Amplify is an ongoing series of pieces by our Black contributors to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and to celebrate the honest, brave, revolutionary space that Michigan in Color strives to be. Though we welcome and affirm the voices of all people of color, given the social climate of our nation in light of recent court decisions, the #BlackLivesMatter movement and rampant anti-Blackness both recent and historical, we feel that intentionally and specifically lifting up Black voices is urgent. These voices and these stories are what this campus and this country need to hear.
Listening to Black voices is not only necessary, but something which is deeply personal to all of us as MiC editors and as people committed to working toward change.
We continue to invite others to contribute their own stories, their own voices, to this space. Speak up, because we are listening. We want to amplify the truths you want to share.
I can’t think of a single Black person I know in whose life race hasn’t been a central theme. Sometimes it shows up in the inevitable disconnect that we experience while trying to navigate a country that was built for and caters to white people. Sometimes it reveals itself in the recesses of our mind as we try to piece together exactly what about a particular encounter made us feel a little bit off. Sometimes a word or phrase smacks us in the face, reminding us how far this nation hasn’t come. What on the surface might seem to be a simple differentiation of pigmentation has powerful, lasting effects on our lived experiences. And that matters. Our lives matter.
When I was growing up, however, I struggled to find the words I’m writing now.
As I was often the sole “representative” of my race, I believed myself to be unqualified. Without the ability to dress up my experiences with academic jargon, I felt undignified, clumsy. Overwhelmed. And I allowed that to hold me back.
Exactly one year ago, Michigan in Color (MiC) was founded to help address that obstacle. Not to give a voice to the voiceless, but to help uplift those narratives that were struggling to be told and heard. Amplify is in celebration of our first anniversary and a part of our continued commitment to providing a platform for the experiences of marginalized groups on this campus.
As an Indian-American, I have always been aware that any discrimination I experience is inherently different than what other people of color — specifically, people in the Black community — have to go through. I am aware of what racism looks like. I know that it looks like hate and a blank wall —something insurmountable, without any real footholds to latch onto and overcome. But I will never know what it is like to be Black in America.
At a recent gathering, I listened to college-aged students bemoan the recent protests centering around #BlackLivesMatter. And part of me understood their frustration — no one wants to have their everyday lives disrupted. But it would seem — at least to me — that, if you are Black, you are protesting precisely because you need to see a change in your everyday life. I’m not going to speak about all of the different ways that the Black community is discriminated against, about what it is the people who take to the streets and social media are trying to fight for. They are already fighting. It is our job to listen. Their words have power and truth that deserve to be heard, and the only way to truly learn about another person’s struggle is to listen to them. Black lives matter, and Black voices do too.
There are moments in our lives when we need to speak, and moments when we need to listen. As a Palestinian American, I have felt the responsibility to speak, to defend or justify or explain, on most days of my life. I have had to speak so often that I sometimes forget the weight of the responsibility of listening. But I must listen, because there are experiences I will never know, and narratives I can never claim. Those voices, the voices of Black people and Black lives, matter to me. And it is then, at the moment when the conversation is not about me, that I need to be the most present, to reflect, to affirm, to support, to commit to change right now.
I have learned that we need courage to understand that as much injustice as we see and experience, we can still pour our hearts and minds and actions into standing, unwavering, for a just world. It is courage to be conscious of our identities; it is also courage to know that none of us are perfect, that we contribute to injustices and that we should be critical of ourselves and our communities. It is courage to, at the same time, be gentle and forgiving and generous with ourselves and with others. I hope that MiC above all amplifies those voices that truly must be heard in order for us to move towards the most genuine core of Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision and legacy.
For me, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is about more than just courage, more than just love, more than just a remembrance of a dream. It’s about building vision into action. It’s about embracing love as social change; love as movement. It’s about listening. As an Asian American, Black lives and Black voices matter to me. In the face of injustice, it’s up to all of us to listen as an act of bravery and an act of change, so that we not only imagine change, but do our part to listen, reflect and push for it. I find Michigan in Color to be one of the most powerful spaces on this campus, partly because we are invited to listen, and we are taught that listening can be the first step toward action. The voices and stories that I've been blessed to read through MiC are incredibly powerful. They've changed the way I walk on this campus, and they teach me daily that being brave has never been about being confident. Bravery arises when we allow ourselves to become vulnerable; bravery arises when we allow ourselves to listen.
In exercising this bravery, we are able to show our commitment to creating a more liberated community. We know that the Black community has a voice; we want to show how valued that voice is and to make sure it rings out for all to hear. We want and need these voices to be amplified.