By Guest blogger Ayofemi Kirby
For the first time in a very long time, I cried about the state of affairs. On the day when my country turned its back on the plight of my ancestors — both living and dead — by confirming an explicit racist to be the bearer of justice, I couldn’t stop the tears from falling. The last time I cried like this was the day I saw Philando Castile dying.
It happened during a conversation with one of my closest sexagenarian friends who, as a newsman, has experienced history that feels more recent by the day and told its stories in real time. Since last July and for some reason, I only get emotional around those who have a few decades on me. It’s something about looking in their eyes and sensing all the untold stories of survival, perseverance, resistance and resilience that the words “I am sorry. I am so, so sorry we have let you down” get stuck in my throat and seep through my tear ducts. They are also the only ones I give a benefit of the doubt to dare utter the words “everything will be ok” and refrain from rolling my eyes out of respect for their hustle.
As my friend and I discussed current events with headlines scrolling over the Brady Briefing Room on a big screen in the background, I couldn’t hold back the tears. As soon as I brought up bringing children into this world, the saltwater flowed.
Most people know that I’m a pretty tough, poker faced cookie. My own roller coaster of life experiences, understanding and mistrust of the human condition to provide comfort have trained me to be a staunch realist: never too high and never too low. It is what it is. But there’s something so disturbing to me about a future shaped by these mad men, that nearly brings me to my knees.
As we continued to talk and the tears dried up, my friend encouraged me to share my voice as part of “the resistance” and discussed the ways in which he and his wife are sharing theirs. I was back to the reality of the present by then, so I just blankly stared as he fluctuated between being hopeful and heartbroken that his friends and belief in his country had too, let him down. And that’s when I I said it. I looked at him, took a sip of my cherry Coke, and said, “you know, to me, America isn’t worth fighting for.”
I continued, “As someone who has considered herself an advocate. Who at one point believed that things could really change. Who fought to show others how they can really impact and influence their democracy. Who loves history and the stories we share from it. I really no longer believe this system and this country is worth fighting for.”
And then the tears began again.
To me, the attitudes, beliefs and deliberate actions that have placed us in our current situation have absolutely nothing to do with me. The majority of Americans did what they were supposed to do in this last election. But the system as it is currently structured prevented our voices from being heard and our votes from being counted. We can call, yell, march, argue, tweet and Facebook post all we want, but the reality is that we are facing a behemoth of a battle in how apeshit these fools are going to go on this country’s laws and constitution. I wish I was more optimistic about the change we can all believe in now, but you can thank that roller coaster of reality for ending that for me.
And that’s when he said it. To save you some time and me some words, my friend pretty much said to me, “America might not be worth fighting for, but your light is.”
And that’s when it happened. Finally I felt a tinge of something fresh. For a moment it wasn’t all doom and gloom and I remembered how excited I used to be about people coming together to change our world for the better. I remembered how hopeful and positive I used to be about my neighbors, about engaging with the civic leaders who helped shape our experiences. I remembered the optimism I felt about all our futures the night Barack Obama was elected President of the United States.
A decade later from all of that, I admit, my light was gone, or at least it has been severely dimmed.
And that is what real life can do and what all we’ve experienced over the past decade has done to me, and probably, in some ways to you too. No matter how hard we try, we cant escape it. It’s everywhere. The mistrust and distrust of our institutions, of the people who we believed were our friends but for whom outright racism wasn’t enough for them to think about how their vote would affect the rest of us. For the elected officials who have been so hesitant to take a real stand for what’s right until the roof was on fire, for those who are meant to keep us safe, but whose judgement we question if we called them for help and ended up hurt, or even worse, dead. For the lies our newsmen and newswomen let slip by, for the now uncertain future ripping the fabric of America apart at every seam.
It’s hard to escape the darkness. It’s really, really hard to hold on to the light.
But as my friend reminded me that, God willing, this future I’m so uncertain about and this country I have no will to fight for, is one that only one of us will see, I began to change my perspective. When he shared the story of his grandmother shielding him from death in the south at the age of five, he reminded me that in moments like those, she wasn’t fighting for America, she was fighting for his light. If only a small shift, it was almost like he reminded me of who I used to be. It was like he took a little bit of his flickering flame and relit my fire.
To be honest with you, I’m still pretty disenchanted with everything. I work in media, so I cant completely tune out the news. But I will say that slowly his words are affecting me. “Femi, you have to fight for your light.” I love and respect him, and am now really thinking about what that means to and for me.
With all the lies on which America has been built. With all the overt and hidden racism and ignorance most don’t want to admit led us to this moment. With all the disgust I feel for pretty much everything right now, I still don’t believe America is worth fighting for. But you know, my friend’s words helped me realize that maybe I have it all wrong. That everyone I admire and who fought before me in ways small and great, weren’t really fighting for America, they were fighting for their light. I realize now, that my light is worth the fight, my friend’s light is worth the fight, my ancestors’ light is worth the fight, and yours is too.
It’s that light that at moments throughout history, like the election of our first Black president, or the signing of a law that gave 20 million people healthcare, or the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, have allowed America to shine.
So, you probably wont see me at the next march — been there done that — but you can trust that I’ll be somewhere, doing something, continuing to fight for my light. My light matters to me, and no one’s darkness is important or powerful enough to dim it. And to be honest, I’m understanding and accepting now, that means I’ll be fighting for America’s light too.
You can follow Femi on Twitter: @Ayofemi