Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg passed away on September 18th, and my immediate reaction — like so many others — was a mix of anger, fear, sadness, and exhaustion. Anger because the moral high ground of the Supreme Court should not have solely rested on her shoulders, anger because she held on valiantly through continuous rounds of chemotherapy for our nation, and that her tireless sacrifice could be so easily undone. Fear because I clearly remember what happened in 2016 with Merrick Garland, in 2017 with Neil Gorsuch, and in 2018 with Brett Kavanaugh. I also felt immense sadness, knowing that collectively we lost a wonderful human being, a pioneer for women — and even more specifically for Jewish women. We lost someone who wanted nothing more than to right the severe injustices that plagued minority communities or generations. We lost a pioneer. I, like so many others who chose a life of civic engagement and politics, upon hearing of Justice Ginsburg’s passing, felt numb for a second before the shock and the tears started. I, like many others, thought a few weeks ago when Congressman Lewis passed away, that he was going to be the last moral compass to leave us before election day. I was drained knowing what was coming next and why this election was even more important, even more relevant than it was only a few hours prior. Like many of my fellow political sisters and brothers, I was and still am in an immense amount of pain.
I started working in politics when I was 19, but really I started caring about politics and civil/human rights at an early age, before I even fully understood what those terms meant or what I was fighting for. For example, I didn’t realize that I was fighting for my right to even exist in the world until 2008. I didn’t realize that I was fighting for a seat — at any table or countertop — because I was a black woman until 2008 either. But I inherently knew these things; I knew that racism and sexism existed and that I was always going to be marginalized. I innately knew that, but I couldn’t fully understand why. I couldn’t understand the ethos that went into slavery, segreation, redlining, experimentation on Black bodies, the swath of African Americans inprisioned and without access to basic human rights. I grew up in a relatively well-off household, surrounded by family and endless opportunities. I was able to learn so much from being around my grandparents. I was able to attend diverse schools and engage in activities that allowed me to move around the various sandboxes that growing up in New York had to offer. I could talk endlessly about how wonderful it was to grow up in New York as a Black child, because those are the only memories I have of a life where things were on solid ground. When I turned 12, my perfect world that my parents worked so hard to curate fell apart, and for the first time, I had to understand what it really meant to be a Black Woman in America. Most importantly, I finally understood why I had to fight, why it was my duty to raise awareness and why it’s still my duty to help those who look like me, but are not as privileged as I am, real or perceived.
While these events have shaped my life, how I interact with people, how I see my place in society, it has taken years to get to a place where I stopped letting these moments define me. Black women are often defined or viewed through very restrictive and myopic lenses that turn any type of imperfection into an automatic statistic. In my case, the lens looks a lot like this:
- At 12, about 3 years after my parents divorced, my father, who I grew up admiring and was very close with, suffered a mental breakdown/serious bout of depression and because of his general recklessness and disregard for anyone else’s life — decided to rob a bank. Because my father also happened to be the former head of security at Columbia University, not only was it on the evening news, but also in the newspaper the following Monday. My world was shattered; my mother did everything she could to keep our lives as normal as possible, which she did so well for so long. Years of therapy would finally bring me away from the shame of having a father in prison and not at home and trying to move away from the trope of being “a broken good.” I never spoke about it publicly until I accepted an award for my work on social justice issues in 2017 and finally decided to own my truth. It’s still something I don’t bring up because I don’t want my story in life to be “she overcame” this, or someone took pity on myself/my family and helped us through this crisis. They didn’t because I kept this pain — this embarrassment, close to the chest for almost 14 years, until one day my colleague found me outside of a bar (we were all having pre-election drinks), and I was sobbing uncontrollably because he was released from prison. There was so much emotional turmoil associated with this man, that I allowed myself to be consumed for years by it. I don’t have a relationship with my father and will never try to pursue one, but growing up without him in my life has created a vacuum that I didn’t know needed to be filled, but instilled a fear in me that I would be someone who gets lost or overlooked in society. That I was broken, that I did something wrong.
