But this time, my better judgment was wrong. Similar to how I felt when I summoned up the courage to see “12 Years a Slave” for the first time, I thought I’d be better off watching “Selma” with other Black folks, in the comfort of my Blackness. It never even occurred to me to watch this film with a White person.
But this White girl is a client and I consider her a friend, so when she invited me to a screening of the movie, despite my nagging better judgment, I accepted, My issue with seeing the film with her had nothing to do with her, and everything to do with me.
Can I sit through the film without showing emotion (rage, pain, tears)? Should I stifle those feelings so she won’t know how I’m REALLY feeling? What if, like during 12 Years A Slave, I come unglued? Is that going to be awkward for her? For me?
Sometimes, it’s hard to be real and transparent with White people around issues of race, racism, and especially those taboo subjects that you don’t dare touch (like the Third Rail of the Metra train) like White privilege and systemic racism. They just don’t get it and it is exhausting for me to always try to be “Captain Save-A-Racist”.
“Yes, I’d love to go”.
And I’m glad I did. We took the slightly-over- an-hour train ride together and then caught a cab to the theater. We arrived early enough to have dinner and a glass of wine before the movie started, enjoy catching up with each other’s lives, new jobs, kids, etc., and then…we watched “It”.
But, during the movie, not only did I not worry about letting my guard down in front of her (and the many, many other White people in the theater), I also forgot anybody else was there. I was consumed by the moment and caught up in the reality of it all. The reality that the Civil Rights Movement was not some glorious moment where Dr. King and his posse rode into town, gave a few moving speeches, organized a march or two, and White America rose to the altruistic occasion and enacted the Voting Rights Act. The reality of what those, just one and two generations before me, endured for the right to vote. For the dignity of self-determination. And I reminded myself of the reality of the fact that Black people are still in that very same struggle today, some 50 years later.
And I let the emotions out, unencumbered. I jumped with shock at the bombing of the church where four little Black girls were killed because some White people and a White-constructed system didn’t believe their Black lives mattered.
I felt the rage from watching Black women and men beaten like rabid dogs and assaulted by the “protect and serve” police for daring to peacefully demonstrate for the dignity of self-determination.
I felt deep, raw pain and cried when the young man was shot, point blank, by the police after he ran to perceived safety from the police beatings. His mother cried, and I cried with her, because I have two sons whose Black lives matter, if only to God and me and my husband.
I felt resolved to go deeper and wider in 2015 in speaking out against racism, White privilege, poverty, and marginalization in America. I felt resolved to turn a mirror on White America and disabuse them of any semblance of notion of a post-racial America.
And finally, I felt grateful that I watched this movie with my White friend. Not to make her feel bad for how dirty her people have been and continue to be. And most certainly not to make her feel good that her peeps came through and “helped a sister out” by granting little ole Black me the right to vote (even as currently, her peeps are slowly, but surely, dangerously dismantling key provisions of the Voting Rights Act).
But I was grateful that I watched it with her, because as we dialogued about the film afterwards, I came to believe that she too, felt the pain and rage of the visual of what the Civil Rights Movement was, and that real people—innocent people—suffered greatly in the pursuit of what she could always take for granted: Her God-given right to vote and to “move about the cabin” free from oppression.
And I was grateful because she got the irony of the events of then, and the events of today.
To be sure, this is not any old White woman. She and her husband adopted two beautiful little Black girls and so she has a vested interest in trying to understand the Black Experience in America. But I believe that she could envision her precious daughters inside that Birmingham church. And I believe that she could envision her husband and herself marching alongside Dr. King, Dr. Abernathy, John Lewis, and all the others, as many White allies did, facing the same beatings and death threats.
And THAT right there…that level of empathy…is what I believe it will take to continue to get traction in the “Civil Rights Movement – Remixed” that Black folks find themselves embattled in now.
Just like in the movie “A Time To Kill”, as more White people see their husbands, their wives, their brothers and sisters, and for sure, their sons as the possible victims of an oppressive system, there will be increased numbers of White allies in this movement with us. My job is keep that mirror turned to help them see.
And like my White girlfriend knows, they’ll know, that Black Lives Matter.