I was first introduced to the words “Controversy with Civility” as a freshman student at UCF. As a part of my leadership program, we had to learn about the “7 C’s of Change,” which includes this concept. This idea basically says that great leaders (and followers of great leaders) know how to engage in controversial or difficult conversations while still being respectful and valuing the opinions of others. If I can be honest, this was the hardest “C” for me to put into practice as an emerging leader. Confession time: I HATE conflict and/or confrontation. But that is an entirely separate post for another time.
Anyway, this post was inspired by a “controversial” conversation that I had recently with two of my dear friends, who are both #BrilliantBlackGirls. We were discussing the recent murder of #KorrynGaines and each of us seemed to have a very different perspective. Now my friends across the board usually know how I am going to respond when it comes to issues of police brutality and systemic injustice against POC and this instance was no different. When asked how I felt about Korryn’s murder, I shared my usual sentiments when Black people are victims of a system that was never designed to protect them– I am angry, enraged, outraged and when these emotions become too heavy– I may even become numb. I shared these sentiments and expected that my friends would feel the same. However, this was not the case.
One of my friends holds a J.D., thus she provided the legal perspective of the case and shared how it would be perceived from a criminal law point of view. We talked at length about the videos of Korryn’s traffic stop and how the armored White men came to her door and murdered her. We also discussed our varying views of White supremacy and systemic oppression, which is a HUGE button for me. We even debated about how we might handle the situation if we had children. While her statements made logical sense, they did not feel right to me. I knew that what she was saying was valid and reflective of what she knew to be true in her field, but for me, as an advocate and racial justice activist, it didn’t seem to encompass the anger and rage that I feel day-to-day while fighting for Black lives. Another friend, whom also holds a Master’s degree, shared her thoughts and basically said the she could see both sides of what we were saying. The conversation was seemingly harmless.
However, if I can be honest, talking to my friends about #KorrynGaines greatly angered me. I did not understand how we could all share this identity and space of #BlackWomanhood, knowing the statistics of Black women being targeted by police and not share equal levels of outrage. I did not understand how they did not seem to understand me. At this moment, “Controversy with Civility” went out of the door. I didn’t want to be calm, collected and peaceful– I wanted my anger and outrage to be validated because yet another sister had been murdered at the hands of police that were supposed to protect her. Yes, I know #KorrynGaines had a gun that she was licensed to carry. Yes, I know that she engaged in fire exchange with the officers at her door. Knowing these things does NOT alleviate White supremacy and the privilege that White people experience everyday when they point guns at and shoot officers but somehow live to tell about it. Granted, I am NOT saying that people should just be allowed to shoot or threaten cops. This defeats the purpose of the movement. However, #KorrynGaines did not get the same treatment as Joseph Houseman, E.J. Watson, Jesse Deflorio, Jed Frazier and Julia Shields— all White people who pointed guns/shot at officers and lived to tell about it.
As a result, in true introvert fashion, I retreated inside of my own head and waited out the duration of the conversation. Basically– I. Shut. Down. I could feel myself retreating from the conversation with shorter and more abrupt responses. Unfortunately, shutting down comes so easily for me. When I am overwhelmed or do not have the exact words in the moment to say what I feel (which is another sign of extreme introversion)– I shut down. Given that this conversation was not happening face to face, it was easy to hide behind my computer screen and move on to another topic. But that was the thing– once the conversation was over, I could not move on. I could not let it go. I was up (over) thinking for hours after we ended the conversation, thinking of all of the “comebacks” or explanations that I could have given an hour earlier if my mind and heart were not racing so quickly in opposite directions that they could not seem to catch up to each other.
I shared this anecdote to say this– when engaging in this work, or any other work related to fighting against the oppression of marginalized groups, do not beat yourself up if “Controversy with Civility” seems to escape you in the moment. In addition to the racist undertones of the word “civil” for POC, I just do not feel that I must be “civil” in order for my voice to be heard. I should not have to be tone policed or feel like my points won’t be seen as valid if they are not delivered in a certain way. Discussing racial injustice and police brutality is painful and exhausting. It does not have to be accompanied by well-devised thoughts when all of your emotions are overflowing. Be angry. Be loud. Retreat and disconnect when needed. There isn’t a free handbook for coping with racial oppression (yet). We are all out here just trying to survive. Literally.
So, how do you engage in discourse about Black lives? It is one thing to disagree with a troll on the internet. But it hits differently when it comes from loved ones and friends. How do you process it all? I am still trying to figure it out.
RIP #KorrynGaines. I will continue to #SayYourName.