Blackness Shatters Any and Everything That Divides Us: An Open Letter to Nashville by Jessica Sutton

Photo by Mallory Burns

Photo by Mallory Burns

There is a righteous rage that builds on the inside of us manifesting in the screaming of “BLACK LIVES MATTER!” It is the culmination of sadness and hurt from seeing our brothers and sisters be murdered by a power above the law and the anger that results when you realize that not only does society perpetuate this but also a very powerful long-standing system that operates as a well-oiled machine. This system has evolved overtime to perpetuate these murders and the criminalization of black bodies ensuring that the cycle of poverty, violence, and process of gentrification work as efficiently and insidiously as possible. There are people who support this system, whose power and profit thrive from its efficiency and they are unable and/or unwilling to see the lives who suffer under its suffocating and murderous effects. We can’t breathe. It is our intention to tear it down. It is our intention to create a system—a community for us, by us, built on a foundation of liberation and love, not on a deeply rooted foundation of capitalism, colonialism, and supremacy. This is the beginning of what our revolution looks like.

Mike Brown and Eric Garner exposed the evils of our reality and put them on the conscience of the world. It served as a catalyst, forcing us to also look in our own backyard—Nashville, the “it city”. The reality is that Ferguson is everywhere. The same issues that plague communities like Ferguson are also here in our beloved Nashville. Yes we have racial profiling in Nashville. Yes Nashville Police Department owns millions of dollars worth of military gear. Yes gentrification is pushing people of color and poor people out. Yes our communities are heavily policed. Yes in Nashville there is disproportionate amount of incarcerated blacks in the for-profit prison system—CCA, the largest in the nation is headquartered right here in. This is where we began working to direct the energy from the protests towards change in Nashville and perhaps the nation.

The complexity and power of this system is daunting and scares some of us. Some are so fearful, they would rather remain quiet and urge others to remain quiet. For some, it is a “don’t upset massa” mentality—respectability politics so deeply engrained that we identify with it as self. Some are so overwhelmed, they are paralyzed with defeat because where do you even start in trying to dismantle something so complex and big. Voting alone won’t work, a one-day boycott won’t work, and policy changes are hard to come by. And this is where the attendance numbers in some of the marches and meetings begins to drop–people realize how big this is and think maybe their marching won’t help. I implore you to not grow weary in well doing. You are the very people we want to empower, we need you! So the protesting is the beginning of what dismantling this system looks like for some. For others, it is as far as it goes because after realizing what they’re up against, hope is lost. History shows us where bucking the system gets you. The marching is the tears, the anger, the hurt, and the desire for change put to action. It is a public lament. It is a moral outcry and a call to arms for people in both a liberation movement and the dismantling of systems and institutions designed to oppress and reap profit. After over 300 hundred of years of oppression and conditioning, it is the waking up of a people.

The protesting is also the coming together of a people. In our space, we exchange love through tear filled eyes, soul filled hugs, and smiles. To be holding hands with gang members, scientists, children, college students, rappers, LGBQT folks, ministers, professors, cosmetologists, of all races and creeds- we celebrate our differences in this safe space. This is the beginning of what love and community look like. We come together, we see ourselves in one another. We cry. We scream. We march. We beat the drums and call on the names of our freedom fighter elders and ancestors, we see one another. We cry out the names of the slain.

It is a very spiritual experience. Other aspects of this movement cannot be contained by the constraints of diction. It cannot be spoken. It is felt and sensed so deeply that our souls ache—it is real. It is our Blackness. Sometimes it is realized after the protest ends and we go back to the tranquil solitude of our homes and the post-traumatic stress disorder hits and we buckle to our knees. The incessant tears fall and you try to take it all in and process it. The love, the hurt, the Blackness, the glimpses of the dead bodies lying on the street, the people murdered in cold blood in the sanctity of a church in Charleston, the strange fruit that hangs from trees in the Dominican Republic, the heart breaking comments on social networks and news posts, the riot gear, the hate, the racism, the hurt and anger resulting from church leaders and community leaders you look up to telling you to calm down and be quiet, the realization that people have died for something like this already and yet here we are, the realization that you are the hope and the dream of the slave, the tale of two Nashvilles separated by Charlotte Pike and pushing you out because of the growth of the “it” city and gentrification- the weight of it all is too much. The love and the Blackness shatter any and every thing that divides us. It is beautiful and lovely and scary and it is freedom. It is finding strength in one another. And in those moments we are one voice, one people, unified in a liberation movement.

We want Nashville to know that we will not be pacified by strategically planned political moves to keep us quiet. Calling town hall meetings to deliver empty promises, from a pulpit, to push a political agenda and hand out “vote for me” cards afterwards will not work. Calling for certain clergy members and community leaders to keep us quiet will not work, it is an abuse of power to control the hearts of people by using these trusted leaders and those who disseminate the teachings of sacred texts. Handing us hot chocolate to change the narrative of a protest to that of friendly cops and witless protestors will not stop us. The lack of understanding our movement and the beauty in the absence of specific leaders will not stop us—we are all leaders so you cannot pick a few of us off and think we will die—we multiply. We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. Politicians pushing an agenda fueled by twisted motives and passive aggressive tactics will not work. Pushing respectability politics to discredit us will not work. Having America’s favorite police chief write a letter defending our actions will not quiet us. It will not quiet us because this is bigger than commerce, this is bigger than politics, this is bigger than ending discriminatory policing, this is our fight for freedom. See us. See our humanity.

We are not here to ask for permission. We are not here to entertain opinions. We are not here to engage in every single small battle that presents itself daily but we are here to win the war for our liberation. We are not constrained by the concept of time as we make our own schedule. This movement is organic and it is ours. We disrupt the status quo to disrupt power structures and hit where it hurts most, the pockets. Just as a school depends on students to functionally operate, an oppressive system disguised as policing, for-profit prisons, laws and propaganda perpetuating the criminalization of black and brown bodies, poverty, and homelessness depends on the complacency and submission of people to keep power and operate. When we are no longer submissive and no longer complacent, the power structure is no longer functional. Just as a car runs on gas, we know that this system also runs on the fuel of economic commerce. This upsets some Nashvillians and scares others. Your fear does not dictate what the liberation of a people will look like. Here in lies our power, the power of the people. We will not stop until we get free. We will not stop until we see concrete change in our communities, in the policing of our communities, in the distribution and access of quality healthcare within these communities, in our schools, in the for-profit prison system disproportionately imprisoning our brothers and sisters, and in the distribution of the wealth that is built with our tax dollars as well and on the backs of our ancestors. We are a generation of sleeping giants who are waking up. Woe to those who try to stop us. We find this movement for black liberation to be one worth living for. And with tears in our eyes and a charge in the deepest parts of our heart and soul, we—the young people, call you to join with us—fight with us, strategize with us, and see us. This is only the beginning. The movement was birthed out of a moment and we will not stop. I close this letter with a quote that we use to close out our protests

It is our duty to fight for freedom.

It is our duty to win.

We must love and support one another.

We have NOTHING to lose but our chains.

-Assata Shakur


Jessica Sutton


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