Michigan in Color: Letter to the revolutionaries

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By Sundai Johnson, Michigan in Color Guest Contributor
Published December 1, 2014

This piece was originally posted on Facebook in reaction to the grand jury’s decision that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted in the death of teenager Michael Brown. It has since been revised for publication in The Michigan Daily.

I am usually not one to use Facebook as a platform to share my own voice. I might repost things I find funny or exciting, artistic and beautiful, reassuring. Repost about issues that are relevant and important that reflect my thinking and beliefs, but when it comes to my own voice on this particular platform, I have been silent.

But tonight, on this grave night, when my hands and heart tremble, there is no other time that might merit a greater reason to speak out than this.

We all know what happened months ago. We all know what happened tonight. We are all reacting in some capacity.

I'm thankful for the voices that resonate with my own, the words I can snap to. It reminds me that I am not alone, that we are not alone. That we matter.

And while I am hurt and angered by those voices that are dead set that this man is innocent, that this circumstance is not about race, these arguments are irrelevant to the matter and not only is there no room to discuss this, there is negative room to discuss this.

Then there are those who believe they are not reacting at all. Those who have the power and privilege to look away. I would just like to say that your passivity might be the biggest reaction of them all. Neutrality is the greatest threat to a world that might one day be just and free to all. This silence perpetuates a system in which accountability and responsibility are not required and tells those who believe that this is anything less than a tragedy that they are right.

There is no more room for passivity and complacency. There is no ‘neutral’ where human rights are concerned, only responsibility.

This is not the time to police and criticize the reactions of a people beaten and broken down by a system in a country and society built on their backs and their blood. And please spare me arguments about how slavery is irrelevant. The institution of slavery helped create a system where Black bodies are seen as subhuman and where unlawful Black death is justified, rewarded and upheld socially, institutionally and politically. This is the mess slavery — and the violent distorted thinking and bloody actions that produced it — made. We'll stop talking about it when its residual effects are cleaned up.

Tonight I am ill with sadness and trauma. I believed that maybe we might have made it a little farther than we'd come before.

I am pained to admit that I was sorely mistaken and am now perplexed by this massive question of where we go from here. What do we do now?

I may — we may — have been wrong in thinking our justice system would move away from its haunting history and surprise us with hope for the future, but I believe I am right about one thing: This time is different. The difference not being in a system that consistently fails us — but the difference being in a people tired of being failed. We have changed; we are the difference; we have the power to be the change.

This cannot be put to bed. They wanted us to forget but we cannot allow them to bury us, to bury this. We must keep organizing, keep speaking, yelling, screaming, until we are heard. Marching, stomping, pounding, shaking the ground until the system has no choice but to break.

And by we I mean all. This is not a Black issue; this is a human issue, as all violations of human rights are. We did not enslave ourselves. We need just as many bodies that helped get us here to help us get free.

I live by this always and I will say it a dozen times over:

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion” —Albert Camus

I will be a rebellion. I will be a revolution.

I hope y’all will join me.

Michigan in Color is the Daily’s opinion section designated as a space for and by students of color at the University of Michigan. To contribute your voice or find out more about MiC, e-mail michiganincolor@umich.edu.