When I awoke on the morning of July 6th and from my smartphone watched the cold-blooded murder of Alton Sterling I was moved to tears. I remember lying in the bed with my face buried in a pillow, weeping. I wept not only for Alton, but for the countless other names dwindled down to hash tags. My sorrow poured out not just for modern day martyrs but also for all of the ancestors whose lives were taken because of injustice. For what felt like 20 minutes I wept, and let my tears pour out libations to the ancestors. But like many others my sorrow couldn’t stop me from fulfilling my obligations at home and at work, so I sucked it up and made it happen, as best I could.
I must admit I was on high alert. My Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS) was in action and I was experiencing all sorts of symptoms. By the time the day ended I was ready for a new day, a new start and a better future. Unfortunately when July 7th rolled around, yet another life had been turned into a hash tag. This time Philando Castile’s life had been taken by systematic racism. Even though I had been advised against it, I watched the video.
I watched the strength and the despair of the black woman, live and direct. I watched this woman deal with the harsh reality of the war on black people. I watched this woman report facts, ask questions, state truth in the face of lies, and restrict her emotions for the safety of herself and her child. It was in her restraint that I felt our connection to the women of our past. In her restraint I felt the mothers whose sons and fathers were abducted and shipped away, never to be seen again. In her restraint I felt the women who were swallowed up by the sea in the middle passage. In her restraint I felt the enslaved women with full wombs who watched their men be castrated, torn apart by horses, whipped, lynched, and burned. In her restraint I felt the women forced to carry babies created by hate and rape, just to have them torn from their arms. In her I felt the pain of countless mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives who had to restrain their natural emotion to preserve their life. And so more libations had to be paid.
As I soaked my pillow and muted my moans my PTSS kicked in again. Thoughts of my husband on public transportation and the idea of letting my two young daughters go on their summer camp hike with the SFPD intensely frightened me. Imaging my brothers commuting to and from work, my nephews driving while black, my students catching the bus, anybody breathing while black brought me extreme anxiety and fear. I even called my husband requesting he check in throughout the day so I knew he was safe. I was once again on high alert. But just as the woman in the video I had to restrain my natural emotion to preserve my life. But there was no way I would continue with business as usual. I would not remain silent, I needed to proclaim that Black Lives Matter.
As I got ready for work I put on my Black Lives Matter t-shirt and began to put on my makeup. I applied the concealer around my eyes and thought to myself “Oh no, if I cry again my face will be ruined.” At that moment I made a mental note to shed no tears. But as I applied my eyeliner, I again felt the pain of the black women whom had come and gone before me. Again I told myself, shed no tears. Looking deeply into my own eyes I was compelled to apply a solitary black dot underneath my right eye.
This dot reminded me of the teardrops that are often used to represent life taken by your own hands. But my black dot was representative of the black lives taken by the hands of the oppressor. My black dot was representing the tears I must hold back to survive. But that one dot was not enough to express the loss suffered by the black community. That one dot was just a drop in the sea of lost souls. So I began to apply black dots all around my eyes, each dot representing one thousand tears I held back for all the stolen lives. My grief was now visible, and as I completed the frame around my eyes I no longer had to hold back my tears.
The black dots in formation created the mask I needed to face the world. They were a visual representation of my disapproval of the senseless killings. The black dots in formation created a frame for the truth colored glasses I must wear. They were my authentic true self. The black dots in formation created a reminder that we are more than black, we are African. They proclaim that you don’t value black life because you never valued the African.
And with that I took to FaceBook and posted this selfie and these words:
“Just in case y’all forgot #BlackLivesMatter We are who we been waiting for.
Each black dots represents one thousand tears I clench back for those slaughtered in the streets. We as the Mothers Daughters Sisters and Wives carry the sorrow and fear day by day. But these black dots in unity and formation represent the strength and the fight.
I got on my #WarPaint Don’t give up the fight!”
At first I told myself I would only wear my war paint on the day a black person was killed. This way if I was unable to participate in a march or an organized protest I could still stage my own walking protest. But as fate would have it, two more deaths were brought to my attention. That meant two more days of war paint, two more days of my personal protest.
As the days of violence continued, I continued with my peaceful, personal, protest. In painting my face I was connecting the dots. I was announcing to the world that I am awake, I see the world clearly, and I have an obligation to choose justice. I was connecting the dots of the current struggle to the struggle of our history. Connecting the dots of our current black life to the original African life. Making visible my connection to the struggle, and my awareness of the war. Connecting the dots between myself and other warrior women who deal with the burdens of war everyday. It was connecting me to the people.
People would see me and frown, or smile, or stare. They would make comments like “Oh that’s cute, though” or “I like your little African thing.” They would question, “What you got going on with your face?” or “So, you gonna wear these dots everyday?” These questions and comments provided an opportunity to make connections. Not just verbally, but intellectually and emotionally. This was my opportunity to bring awareness to the oppression. To help people connect the dots between systematic racism/global white supremacy and the killing of my people. This was the opportunity to help people connect the dots between the dehumanization of an entire people and the projected fear of the white psyche. This simple act of dotting my face with war paint was the key for connecting the dots of the struggle to my everyday life.
On July 21st after two weeks of wearing war paint everyday, posting daily on social media and dozens of conversations, I decided to challenge my network to join in my personal protest. I took to FaceBook and posted this public post:
“I see people liking the #WarPaint pics but hardly anyone has answered the question:
What’s your #PersonalProtest?
So I CHALLENGE my sistah’s of the diaspora to join me in MY personal protest by adorning the makeup of our origin. You don’t have to wear it everyday. But take at least one day to wear the dots of your choosing. And be mindful of the struggle, the victories, the martyrs, the history, the glory and the honor of our people. And be intentionally Afrikan! Because there wouldn’t be any #BlackLivesMatter if they hadn’t devalued the life of the Afrikan first. Ya dig?
If you are down then take a pic and tag me. I wanna see my #WarriorWomen It is truly A Love Supreme!”
It has now been 20 days, and the intrigue and vainglory have worn off. There are days I wake up and think, “I am really still doing these dots?” Yes! This is what a protest feels like. This is just a fraction of what the 13-month Montgomery Bus Boycott felt like. It is a sacrifice, it is a commitment, and it is a tool for change. It is an intentional act in support of a desired goal. I’m A Walking Protest; I’m steady in my personal protest – war paint everyday. I stand for justice everywhere I go. It’s not a game, it’s our lives.
Take the CHALLENGE: Start #ConnectingTheDots! Post a pic of yourself in #WarPaint and stage a #PersonalProtest and declare #BlackLivesMatter
#ImAWalkingProtest #WarPaint everyday!