Fashion and Black Lives Matter- Sara Sweeney

The weekend before last, I attended the 129th Diocesan Convention for the Episcopal Church in Colorado. It’s a mouthful of a title, and the 500+ folks there had a mouthful to say, too. Made up mainly of reverends and parish delegates, these people had a lot of prayer to speak. I was pleased. Prayer in this group addresses the pains of community– and I think pain is one of the closest places we are to Christ. Whereas other forms of spoken prayer I’ve been exposed to focus so much on praising God, or the bible, or are just a lot of singing, I like the conscious effort to be in the realities of our world, and to put into words the problems our people face. Identification is the first step of diminishing pain, after all. For example, “Prayers of the People,” a call-and-response type prayer that used a line from the Our Father struck me. It’s an alright demonstration of what I mean by specific-awareness-of-pain, but a little more vague than some of the other detailed prayers we spoke. See below:

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Mmmh. “Where countries waste food and covet fashion, while Christ says, ‘I was hungry…. I was thirsty…’” Okay, cool… I want to be called out for wasting food and coveting fashion (when Francesca’s is having a deal, how can I resist?). “Fashion,” though, isn’t only popular trend in styles or behavior; we know “fashion” also means a particular way of doing something. I see the United States as a country that “wastes food and covets fashion.” Even more so, I see myself and my friends and family fashioning our lives to enjoy going out to restaurants, or spending time on taking pictures and becoming beautiful for a night, or going to football games where the stadium has been funded by globs of money and the companies around the stadium rely on all those people to spend their bucks in that area. I generally structure my life, or at least my free time, for enjoyment. My fashion, and the fashion of the country in which I was born– the way we do things– does not suffice for the rest of our world. Our fashion of life (capitalism? consumerism?) is harmful. It feels really really really wonderful to have wine and sit in someone’s living room and listen to records or cd’s or Spotify– and heck I’m not going to change the fact that I love doing this and will continue to do this from time to time– but the sentiment from this line in this prayer affirms to me that a whole nation- an entire country- can place our values in wonderful experiences at the expense of another’s mere survival. It’s not my responsibility to tackle the way a whole culture that covets fashion, and frankly, that’d be harmful too. Culture is fragile and important and ever-changing and valuable. But. As a person. In a world that does not belong to me or you. It IS my responsibility to question the taken-for-granted fashions of my culture. It IS my responsibility to catechize myself and my habits. It IS my responsibility to hear the “I was hungry… I was thirsty…” in every choice I make so as to align my actions with reducing the pain in our shared world.

On the note of aligning my actions to reduce the pain in our world, I’ll mention the first session I chose to attend, which was about the hunger and the thirst of black lives: “Soulful Conversations: A Journey Toward Liberation & Healing.” What a session! First of all, Rev. Dawn and Rev. Tawana conducted the room in a “womanist” manner. “Womanism,” to my understanding, “is to feminism as purple is to lavender” (or so says Alice Walker and Google). Womanism focuses on black women, or possibly all women of color, who are so often underheard even in feminist endeavors. The way these Reverends created a womanist, inclusive, and sacred space was first by having everyone in the room answer three questions: What is your name, where are you from, and why are you at this session? Soon, the session turned into folks standing up and sharing their experiences of being white, or being black, or what they thought of “black lives matter,” or how they feel they “don’t see color in people, I just see people as people,” or how they grew up in Mississippi in a family who taught that some people are more valuable than others, and that they’ve been working their whole adult lives to change this internalization. Rev. Dawn took the mic between rows and kept the room going: “Do you hear this? Do you remember I asked three questions, and folks have this much to say? In our research, we found that black communities talk about racism, all. the. time. But white people? Not so much. Listen to how much there is to say– how much people WANT to say.” Rev. Dawn and Rev. Tawana must have a lot of patience to come in to predominantly white communities to educate about BlackLivesMatter. We didn’t get through the whole room– so Rev. Dawn and Rev. Rawana emphasized how important it is that the people in this session continue these conversations in their congregations and in their social circles. Take-away: TALK ABOUT RACE, ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE WHITE. Talk about race with your families. Your friends. Your co-workers. Yourself. In a mirror, if you have to. TALKING ABOUT RACE CAN BE YOUR START TO DOING SOMETHING ABOUT RACIAL INJUSTICE.

At this, I thought about conversations I’d had with my own friends and relatives and sometimes strangers in bars about Black Lives Matter. More often than not, these conversation are met with skepticism, frustration, and pain. It seems to me that skeptics of “BlackLivesMatter” deflect the conversation to pain they’ve experienced in their own lives. And those who are frustrated by the BlackLivesMatter movement? They deflect the conversation to our flaws with social media, or our complacency, or “the real issues,” such as classism. Worst of all, though, these conversations are met with “I just don’t want to think about it. Ever.” And let me tell you–this last sentiment wasn’t from any stranger I talked to in a bar. But even these conversations I have that are met with skepticism or frustration or deflection around Black Lives Matter are worthwhile. Remember when I said I think pain is one of the closest places we are to Christ? Hm. The pain of hunger and the pain of thirst– for justice, or acceptance, or being heard– is all around. Is there a better place around which to start fashioning our lives? Is there anything more important than aligning our own actions and thoughts so to alleviate another’s pain?

