Kellie Carter Jackson Can't Breathe

Why I Can't Breathe and Why I'm Fighting Back

We benchmark history with violence. So often the watershed moments of historical record are steeped in violence. Classes are taught from slavery to the Civil War, from the Civil War to the Iraq War, from WW1 to WWII. We have classes for the time “in between the wars.”  We teach on Vietnam and the Cold War. We teach post-colonial classes which often become nothing more than a study on the uses, consequences, and lessons of violence.  Even when we teach about the Civil Rights Movement, we are not teaching about nonviolence, but about an orchestrated response to violence. Violence at the voting booth. Violence at the lunch counter. Violence that bombed churches and killed four little girls. Violence that left a bloated boy in an open casket. Violence that left a husband and father murdered in his driveway. Violence that became the “War on Drugs.” Violence against our struggle to accumulate wealth. Violence against our environments and health. In black America, we benchmark our oppression with violence. Indeed, violence has become the fluid that propels us along from moments to movements, from funerals to fury.
In the timely words of Franz Fanon, “We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.” I’m fighting back because, when they told me, “It’s a boy!”  I realized I couldn't catch my breath. I’m fighting back because sometimes being black is a suffocating experience. I’m fighting back with my writing. I’m fighting back with my purchases. I’m fighting back with what I create and produce.I’m fighting back because I understand that racism is violence. I want to breathe. I need to breathe. We need to breathe. And years from now when we historians evaluate this moment, this movement, they can judge us by our responses to violence.

Kellie Carter Jackson,  Transition Editorial Board member and assistant professor of history at Hunter College-CUNY.


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