I often get asked why – as a NonBlack person of color (NBPOC) – I’m so passionate about confronting anti-blackness. Occasionally, I am not so gently reminded by Latinos*, Asians and other marginalized groups in the U.S that we also face oppression; that our struggles aren’t as visible, analyzed, thought-pieced, tweeted, or protested for as those of black lives.
And while I typically don’t have the time to argue on the internet, these critiques miss the heart of the matter: our collective liberation is inextricably tied.
No one is free until we all are. We cannot participate in Oppression Olympics, where we fight only on behalf of our own identity’s lanes. To secure equal rights for LGBT, we have to fight for civil rights, for women’s rights, for immigration rights, for disabled rights. We have to all fight for everyone’s equality, everyone’s freedom.
And no struggle has gone on longer on American soil than the fight to acknowledge the equal value of black lives. From the first beaten slave who arrived on our shores in 1619, to the controversy over the first integrated prom in a Georgia town in 2013 (yeah, I’m not kidding) we still have a lot of work to do.
Black History Month is a celebration of black joy and accomplishment, and a confrontation of continued inequality and justice denied.
It’s a call to go beyond the inspirational but sanitized legacies we culturally hold up each year, and delving into the numerous individuals, movements and figures who weren’t even in consideration for our textbooks. Ironically, because of their other identities (gay, female, trans).
It’s an opportunity to reflect on the indisputable gains and of the still looming battles.
A reminder to recognize our privilege, to wield it on behalf of others.
A rally cry that should threaten no one:
So the next time folks ask you, “why do you care so much about (an identity you don’t share)?” Honestly respond, “because we aren’t free yet.”
*Latino and Black are not mutually exclusive. There is a lot of overlap as a result of the diaspora. But that’s a different conversation.
Vanessa Toro is an Associate Director, Creative Strategy at DigitasLBi Atlanta