For me, the summer of 2015 was quintessentially millennial. In June, I moved into my first apartment. On that same day, Rachel Dolezal resigned from her post as president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP after lying about her race. One day later, Donald “I have so many websites” Trump announced his run for the Republican presidential nomination. And the day after that nine people, nine black people —
- Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
- Reverend Clementa Pinckney
- Cynthia Hurd
- Tywanza Sanders
- Myra Thompson
- Ethel Lee Lance
- Rev. Daniel L. Simmons
- Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor
- Susie Jackson
— were shot and killed at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church during a prayer service. I changed my desktop background to Bree Newsmen tearing down the confederate flag two days later. Ten days before I moved in, a police officer physically threw 15-year-old Dajerria Becton to the ground and held her at gunpoint at a pool party five minutes from where I went to high school.
In July, I cooked all my own meals and finally replaced my cracked iPhone. The United States won the Women’s World Cup against Japan 5–2 and Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell after being arrested for a minuscule traffic violation.
In August, I skipped work to go to Janelle Monae’s “Say their Name” march. I walked through the streets of San Francisco behind a woman two inches shorter than me who had the audacity to use her art to overtly call for action; to demand that the rest of the world pay attention to what was happening — the way news media outlets so easily name the police officer and fail to remember the names of those victimized. London Chanel, Mercedes Williamson, India Clarke, Shade Schuler and so many others. Trans people of color slaughtered.
We yelled their names, names of black bodies lost, bloodied, and abused. We disrupted traffic. We danced in front of the police station.
This is what it means to be quintessentially millennial for me, a young, queer, black woman. It’s small acts of growing up: paying bills, buying groceries, and learning to look straight ahead when a pervert comments on my “juicy, black ass” in the street. Because if I don’t, I could end up like Venice Brown, Terrain Dandridge, Patreese Johnson, and Renata Hill who received prison sentences from an all white jury for defending themselves against a man who leered at them, spat on them, and pulled out chunks of their hair simply because they were black, they were gay, and they were uninterested.
Being quintessentially millennial for me is learning that I will never be human to some people. I will be a freak show, an exhibit, a llama at a petting zoo. “Can I touch your hair?” It’s knowing that a request like that is only the beginning of my own dehumanization — that all I need is a broken tailgate light and I could end up with an officer’s knee in my back.
In 2016, I saw the world. I studied abroad in Italy. I went to Paris. I got chills in the Van Gogh museum. I avoided the news. I avoided the news. I avoided the news. I avoided the news.
May was the start of a millennial spring romance in Paris with a girl who had lived in my college dorm: characterized by Snapchat photo streaks spanning days, memes as a flirtation device, and the exchanging of digital mixtapes. It was the shit of Nicholas Sparks books minus the white heterosexual privilege. In July of 2016, I found myself in a long distance relationship…happily. For a moment, I forgot about the summer of 2015. I forgot about the panic I experienced, the insomnia, the depression. We watched the new season of Orange is the New Black together and by the end of episode 12, it suddenly all came back.
I watched the screen in disbelief as a corrections officer exerted force on an inmate until she could no longer move. Her pleas for him to “get the fuck off” were not heard. Her pleas couldn’t be heard over the commotion of a peaceful protest gone very wrong. I was in disbelief not because I couldn’t comprehend the tragic nature of what had just happened on a fictional TV show. No, I was in disbelief because of how much a nightmarish event on a Netflix original mirrored real life. I cried, holding myself together with nothing more than willpower. I cried for the summer of 2015.
A few days later I cried for Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. I cried without knowing the details because I already knew what the news reports would say. I already knew what the footage would show. And yes, I cried for her. I cried for Poussey Washington. Not just because she was my favorite character, but because she was young, she was black, she was queer. In that moment, in her struggle for breath, I struggled for breath too.
Change the name and I’m her.
All the anger, outrage, sorrow.
I felt at events that happened only last year, this year, this month resurfaced in an angry lump in my throat. I felt vindicated when the women stormed the prison, COs locked their doors in fear, and Daya held a gun to Humphrey’s head. I wanted her to shoot him. I wanted so badly for the oppressive powers to understand the weight of their actions, the gravity of their prejudice.
But we are not free until all of us are free.
Audre Lorde once asked: “what are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you sicken and die of them, still in silence.”
I come back to this question often.
To be enslaved to anger is not justice.
To be enslaved to prejudice is not power.
To be enslaved to silence is not safety.
We are not free until all of us are free.