Below are the words of Rev. Dawn, offered as an informational performance (you’ll have to imagine in your mind), about what Black Lives Matter is and how Black Lives Matter works. Graciously she’s letting me share her words with you, please hear:

Black Lives Matter Overview
By Rev. Dawn Riley Duval

Black … Lives … Matter.
Black Lives Matter is a racial and social justice movement that affirms the lives of all Black people.

  • Black Lives Matter – draws inspiration from the 1960s civil rights/black power movement, the 1980s black feminist/womanist movement, the 1980s anti-apartheid/Pan African movement, inspiration from the late-1980s political hip-hop movement, the 2000s LGBTQIA movement, and inspiration from the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement.
  • Black Lives Matter – a local, national, global movement that is comprised of Black Lives Matter chapters all across the world, and includes several other organizations such as: Black Youth Project 100, Million Hoodies, Organization for Black Struggle, and is kind enough to include people like me who realize that we are allergic to joining any more organizations but we are eager to fight the good fight for Black liberation.
  • Black Lives Matter – it’s digital. Uses social media to reach thousands of like-minded people nationwide to quickly galvanize, organize and mobilize actions ranging from civil disobedience to publically challenging politicians to explain how their policies will help improve Black communities.
  • Black Lives Matter – does not refute that all lives matter/Black Lives Matter does not mean only Black lives matter; rather it means historically in this country Black Lives have only mattered in as far as we are the silent economic engine beneath this country’s wealth.                                                 Well we reject that.

    We are people. And we are exposing racialized capitalism, and calling out white supremacy’s vested interest in keeping Black people as little more than low- or no-cost labor.We are people – fearfully and wonderfully made.

  • We are people – fully divine, fully human,
  • We are people – created in the image of the Most High God, in the image of the divine, in the image of our ancestors.
    We … are … people.

          Black Lives Matter – has a populist, come-as-you-are, radically hospitable spirit. We don’t police how people dress or speak, we don’t police their age, religion, gender, sexuality, or class. All who are down for struggling for Black liberation are welcome to get to work.

          Black Lives Matter – since Black women typically are excluded or erased from the historical narrative – during this history-in-the-making movement, let’s remain ever-mindful that Black Lives Matter was birthed, midwifed, co-founded by three Black women – Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi – after George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida in 2012.

         Concerning the Creators, Alicia and Patrisse self-identify as Queer, and Opal is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, so to Reverend Tawana and me and our womanist theologian selves – to us the Creators of this local, national, global work are in and of themselves deeply and organically intersectional and the Black Lives Matter movement is an intrinsically divine feminine work that is abundantly Black love and abundantly Black power and is medicine to Black pain (I said Black Lives Matter is medicine to Black pain).

  • So…that Black women are the Creators of this work … MATTERS.
  • That Black women, that Black young people are leading this movement … MATTERS.
  • That Black LGBTQIA beloveds are leading in all areas of this work … MATTERS.
  • That this movement is dripping with the oil/the anointing of Black Girl Magic … MATTERS.
  • That the face of this movement is not a hetero-, cis-gender, charismatic, Black man messiah … MATTERS.

         People criticize Black Lives Matter as being a leaderless movement. But we understand ourselves as being LEADERFUL. All of us are leaders! All of us are walking in divine power! All of us are answers to ancestral prayers! All of us pressing forward as perfectly imperfect leaders, and that MATTERS.

        And indeed love for God and love for all Black people – ever-mindful of Black people who have been brutalized and or killed – that love undergirds our struggle for liberation … and that … LOVE … matters.

Identification is the first step to healing. Knowing where the chains are, the first step to collective liberation. Rev. Dawn and Rev. Tawana assured the room at the end of the session that we are here to work toward healing and liberation. What sticks out to you from her words?

We ended the session in a normal fashion. Some rushed out of the room, hungry for the coming lunch. Some immediately went up to speak with Rev. Dawn or Rev. Tawana. I sat for a while, breathing and hearing Rev. Dawn’s words ring in my ears. I imagined people not like me, people who I’ve never met, working on the Black Lives Matter movement. From their phones, or offices, or in the backseats of cars. At malls, holding signs, marching… or grieving at funerals. I’ve never attended a funeral for someone who wasn’t white. I sat for a while, thinking about this, indicative of the “fashion” of my life and the spaces of the world in which I live. Wish I could tell you I came to some profound realization. Definitely didn’t. If nothing else, though, I left with more fuel for and insight into Black Lives Matter– and whatever I do about it starts with my voice.

“If your standard for progress is silence, you can miss me with that.” – Alicia Garza.

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