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Posted under: Culture Opinion

What a difficult yet inspiring year we have had

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When Time magazine and subsequent publications dubbed millennials the "ME, ME, ME" generation and claimed that they are overconfident, lazy, and self-absorbed, they forgot to assess the claim against the work of young black people. Though it has been a tough and exhausting year to be young and black — for one, the daily anxiety that one will sign in to any social media platform and find yet another video of a young black person killed — it has also been an incredibly inspiring and illuminating one. Young black people have done great work; they have organized and moved many young people across the nation against many social ills. They have mobilized against police brutality, black-on-black crime, campus violence, threats and intimidation and the confederate flag, among many others.
Students protest at the University of Missouri, 2015. Photo: columbiamissourian.com

However imperfect in their tactics, young black people are asking and demanding that America immediately negotiates what past generations believed were immutable truths of this nation. These young people are insisting: the power of the people and self-preservation above history, empowerment of all marginalized groups of people and identities, responsibility for one’s narrative, healing amid constant struggle, simultaneous visibility, exposure and protection.

Young black people might be incredibly ambitious in the nature of their demand for a more just and equitable world; they are providing answers to questions the world has not even ventured to ask of itself. And perhaps older journalists and analysts are unable to neatly categorize millennial demands and as such do not properly contextualize it, or simply miss the gravitas of that which millennials ask for and demand on social media.

We see this clash of old thought against new angst most noticeably in the structural changes young black people fought for this year. Outside of physical demonstrations and protests, young black people are making demands of institutions that seem preposterous and self-righteous to those who assume that institutional history or institutions are immune to or incapable of structural change. For example, this year, some students at Harvard Law School were called “anarchists” because they demanded the removal of a seal bearing the coat of arms of slave owner, Isaac Royall Jr. One legal historian and visiting Harvard Professor, Daniel R. Coquillette, said the following on the issue:

"I understand why the students are upset, but this is just a fact of the school. If we started renaming things and taking down monuments of people linked to slavery, you would start with Washington..."

But it is this presumption of “just a fact” or history that young black people, from Bree Newsome to students the world over in South Africa to Harvard, believe is threatening. Rather than revisionist or destructive, such conversation on the power of institutional symbols and monuments is incredibly powerful and optimistic. Just as images and symbols have incited hatred and violence toward others in the past, young black people believe their removal heals and that they have a responsibility to put in their place new images that educate and serve the basis of a more-equal society.

Royal Must Fall, Alternate Harvard Law seal, 2015

The poem below, originally written in 2014 after the shooting of Mike Brown and revised with more recent developments, is in essence a reflection of this thought and these questions as we head into the new year. The spirit of the poem stems from the etymology of the word: amok. According to sources, “Amok originated from the Malay/Indonesian word mengamuk, which roughly defined means “to make a furious and desperate charge.” According to Malay/Indonesian culture, amok was rooted in a deep spiritual belief. They believed that amok was caused by the hantu belian, which was an evil tiger spirit that entered one’s body and caused a heinous act. As a result of this belief, those in Indonesian culture tolerated amok and dealt with the after effects with no ill will towards the assailant.”

Young black people have seen their fair share of “furious and desperate charges” this year. The future threatens more: we face deeper, more complex questions, and what appears to be divergent paths ahead. Some say that this is the most divided the country has been since the Civil War. The heart of our social malaise is a deep traumatic past, whose spirit runs amok as Fear. Yet, in spite and perhaps because of the demands of a time such as this, the inherent value of each person is more pronounced. It is in this belief of hope, value and optimism that we must all do our best work ahead.

French artist, Franciose Nelly, painting of a Black man

Hantu Belian: Fear, runs amok

Dear Black men,

(Dear Black people)

In this nation, Fear, runs amok

He is in Fruitvale Station, the streets of Ferguson, Chicago, Baltimore

A corner store in Staten Island, a mall in Ohio, in a home in Harlem, the halls of Harvard Law, the noose at Ole Miss, threats at Mizzou, the rhetoric of Trump’s Islamophobia

Unfettered, he is seen both in the light of day and the black of night

He is in the forums and comments, the thoughts and breathe behind the veiled screen

He is with history in his eyes, service on his lips

He is directionless, but not aimless

He appears ever present

More so than in years past

You are there by chance or by posture

And Fear sees you; some exchange occurs

Then, you are in a chokehold for not responding readily, briskly

A knee jolted deep in your back for speaking without regard

Bullet to your head for a move made without contempt

He is state sanctioned violence, state repression

He is the Dark Vader of belligerence

He is post racial self-censure, intimidation, the burden of perpetual self valuation

He necessitates that you juxtapose your "thug" image to a "civil" one

That you plead for nuanced media representation

Everytime

But you see him as he is

As both dangerous yet impersonal

He will kill you, but is not after you

He is himself, but is not a person

He is 300 years of a traumatic past, and not just this moment

He is a system and you are a people

People change systems, and systems change people

In this nation, one nation, we are all equal by terms, but not yet all free

But a majestic sense of self was never predicated on emancipation

You still are who you were before Fear defined you

You still are virtuous, inherently so.


Bridget Boakye is a millennial writer, editor, poet, business creative, among other things.

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