My late choir director used to say "Until all have crossed, none have crossed and some, we will have to carry." It took me a while to get what that meant, but now that I've got it, I'm trying my best to live by it.
I'm always intrigued by how easy it is for folk to get the wrong end of a stick or to miss the stick entirely. Sometimes, we miss the point of a thing by accident, but sometimes it's willfully done to avoid dealing with all the downstream effects of comprehension, especially if comprehension means seeing someone else's point of view. And so it was with some yesterday, in the aftermath of Jesse Williams' fiery acceptance speech at the BET Awards on Sunday 26 June, 2016. You've seen it of course, but here it is again. I'm sharing it just because it's so good.
Responses on social media have, of course, been mixed. There have been loud praises and equally loud cries of "Racist!". Everyone is entitled to an opinion certainly, but the opinion that most intrigues me is the one that runs thus: Williams is good looking, he's successful, his life is nice, what does he have to complain about? He should just shut the hell up.
Williams' life probably is pretty comfy. Why wouldn't it be? He's a successful actor on a popular and long-running show. That is all very true, but here's the other truth: that's not all there is to his life. He is still very much a person of color in America and that means something. Ask James Blake. Fame does not automatically earn you respect. Moreover, Williams is clearly aware that he's not on this planet alone. His comfort isn't the totality of what he sees when he wakes in the morning.
None of this really should be special but somehow, it is. Williams' awareness of other realities beyond his own and his willingness to stand up for those whose voices are not as loud, is apparently a surprise. Why? Because all too often we fail to see, hear or acknowledge the existence others, their lives or their needs. It has become our habit to see only ourselves. In our feverish pursuit of success and happiness, and because YOLO, we trample all over each other never noticing that the ground upon which we race is littered with others' bodies, hopes and dreams. Me! Me! Me! It's all we see. Well Jesse's seeing a little more than that.
Our lack of awareness of each other shows up in myriad ways: we socialize with our devices in hand, spending more time on social media than in actual interaction; we take pictures of ourselves rather than interact with or memorialize the world in which we find ourselves; we don't believe in a changing climate unless there's a drought in our locale; we fail to believe that the world is awash in garbage because there's no trash on our streets and hunger, what hunger? There's food in my fridge!
Some of us have long been this way, entirely blind, deaf and mute to the conditions in which others languish, so when we see Jesse Williams with all his various privileges screaming, "Look! See!" we have to demand that he sit down and shut up cuz what the hell could he be complaining about? "I'd just like to have one day of his life!" someone told me, because all that exists is the fame, the money and the nice life. The speaker was neither interested in, nor indeed had he any tolerance for, the rest.
For all the separation it encourages, social media and C21st living do allow for us to create communities of like-minded souls; to create spaces where we can discuss and argue and shape and challenge our belief systems, broaden our perceptions of the world, if we so choose. Through social media and in the real world, if we want to, we can see the Jesse Williams'; the Bree Newsomes and meet the women of the Black Lives Matter movement or explore any of a thousand other social &/or economic justice issues before lunch and maybe, just maybe, learn a thing or two. If we wish to.
If we wish it, we could learn that resistance is NOT futile; that the revolution will in fact occur and be televised. If we're interested, we might discover that there are other experiences beyond our own. If we seek it, maybe just maybe, we can evolve. But if that is to happen, we will have to make room for others to stand up and speak their truth and then we will have to find the strength of will to stand and do the same.
Many of us are terrified to stand up. We're terrified to lose our place of privilege, such as it is. We're so afraid of the consequences of speaking our truth freely and fiercely that we silence ourselves and others. "Shut up Jesse! Go along and we'll all get along.This too shall pass." We are so drunk on the system's few benefits that we participate in our own subjugation and demand that everyone else take up the posture of willing subjugate. Jesse ain't buying it.
"Until all have crossed, none have crossed and some we will have to carry." Williams is committed to this idea. If, as he said, you are not committed to a similar idea, SIT DOWN, just sit the hell down.
Jesse has crossed and he ain't ashamed to turn back to carry a few. Whatchu doin'? If the best you've got is to suggest that Jesse be quiet, maybe you should have a seat?
About the Author - Guest Blogger Elle Sagar
I am a strategic thinker and problem solver. I have a knack for seeing the heart of an issue, clearing away all the noise and nonsense and hopefully making cogent arguments that go to the central issue under consideration. Nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you try. That's a lyric from an Ella Fitzgerald song and from the songbook of my life.