As the nation erupts in unrest and protests over police brutality against Black people, Cosmopolitan asked Tiffany D. Jackson, the critically-acclaimed author of young adult books Allegedly, Monday’s Not Coming, Let Me Hear a Rhyme, and Grown, to write a message to young Black women in America. Here’s what she had to say.
A couple of months ago, I was texting a friend in Australia during their widespread bushfires, begging her to come back to New York. “It’s just not safe,” I said. “You can’t even breathe!”
She simply replied, “No. I need to bear witness,” referring to the way her government poorly handled the crisis, ignoring scientists warnings about global warming’s potential impact. Her need to “see” was rooted in her deep love for her people and country.
Now here I am, watching my own city on fire. A fire that should have taken no one by surprise. Our nation has been creeping toward this inevitable explosion for over a century. As my friend once put it, America is a pressure cooker set on high. These protests that spread throughout the nation speak to the pain Black people have experienced. This isn’t just about Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, or George Floyd. As author Jason Reynolds wrote, “This is about a system that exists within this country that makes our lives seemingly a bit more expendable to the eyes of people in authoritative power who happen, most times, to be white.”
In the midst of all this good trouble, I think of you young folk, wondering what you’re possibly making of all this. What you are internalizing, what messages are being sent and lost…and I worry. Because this is a pivotal, purposeful moment and I don’t want you to miss one second of it. Some will say you are too young to fully comprehend and I say you are in the perfect position to be a catalyst for the change we need. We adults…we’re a bit harder to move. It’s difficult to change decades of programming, even if we need to try. But you still have the opportunity to be better than we ever were. You are literally our only hope. But the only way to truly change anything is to believe that there is a problem. And sometimes seeing is truly believing.
We can’t keep looking away. We can’t keep muting. If we don’t bear witness to these moments of injustice, they have the opportunity to repeat themselves. But don’t watch in search of the violence or looting, watch for the tender moments and positivity: Protestors doing the Cupid Shuffle in the middle of Newark, the cleanup in Minnesota, the neighbors who offer water and food on the side of the road, the kids who saved my local Target…that’s the core of who we really are.
If you’re afraid and confused, that’s understandable. You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t. But on the other side of fear is bravery. On the other side of confusion is knowledge and power. Maybe you are unsure what to do or really what you can do in this moment when there’s so many conflicting suggestions.
Here’s my advice— first, be encouraged that you are not alone. Second, arm yourself with facts and history. Knowledge is king! You have the capacity to teach others and even adults how to be better humans. Lastly, the only thing you truly have to do is keep being your remarkable selves.
I’m Black. My father, mother, brother, and everyone in between are Black. I love being Black. It’s the absolute coolest thing ever. We were blessed with rhythm, color, seasoning, and beauty. Whenever I speak to Black girls, while visiting schools, detention centers, or in my neighborhood, I remind them of just how awesome, courageous, and straight-up dope we are. The way others mimic our dances, our hair, our music, our style…it’s undeniable. I love us! Even in the midst of screaming, “No Justice, No Peace,” even when I’m weary and exhausted from seeing us hunted like animals…if asked, I would still choose to be Black over and over again.
Last night, I stepped outside my Brooklyn apartment building, listening to the chanting up the street, the pop of firecrackers, the screaming cop sirens as a helicopter circle for the billionth time. Friends and family from all over have asked me to leave. And I say no.
I, too, need to bear witness.
Illustrations by Jade Pearl.
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