That’s what we are. As a community, we are exhausted at having to have this conversation and deal with the expected response of ‘oh, but is it really that bad?’ ‘oh, is it really happening here though?’ ‘oh , but do you really know that was racism?’ People have come to me for a comment, looked to me to mobilise and honestly I. Am. Exhausted. And I’ve only just begun – people have been pushing this conversation for decades. Me? I started writing Blackbird 5 years ago, I helped organise the Bristol Black Lives Matter march 4 years ago, I released Blackbird last year – a song that breaks my heart a little every time I sing it because I think of all the lives that have been lost in my lifetime alone and the hundreds of years before it.
I think of how young I was when my innocence was taken away and how frightened I am for my nephews whose beautiful black skin makes them an automatic target. My heart breaks for me and my sisters – large in our bodies and personalities who have been labeled aggressive and intimidating and have lived a life of teaching ourselves to be smaller than we are in the hopes that it will keep us safe.
But we are not safe. We will never be safe within a structure that suppresses and exploits us. I prayed this pandemic would teach us to look at each other with more empathy, compassion, and appreciation. That everyone would use this time to reflect and look at each other with newfound love and respect but sadly it seems this is not the case and once again Black people are being looked to speak out and mobilise and We. Are. Tired.
I don’t want to see people sharing a meme of a Martin Luther King comment with a sad emoji and then going about their daily lives; engaging with the conversation only when it suits them. I don’t want to see the emotional labour of this situation being taken on once again by a community that is triggered and suffering. I want to see solidarity. I want to see those with privilege using it and I want to see others mobilise in their outrage instead of looking to us to be strong and lead them to answers.
I don’t have any answers. Right now, all I can do is offer Blackbird as a catalyst for others to express themselves and their frustrations at this situation. To find the line that speaks to them and say it to the camera followed by the response you have – what you feel and why. Use it as a way to commit to being a part of this conversation publically and use your voice in this struggle. Use it to show the people in your circles that you are engaged in making a change within it – whether that be calling out a racist comment at a party or at work, challenging someone online, or going and reading one of the countless books on the subject to better educate yourself and those around you.
People tell me that they don’t always know what to say, that they don’t have the words – well I’ve written some. I put that song out and it was terrifying but I did it because this conversation is one that is not going away. That is what I could do – I’ve never felt more vulnerable than having that song out in the world but that is something I felt could make a change, no matter how small. A combined effort of small actions can result in big changes.
For me right now organising a march doesn’t feel like the right thing to do – we are in the middle of a pandemic – one that is absolutely affecting people of colour more, not because we have defected genes but because we are the ones on the frontline – we are the ones that can be sacrificed. I also fear that, due to the media’s reputation for reporting in an unbiased manner to ‘serve the people’ is deservedly in tatters, the story will be twisted from – ‘we need to save black lives’ to – look at all those activists putting the NHS under more strain – and that is a risk I do not want to take.
Because too often is this conversation derailed by those who it serves. What I am looking into is how to have a reflective, socially distant protest in a secured location and this is where you come in with your images and videos. To feed into a wider project starting in the virtual that can feed into the physical when the opportunity arises.
Use Blackbird as a vehicle to let out your frustration in a virtual space where no one can police your emotions. I want you to do it wearing something that makes you feel empowered, strong and proud of your culture and celebrating where you come from because the strength in us as a community is something that continues to astound me. So many have messaged telling me that they can’t watch the video, are finding it hard to engage with the trigger, and are tired of having to police themselves in fear it will affect them negatively in their work or personal life. I hear you. I am an artist – I chose this not because it is a comfortable life but because it allows me the freedom I need to say what I feel needs to be said. I am incredibly lucky to have a structure in place which allows me to do that, but I am also tired.
This is what I can do right now with the help of others. I’ve written the song, I’ve written the articles, I’ve been the only person in the room talking about things others don’t want to hear. I’ve given my words, my tears, my sleepless nights and right now I don’t have anything new to give because there’s nothing new to say. We’ve said it. We’ve been saying it. Now it’s time to hear others saying it – to take this on for themselves and show that we are all a community that wants to fight this, we are one. Together, We Fly.