As a lawyer and radio host, I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to serve as an on-air commentator for CNN, HLN and other outlets on legal cases and social issues that are of particular interest to the challenges facing African Americans and, more particularly, African-American men. And recently I’ve offered my thoughts on Michael Brown’s killing and the unrest in Ferguson, Mo.
I’m passionate about my views and opinions because I’m passionate about my community. I’m also frustrated and emotionally exhausted—yearning for understanding and change. And sometimes I raise my voice on TV—I probably even yell—and I’m OK with that.
But you’d be amazed (then again, maybe not) if you looked at my Twitter timeline, comments on my Instagram and Facebook posts and some of my emails. All kinds of people tell me to stop yelling, to shut up, to sit my “a–” down and stop being an “angry black woman.”
My answer? Don’t tell me I’m yelling just because you aren’t listening.
Don’t be so quick to portray me as the stereotypical “angry black woman,” just so you don’t have to deal with the real issues: racism, police brutality and economic warfare.
And if I’m passionate about these issues, what would be the point of going on television and not speaking the way I really feel? That would just be a waste of my time—and yours.
Yes, I’m a professional—but I’m also emotional about this—because of Ferguson, because of Staten Island, N.Y., because of Sanford, Fla., because of Oakland, Calif., because of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, N.Y. We’ve been at this for a while.
And I do believe that one encounter or one conversation can start the process of change. I don’t need to yell. But I do need you to listen.
The other day I boarded a flight and turned on my headphones to listen to some songs I go to for peace—songs by artists Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin, Alanis Morissette, Shania Twain, Yolanda Adams, Whitney Houston, Notorious B.I.G., Nancy Wilson. When I began to silently belt out one of the songs that makes me sit up a bit and probably sway ever so slightly, I became aware of a white gentleman sitting next to me, who later begrudgingly got up to let me out of my window seat and who barely grunted when I said, “Hello, how are you?”
He avoided as much contact with me as he possibly could for the entire flight. And it’s OK. But it was a missed opportunity to create understanding, and to remind him that I’m allowed to sit there next to him—and that I’m a person, just like he is.
I really wanted to ask him if he’s been watching the coverage of the situation in Ferguson and the killing of Michael Brown. To ask, does he have a son? And if so, does he relate to the pain of Michael Brown’s parents? I want him to know that Michael’s life meant something to a whole lot of people—including me. So did the lives of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Oscar Grant, Yusuf Hawkins and countless others.
If we can have that one conversation, maybe that will change those poll numbers that show that 80 percent of black Americans—but only 37 percent of white Americans—think Ferguson raises important issues about race. Maybe that conversation would lead to that white person taking a second view of black suffering—heck, for some a first view. That conversation could be the first time a white person has a candid conversation about race with a black person, and vice versa. I don’t mind being the one to start that process.
But stop yelling? No thanks. I’ll yell until images of dead black boys stop flashing across my television, day after day, week after week.
Stop yelling? No thanks. I’ll stop when police departments made up of officers who do not reflect, care about or concern themselves with the citizens they are there to serve start taking measures to diversify their ranks, train their officers and start changing their biased attitudes.
Stop yelling? No thanks. I’ll stop yelling when the laws of this country are made for all and enforced equally.
Stop yelling? No thanks. I’ll stop yelling when respect for black life equals the respect given to the lives of everyone else in this country.