By Prentiss Haney.
Its hard for me to think about the #MillionManMarch without recalling an essay by Keith Boykin in his 2012 black gay anthology, For Colored Boys. In the essay titled, “When I Dare to Be Powerful,” Boykin recalls his experience of planning and leading a rally of nearly 300 black gay men on the day of Million Man March in 1995. As Boykin stated, “we were tired of being left out the conversation, or quietly discouraged from acknowledging our participation, in our community,” and his sentiments ranging loudly among the black queer folks in attendance that day. He spoke of an energy that triumphed the fear of remaining silent. Without parade permits or permission, they took the streets. They chanted, “We’re Black! We’re gay! We wouldn’t have it any other way!” as they marched down ninth street toward the Mall. Keith Boykin had no idea what the hundreds of thousands of black men at the Mall would do upon their arrival, but they marched on without fear.
As they marched into the Mall toward the front of the rally, a crowd parted to allow them in. Keith Boykin and his group of black gay men had showed visibility for our community and that day created a space for themselves.
However, what Keith Boykin and his group did that day was not the Million Man March. It was an act of resistance to Million Man March for the erasure of our queer community. The Million Man March did not stand up for these brothers, but merely tolerated their presence because they demanded to not be erased.
That’s the Million Man March in 1995. So what are we celebrating in 2015?
As a black queer person and a community organizer, I have three major tiffs with the 2015 #JusticeOrElse Million Man March Celebration. Here’s why:
1. Marching for Organizational Power or People Power
Let me first say this, we did not need a “million man” march in 2015 from the NOI or for that matter, anyone one else! The tactic of bringing millions (*coughs* thousands) of people to our national capital to protest and demand for systemic change is a failed tactic in 2015.
Yes. In 1963, it was a tactic that woke the minds of the masses and made the powers that be move on legislation because in 1963 that was people power. The state had not seen mass movements of people like that before and did not know how to response. However, once the State has adapted to your tactic, you must change your tactics.
Yes. In 1995, the tactic was semi-usefully because media still cared about mass movements of people even though the powers that be did not see that as power evident in mass demonstrations by million to end the war (Vietnam, Iraq, etc.) was not a direct correlation with ending these wars.
In 2015, neither media nor power movers care if we turn out a “million” folks to march, that display of mobilization alone does not shift/challenge power. Honestly, it is a waste of resources, built up a pillared of egos by folks/organizations who choose to believe that massive march still matters.
What would it look like it the “Or Else?” was that we cancel this march and use all the resources we would have leveraged for the march to build up strong communities organizations to dismantle institutional racism at the state and local level. Now, that is power!
But, that would have never happened. There are too many egos to let go of a name or a tactic that has long since died along the Civil Rights Movement.
2. The Rhetoric Leaves More to be Desired
It’s easy to call it a rally or call to action to demand for change. “Justice or else?” phrase allows us not critical assess the nature of the call because the urgent need to act is present in the rhetoric. A celebration of the past would called us to reflect and be critical about what the Million Man March really did for us in 1995 and who it left out the conversation. If framed as a celebration, there wouldn’t be much to celebrate for women, queer and trans folks since they were never apart of it from the beginning. But the NOI knew it would be a hard sell to get folks to “celebrate” a March that had a sexist, homophobic and transphobic past and present in some ways.
3. I’m Queer as Fuck and NOI Just Isn’t
When I read Keith’s essay, I see perseverance and strength. Those brothers were brave to show up for our community in a real way in 1995. However, that’s not the space NOI created 1995, they created a space of exclusion which forced folks to show up. I am not celebrating that history; furthermore, I will not show up in 2015 to fight for the same visibility for an organization that doesn’t understand me. There are real issues happening now that require my attention more than a #MillionManMarch. Kiesha Jenkins, a black trans woman, was just murdered in Philly. This violence perpetuated against trans women of color is, in part, lead by black men. If NOI really cared about #JusticeOrElse then they would do something about our trans women being murdered. Tell your brothers to stop killing our sisters. However, when your organization doesn’t stand in true solidary with women, black queers, and trans* folks, then you don’t even know the issues we are facing.
So go and have you Million Man March while I sip my tea and wait for the real freedom fighters to please stand up.
Prentiss Haney is a Community Organizer from Dayton Ohio. Follow Prentiss @back2thenia on Twitter.