I never want to be so woke that I’m unwilling to celebrate small victories.
A weird thing happens on social media whenever Black people publicly celebrate anything justice-related: Other Black people come around to remind us that America still ain’t shit and we shouldn’t get too happy. I understand it, of course. I get the impulse to be cynical for the sake of being cynical; I just think it’s weird that anyone thinks Black people need to be told not to get complacent—because when have we ever?
Last summer, Black people led the largest wave of protests against systemic racism America has seen in recent years, and we did it after the killers of Walter Scott, Botham Jean and Markeis McGlockton were convicted of crimes and sent to prison. After each of those cases ended in convictions, Black people expressed joy, but literally, none of us decided that we could kick back with a can of tea and a bag of Skittles and just enjoy post-racial America.
If Black people are excited and joyous over Dereck Chauvin being found guilty of murdering George Floyd, it’s because we know what country we live in. We know well that one guilty verdict won’t end Black death at the hands of white supremacy.
I was surprised by the verdict, even though I would have bet good money that Chavin was going to be found guilty. I watched the trial. I saw the Dollar Store-ass defense Chauvin’s Party City-ass lawyers put on. I watched as multiple medical experts and fellow Minneapolis police officers testified against Chauvin while the defense called in a guy from Maryland—who is currently facing a lawsuit accusing him of helping cops cover up a Black death similar to Floyd’s—so that he could speculate based on zero evidence that carbon monoxide was a likely factor in Floyd’s death. Chauvin’s defense team was as pitiful as Ted Cruz’s struggle beard.
So, I knew Chauvin was going to be found guilty—and yet, I still breathed the same sigh of relief I would have breathed if I were on the edge of my seat fully expecting a murderer to be set free.
Even if it were true that Black people developed a temporary case of negro amnesia after single, anecdotal instances of racial justice, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy that ignorant bliss for a day before we were reminded that America is still gon’ America.
In fact, before Black people had time to raise even a single roof in celebration of the announcement of Chauvin’s guilty verdict, news was breaking out of Columbus, Ohio that 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot and killed by a police officer. But we didn’t even need that to happen for us to be snapped into the Black reality our minds never really left.
We went into hearing the verdict knowing that all of the months of protesting and the national spotlight on systemic racism in policing, especially in Minnesota, wasn’t enough to save Daunte Wright’s life. And we knew then as we know now that Chauvin’s conviction doesn’t mean we can expect that Kimberly Potter will suffer his same fate.
To be clear, I’m not here to admonish Black people for not getting happy after the verdict. A lot of us are too numb to be moved by rare instances of justice and that feeling or lack thereof is also valid. I’m just saying, for those who are feeling joyous right now, my advice is to hold on to that feeling for as long as you can. You won’t feel this way for long enough—America will see to that—but it’s OK to feel satisfied right now.
Sometimes holding onto your joy means avoiding social media altogether, because any given comment section can and will devolve into dumpster fires of Black pain and frustration mixed with malicious whiteness. Sometimes it means finding other Black people who share your joy for justice to exchange that positive energy with.
For my petty ass, Black joy is maintained by backstroking in white tears.
Years ago, I wrote a piece for the Washington Post in which I explained that there is no point in us continuing to argue with white people about anything race-related and that we would be better served in just breakdancing to the white anxiety that always grows alongside the movement for Black lives. In other words: Let them die mad while we keep fighting a fight that they don’t understand.
So when Fox Noose host Tucker Carlson—the white nationalist who uses Mitch McConnell’s neck as a Klan hood (I heard)—complained that “The jurors in the Derek Chauvin trial came to a unanimous and unequivocal verdict this afternoon: ‘Please don’t hurt us,’” and that “Everyone understood perfectly well the consequences of an acquittal in this case,” because “after nearly a year of burning and looting and murder by BLM, that was never in doubt,” I was perfectly content in letting him believe that load of white nonsense is true.
I mean, it’s true that, especially over the last year, we have made it clear that “no justice, no peace” is more than just an empty platitude, so if that causes Carlson to cry himself to sleep at night believing that jurors convicted Chauvin under duress, I’m good with letting him believe it and adding his extra-salty white tears to my glass.
Let people like Rep. Marjorie “Anglo-Saxons R’ Us” Taylor Greene (R.-Ga.) believe that an absence of activity in Washington D.C. somehow proves that BLM is a terrorist organization.
Let people like Tammy Laryngitis-for-wypipo complain about hypothetical riots that never actually happen in response to justice.
Let people like honorary white person Candace Owens cry white-tears-for-house-negroes over what she calls the “mob justice” that convicted Chauvin.
All of this Klan-ish commentary serves as an instant reminder to us that Chauvin’s conviction doesn’t mean America has changed, so if indulging in white conservative misery, or ignoring it altogether, is what helps you hold on to your joy, do that.
Tuesday was a good day. Today, it’s still OK to celebrate. White supremacy will still be here tomorrow, the next day and the day after that.
We’re never allowed to forget; we are allowed to be happy in the moment.