until now, who said fuck you to the man and were just gunned down, lynched, economically disadvantaged, forced into poverty,” she adds.
“They’re incredibly important figures, but there’s a reason why white institutions taught about them: Their grace in their appeasement, and their traditional sense of dignity," says Toure. "They didn’t really talk about the Panthers and Malcolm X.”
When Toure started learning about them, “I was like, Okay, this moves my spirit. This is exciting. I like this form of resistance. I like their aggression, their anger, their refusal to kowtow. That’s what I want to see more from us, and what I see in the Black Lives Matter generation: a sense that we are a dominant cultural force.”
‘I’m not just like you’ — and that’s OK
Danielle thinks “what is beautiful about the Black Lives Matter generation is that there are just enough of us who are tired of the tap dance, tired of the assimilation, who don’t want to be tolerated.”
She felt the same way on the front lines when she was fighting for same-sex marriage. The message from many LGBTQ activists was “Look at us, we’re just like you heterosexuals. We just want to get married and have kids. We want to have a ceremony and have all the benefits,” she says.
“Here’s the thing: I’m not just like you. I’m fucking queer. That’s, like, a difference. And I don’t need to be like you in order to be treated with dignity and respect.”
The systems of oppression are what really divides us
Back to George Floyd’s brother and the idea of meeting with the statue vandal: Toure doesn’t believe “we can work out racism through conversating with people in a calm way.”
That’s because the real problem isn’t really ideological divisions between groups in this country.
“The problem is that there are systems that produce our oppression,” he notes. “There’s a massive wealth gap. There is the war on drugs. There are ways our oppression continues and we need to deal with that.”
And dealing with that doesn’t mean “talking to every racist and winning over their heart,” he adds. “We don’t want to take your women. We don’t want to take your apartment. We don’t want to take over your school. We’re nice, you can believe us. Like, fuck that. If after all this time, you still don’t trust our character and our soul, fuck you.”
“You sound angrier than I do today,” says Danielle. “And I appreciate that.”
The power and courage of nonviolent protest
Danielle doesn’t want to disparage civil rights pioneers like Rosa Parks and Dr. King, who “practiced nonviolence on behalf of the rest of us, who took the billy clubs and the beatings — because I do think that it takes an incredible amount of power and courage to be nonviolent in the face of violence.”
But she also recognizes that their brand of protest only takes us so far.
“We’re past the place where I’m trying to get you to see my humanity,” Danielle says. “I actually don’t care. I just want you to recognize the laws. If you break the law, I want you to be treated like the criminal you are.”
Who ‘deserves’ a statue?
Toure has seen a lot of posts on Twitter arguing that George Floyd “doesn’t deserve a statue because he was a criminal,” he says. “ I’ve heard this from Black people and white people — mostly white people, but there’s definitely some Black people who love to say this.”
But he thinks it’s “highly offensive,” because the statue of Floyd doesn’t memorialize the entirety of his life — “He’s not Nelson Mandela,” Toure says.
“He has a statue because of the last moments of his life and what that represents.”
Toure argues that “one of the cornerstone values of this country is that government should treat citizens with dignity and respect. That’s why we left a king who was not treating us right and set up a democracy where government works for the people.”
He adds: “Now, whether or not that has happened is another conversation. But the police are the most tangible representation of government you see and touch on a regular basis. They are supposed to treat you with respect and dignity, even if you are a criminal.”
It’s especially important to hold this principle dear “in a country where [white men] can shoot up a school, church or movie theater, and be peacefully handcuffed and escorted to your car and get Burger King on the way to prison.”
Ma’Khia Bryant wasn’t a ‘perfect victim’ either
Again, respectability politics rears its head. It leads to Black people needing to be “perfect victims in order to have our humanity cared about,” says Danielle. “We need to know that when someone lost their life, they were on their way to Yale. Or that, you know, they were raising orphans. We need that story.”
The problem with people like George Floyd and Ma’Khia Bryant (who was killed by police almost a year ago now) is that they were not “perfect victims,” she adds.
“Because Ma’Khia was not a thin, lighter-skinned Black girl, because she was in foster care, because she acted in self-defense,” her death was seen as somehow less tragic.
