In this deeply moving essay at The Baffler, Hanif Abdurraqib reflects on the protests of last summer and the ongoing fight for equality with a mix of grief and pride. As he considers those who protest systemic racism in America, he says “… yes, it is thrilling to see a generation that has harnessed their firsthand knowledge, their resources, their steadfast care for each other, and their rage, and channeled it into multilayered action.” But he yearns for a day when the time and energy and fortitude required to protest can be “freed up not only for other fights but for other endeavors that make newer uses of their time.”
What pushes people out into the street and what pushes them to organize might be sparked in a single moment, but before that moment, and often stretching on long after, is a series of small collapses caused by continual neglect.
A series of small collapses is how they come to be radicalized.
We were there because it was necessary that we be there. Because someone we loved was in the streets and they needed protection or care or simply someone else they knew to add to the long braid of someones blocking traffic and holding the line when cops descended with their sprays or their horses or their hands on their weapons.
The grief of this moment, this life, is torrential. More for some than others, of course. But in the midst of it, one small, distinct grief that I have been focused on is the grief that sits alongside the immense pride and excitement I feel watching young activists step fully into themselves and realize they are entirely unmoved by and unafraid of power. I had that inside of me when I was a teenager, and a lot of the people I lived with and hung around did too. But so few of us actually knew what to do with it. We knew we hated that cops were in our schools and in our neighborhoods—their primary function to inject fear into the day-to-day movements of largely marginalized kids from largely marginalized communities. But it didn’t seem like there was much to do with that rage except funnel it back into our own ecosystems, our own selves. We knew our anger but not our capacity to organize.