The scene: Walnut Creek, CA on Valentine’s Day. At least 40 Black activists prepare to peacefully occupy local businesses and restaurants. The #BlackBrunch tactic is the same – we enter the business, read off the names of Black people who have been murdered by the police, security officers, or self-appointed vigilantes. Because these are real people to us – sisters, brothers, families, friends, ancestors – that have been murdered with complete impunity. Because we know that our sisters, brothers, parents, homies, lovers – even us – could be next.
We brace ourselves, taking deep breaths in.
We enter space after space – those that we are allowed to. A sea of white faces make their every effort to avoid looking up from salads and gluten-free meals, their faces swelling with discomfort or anger or something else I cannot see because they will not look at me – at any of us.
One white woman plugs her ears as if to block out the names of slaughtered community members as we chant in their honor. Later an older white man snarls at us, throwing the materials we’ve given him onto the ground.
I overhear one white man speaking to his family over our chants: “And they wonder why the police want to shoot them.” I have to fight tears after that one.
There is a scattering of sympathetic eyes from Black and Brown faces – and some white ones as well. They are not sure how to help, but they feel something other than the intense hatred, indifference, or disgust pervading the air of these businesses on this fine, sunny Valentine’s Day.
We leave and some of us are energized, others are tired. I am tired. I go to reflect on what I’ve just seen and felt.
Some nasty articles have surfaced in the past few weeks since the action. Apparently, we harassed people’s children, bullied the innocent patrons who were just trying to enjoy their brunch – among other accusations which are both unoriginal and unsurprising given the scenes I’ve just described.
And you know what? I can understand. People were shocked, and certainly upset and inconvenienced by our presence. Being made to be faced with the murders of Black people when you’ve been dead set on living in the comfort of your tunnel vision is shocking. Hearing the names of people who have been murdered should upset you and your children. Seeing a group of strong, united, powerful Black activists should shock you when you have grown up not having to deal with us. Yes – I could see how all of these things would upset you.
But what have you chosen to be upset about?
The fact that these people cannot look outside of their desire to buy a pair of shears to tend to their white picket fence gardens to ask about – or even consider – the purpose behind our presence – is deeply disturbing to me, no matter how many times I witness it. They are sick with the fog capitalism and racism and their own internalized domination – concerned only with consuming more and more and ignoring anything else. We are not people – merely obstacles.
You are upset because your children are startled. We fear that we will not see our children live full lives because of the threat of violence, systemic poverty, and incarceration. We are upset because our people continue to be gunned down in the streets – their bodies left on the pavement for four, five, six hours.
We want the same things as you – to exist. We want to exist without the constant threat of harassment, violence, profiling, and racism hanging over our heads. We want our minds and hearts to be at ease when we send our children and family members outside of our protective arms. We want to be able to grieve and weep and transform our pain into change. And we want justice for our slaughtered ancestors.
How nice it must be for you to be able to complain about your Valentine’s Day brunch to be interrupted, while not giving a fuck about the genocide that continues to claim the lives of marginalized people in the ongoing cycles bolstered by your indifference.
Lynching used to be the white people’s spectacle “back in the day” – white people had a field day watching Black bodies roped up, cut open, and lit on fire. And now it is silence the noose around our necks – the stares and scowls that scream, “how dare you!?” How dare we protest the slaughter our people face and have always faced.
But let me ask you, white man who is more upset about his brunch being interrupted than our people being murdered by the police – how can we reach you? When will you see us as people?
I can write an article like this, which people will troll on and leave nasty comments anonymously while claiming to our faces to “support the cause” - just so long as it doesn’t disrupt their daily routine. We can go to the police department and demand video surveillance as concerned citizens, which we will of course be denied. We can silently hand out #BlackLivesMatter flyers which you will crumple up in your pocket or toss into the trash bin – just as disposable as Black bodies continue to be in this country.
But oh, if we cut off your supply to that hardware, or dare interrupt your regularly scheduled brunch, you will, without fail, label us as radicals, bullies; as militant, angry, insane savages.
But there is nothing more savage than the complete lack of empathy and humanity we have borne witness to.
How can we reach you?