The latter reason is especially pernicious. Danielle remembers that Elie Mystal once said on this show that George Floyd “died in the way that America wants to see us, on our backs on our knees, begging for our lives — not standing on our feet, defending our dignity and our humanity.”
And that’s toxic even for those who know better.
“Even for ourselves, we want this perfection to be able to hold up and say, See, I’m worthy,” she adds.
Even our better angels are still imperfect
We’ve been talking about the notion of the “perfect victim” for a long time, says Toure.
“It’s far too high a bar to ask of us. And even if we should meet it, like Tamir Rice or Emmett Till, it’s still not respected. There’s still something wrong. I mean, who could ever be a perfect victim except for a child? We shouldn’t have to be a perfect victim to get justice.”
When Kamala Harris was still a senator based in the Bay Area, Toure had lunch with her and some mutual friends.
“One of the things she said that stood out to me is that the law is not here only to protect angels.”
But Toure notes that “it’s also here to take criminals, and there are ways the police should behave toward people who are suspected criminals.”
That means a police officer shouldn’t be jury, judge and executioner. (Or take a suspect to get a burger, either.)
“When we’re Black, we get an entirely different brand of policing, whether or not we have committed a crime,” he says.
Black liberation is independent of white acceptance
To Madame Vice President’s point, “the law is supposed to work for everyone, not just the perfect,” says Danielle. “Because if we were all perfect, we wouldn’t need laws. We would be living in some type of utopia, but the reality is — we don’t.”
She thinks we are at a tipping point, where Black liberation does not look like white acceptance. That is the difference with this generation, with this movement, from past generations.”
Danielle adds: “I no longer think that our cause for liberation is rooted in whether or not white people see our humanity. It’s just rooted in the truth of our humanity, full stop.”
Toure thinks that “true liberation involves breaking away from white-centrism. If we need them to see our humanity, we’re still approaching this in a white-centric way. If our liberty is not based on some sort of Black-centrism, I don’t want it.”
Danielle doesn’t, either.
“For black people, our liberation has been too tied to white expectation and white benevolence. It cannot have anything to do with our liberation anymore. It has to be for freedom’s sake at all costs, to remove ourselves from the white gaze … How you see me is no longer how I see myself. But it was the only way for us to see ourselves [in the past].”
‘Everyone’ isn't Black
Toure thinks it’s important for Black folks to ask themselves: “Where are you making decisions based on, What will white people say?”
That’s white-centrism — and it comes up in other ways, too.
A while ago, Toure was on MSNBC talking about Colin Kaepernick and “the anchor said, NFL fans are mad; they don’t want to see people kneeling,” he recalls.
“I was like, Well, the Black ones do. I definitely want to see them kneeling. And if you’re not kneeling, what is the problem?”
He knows that (some) white fans were upset, but the anchor didn’t say that. He characterized all the fans in the same broad stroke.
“Whenever we even allow conversation that suggests everybody equals white people, that is white-centrism. We need to be vigilant about these ways of thinking, these ways of conversing, these ways of perceiving the world … because this white-centrism is part of the problem.”
Danielle agrees and adds: “Our work in terms of how we liberate ourselves in a moment that finds us so confined in so many ways — so oppressed, so depressed — is to unpack that. Is to ask ourselves, Why am I speaking this way? Why am I showing up this way?” ”
She asks herself that all the time, even when it comes to things she buys.
“Am I doing it, or did Mark Zuckerberg tell me that I wanted that sweatshirt? Let’s be real about that — the real-life algorithm … How am I being moved? Or am I moving myself? Those are the questions to interrogate,” she says.
“I wish we could get to why you bought those cute boots that you’re wearing today. Did Mark Zuckerberg tell you to buy those?” Toure asks.
“No, Gucci did,” she replies with a laugh.
Toure signs off on a hopeful note: “Maybe we’ll be back next week … If President Zuckerberg says we can come back.”
“I guess we’ll be back — on somebody’s platform,” Danielle says. “Here’s hoping.”
Check out the frustration, rage and absurdity that was the 2020 election on democracy-ish
as Danielle Moodie and Toure discuss the current state of the political climate and our country from a Black perspective.