- When I turned 13, I was sexually assaulted by a classmate, someone who I had known since third grade. What followed was a year of bullying from childhood friends who were now calling me a “slut” for something that I did not consent to — something that still haunts me to this day. That sadly, was not the only instance of sexual assault that I experienced. In college, I was sexually assaulted and raped by someone I considered to be a mentor and refused to go to the police and kept it quiet because he was a powerful man in Atlanta politics, and later national politics. This was long before any mention of #MeToo, but I knew that if I said anything my political career would be over before it even started. A few years ago, I found out that he assaulted a close friend of mine, who knew what happened to me. I had never felt so responsible for someone else’s trauma, because I was too cowardly to act when the DC police asked me if I wanted to file a report with them. As a young Black woman, I had already begun to see how devalued I was in society, but most importantly, if not ironically in Black society’s eyes — I knew no one would care about what happened to me, to her, or to the other’s he took advantage of.
I fight and I care because, if anyone else experienced just a fraction of what I did, and did not come from a place of privilege, they would be forgotten by society because of the stigma and the tropes attached to it. I fight because I am one of the very lucky ones who is able to. I fight because I have the privilege that comes from being light-skinned and well-educated. I fight because I realized when I was 12 that no one else was going to come to my rescue.
So what does this have to do with the election, and why I got involved in politics, and why this election is so important, and why the passing of Justice Ginsburg and Congressman Lewis were so painful? There is no place for someone like me in the America Donald J. Trump and Mitch McConnell are hell bent on creating.
In Donald Trump’s America, any Black woman who experienced just a fraction of what I did would be told that you only have two options, and one of them doesn’t include going to college. I am not special; there are thousands of women just like me trying to find their place in this world. Who felt hopeful in 2008. Who saw themselves in Michelle Obama, but also in Susan Rice and Valerie Jarrett? Women who want to change the world, but are constantly being told that they aren’t good enough by society. Who are battered mentally and physically just because of their gender and race, but keep doing the work because they know that if they don’t, no one else will. For myself and for them, it’s not about tax brackets; it’s about fighting for our survival. Period.
We fight because every 73 seconds, an American is either sexually assaulted or raped. We fight because we allowed the Senate to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. We fight because the halls of Congress and the White House are filled with racists and white supremists. We fight because while progress has been made by standing on the shoulders of giants like RBG and Congressman Lewis, it can be taken away in a heartbeat. We fight because we already see the civil war taking place that has been brewing since the “end” of the Civil Rights Movement. We’re fighting for climate change, and because our children in Flint, MI still do not have clean drinking water, and countless more are living in environmentally compromised communities. We fight because out of the 200,000 Americans killed by COVID-19, BIPOC communities are and will continue to be the hardest hit. I fight because of Breonna Taylor, because she is me and I am her. We fight because we are Black Women. We are and will continue to be the ones leading these movements from behind, because if we don’t no one else will. We are fighting so that the cycle of trauma caused by the prison industrial complex and by laws created to serve and protect the white, cis- patriarchy can be broken. I’m fighting so that one day, my children won’t have to.
This is why the election is so important, but why this work doesn’t stop after election day. I started working in politics when I was 19. I’m now 30. I will never stop, but just because I’m not stopping doesn’t mean that you can sit back and be a passive participant in rebuilding America’s democracy. If anything, me not stopping should be a motivator to you, that you have zero excuse. That if you’ve gone through unspeakable trauma that you still have power and that you’re not broken and that you can create tangible and meaningful change. We have 45 days to take the White House, the Senate, and the House back. We have 45 days to elect Governors, Mayors, Sheriffs, School Board leaders who will actually serve our best interests. We have 45 days to start a new chapter of America. The legends passed away giving us instructions on how to move forward, and it was to fight. It was to vote. It was to be present. It was not to surrender to things that you know are morally and inherently wrong.
It was a call to action, and the time is now.
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