Featured Artwork: Shirien Damra
Hi. I’m Na’ilah. A lot of y’all know me as Nailah — minus the Arabic pronunciation — because it’s easier for me to dumb my name down for everyone else’s benefit. My name is Arabic for achiever, I believe. I never felt like it was a name that fit me. A rose by any other name, yes? But today, my name holds weight. Achiever.
On Monday, my mother told me I’d been recommended to speak at a rally. I was hesitant. I don’t like public speaking. But one of my closest friends told me: “Just own it, they asked YOU, not the other way around, and since you know what you’re talking about it’ll be a breeze.”
I don’t think he factored in my anxiety, but this is important. And as my necklace states, actions speak louder than words. So please bear with me.
A week ago, when my stepdad found out what I would be speaking today, he told me to write a speech. Throughout the week, he insisted that I write something, but I didn’t.
I planned on speaking from my heart. But what are you supposed to say? Because the only thing my heart knows right now is grief and exhaustion.
So last night, hours after I was supposed to be asleep, I wrote something.
I grew up in Wichita. I lived in a bad neighborhood. But I went to school in College Hill, and most of my friends were white. It wasn’t until after I moved to Texas that I realized that I was the token Black friend. I didn’t act “Black”, so I was okay to go to everyone’s houses for sleepovers.
But where I lived in Dallas, the only token friend you could have was a white one, or a Muslim one, as I was. When I was in middle school, it had become clear that I was on this path. But in high school, there had been no reason to be on guard.
But… my sophomore year, last February, I moved here. I knew where I was going to live was a white neighborhood. My parents have lived here for years. But I was still scared that I would face racism at school, which I did.
My first teacher had found a way to incorporate a racist stereotype into a lesson on communism. I didn’t say anything, even though all I wanted to do was speak up. But I finished out the school year with no issue.
So here’s an origin story: last year, around Thanksgiving time, I went to the high school’s powderpuff game with my friends, where I met [my friend] Maliah. We all formed a group chat, and we often bonded over shared experiences of racism at school.
Up until recently, I had been guilty of the same things my white peers do — ignoring the issue. But it’s harder to ignore when you have to live it. Because the issue here is that everything we face as a Black community today is systemic and has been going on for a very long time.
With the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd still fresh in our minds, the Black Lives Matter conversation came back up. Along with it came the usual dismissal tactics: statistics and stereotypes.
So, let’s talk.
First, I want to say a couple things: blue lives don’t exist, black on black crime is just plain crime, and if this is conversation makes you at all uncomfortable, it’s having the desired effect.
LISTEN. REFLECT. APPLY. REPEAT.
So, here are the facts:
We have rights. We know our rights. But they come with a number of hoops we have to jump through. We have to work twice as hard just to get half as far.
I know a lot of you don’t notice it. But I do.
It’s evident in the way children like Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin have no justice.
It’s in the way police will rule a death a suicide when we know very well nobody could’ve done to themselves what happened to them.
We see it daily in the way Walmart locks up Black hair products, or the people at the mall tail Black customers, expecting us to steal something.
It’s in the way Black women are more likely to die when hospitalized because the system is designed to deny us healthcare.
It’s in the way your Blackness is seen a weapon, so that even a traffic stop can turn deadly.
It’s in the way Black representation is almost nonexistent and Black creatives are kept in the shadows — and the only time we see ourselves reflected on TV is as the sassy side character or the lost main character who might be involved in a gang.
It’s in the world watching as the Central Park Five had their youth snatched away for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And when you look deeper into the systems in place that put 5 kids even younger than me away, you’ll see it too.
It’s in the silence we hear when Black lives are lost, and that the black square and “we stand with Black Lives Matter” statement is a bandaid to cover the blind eye everyone turns when my community is hurting.
It’s in centuries of telling Black women that our features are ugly and making the beauty standard Angelina Jolie, completely leaving out women who look like Ari Lennox or Jackie Aina.
It’s in the internal battles Black people have often because of the way the world views us — don’t show your anger, shrink your personality, don’t wear a hoodie, straighten your hair, hate who you are.
It’s in the way history is taught at school (it’s whitewashed, if you didn’t know).
It’s in the way everyone loves Black culture and uses blackness as an aesthetic, yet still treats Black people like zoo animals or less than.
Y’all may not see it, but we do. It’s as if the whole world is watching — waiting for you to make a mistake, so they can use it against your whole race.
When that’s your life, protesting is one of the few things you have left.
Silence is complicity.
So my question is, knowing all of that, what are you gonna do about it?