History has consistently shown the world how they feel about the words certain people have to say. Often, it's due to some preconceived notion they placed on those people. Viewing them as weak or insignificant. Various people use their platforms as their opportunity to voice their concerns such as preachers, artists, speakers, activists, writers. I recently watched a news story about Lee Daniels' upcoming movie, "The United States vs. Billie Holiday." It's scheduled to debut on Hulu on February 26. In this film, Daniels takes viewers through the federal government's plot to silence Lady Day because of her song's beautiful yet controversial song "Strange Fruit." This song, first recorded in 1939, is still as impactful now as it was then and was written as a protest to lynching and various horrendous acts being committed against African Americans in the South. Listening to the lyrics of this song, you can instantly feel the gravity of the atrocities occurring during those times, but I had no idea the lengths our government went to silence her from highlighting such a vivid depiction of the world we lived in. Immediately after her first performance of "Strange Fruit" in a mixed New York crowd came the first threat from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, targeting jazz singers and musicians as they were typically presumed to be using drugs.
"Lady Sings the Blues," starring Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams, was one of my all-time favorite movies growing up, and I immediately became a huge fan of Billie Holiday's music. Her voice was like silk caressing each note. Through this film, you see that Lady Day did have a drug addiction, which I'm sure stemmed from traumas she experienced in her childhood. In "The United States vs. Billie Holiday," you learn that not only did the FBN attempted to suppress her wanting her to cease any further performances of "Strange Fruit," they had people connected to Billie Holiday plant drugs on her, including managers and romantic partners, one of which Jimmy Fletcher (undercover agent) and her ex-husband Louis McKay. The tactics used were extensive and all because the head of the FBN, Harry Anslinger, had a personal vendetta against Day and Jazz music saying "It sounded like the jungles in the dead of night," "unbelievably ancient indecent rites of the East Indies are resurrected" and "reek of filth." It made me think about how outside forces strongly encourage people of color to keep quiet and how our thoughts will come in to hinder us from speaking our truth about a situation, relationships, or even about ourselves.
Here in Graham's seemingly quiet city, similar practices occur within our police departments and sheriff's department with the Black Lives Matter movement. It's incredibly disheartening when the city you reside in has made national news because people perpetuate racist practices and beliefs. For instance, the City of Graham's ban on public protests in response to locals protesting the still standing confederate statue centrally located in Graham and adjacent to where Wyatt Outlaw, the first African American appointed town councilman, hanged in 1870. The Confederate monument is guarded 24 hours per day and has been for years. Like many other places nationally, the loss of Brother George Floyd and Sister Breonna Taylor ignited Alamance County's response to pursue the change this county so deserves. Protests occurred, with the opposition being law enforcement and counter-protesters. They kept on marching on October 31st, coordinating a rally to increase votes during the Presidential election. Marched they did, and anytime someone uses their voice to speak for underserved and marginalized people, arrests were made.
Law enforcement pepper-sprayed the crowd for not dispersing immediately after the 8 minutes 46 second kneel in honor of George Floyd. Law enforcement claims they sprayed towards the ground, but photos were taken, depicting them spraying directly into the crowd. Four cops arrested one person for using her bullhorn to sing to the county inmates, "We are ready for change." They charged her with disorderly conduct. Currently, she must be mindful of what she says and has mentioned that the local authorities have followed her and her loved ones to keep a watchful gaze to ensure she's "behaving." The community leader and organizer of the Black Lives Matter Movement, Reverend Drumright, was arrested on unfounded charges of assaulting a law enforcement officer, failure to disperse, and inciting a riot during the October "March to the Polls" event. The Sheriff and others have made it a point which side they stand and that they will stop at nothing to silence black and brown people in Alamance County. It appears they've determined and are comfortable with reminding POCs that our voices are irrelevant, which explains why many natives call our county "No Chance Alamance." Facing your demons is never a silent process, especially when being done to create lasting change for the well-being of all. History has long illustrated people's filthy actions when change is necessary and to silence change agents in pursuit of necessary lasting positive changes.
The same can be said with our mental health. Our minds can be a battlefield or paradise. It all depends on you. Depending on which location your mind is residing in can determine how and if you use your voice. Sigmund Fred's personality theory structures the human psyche into three parts:
Id, which consists of primitive instinctual components of our personalities and inherited traits and seeks pleasure. You know how stores have the candy bars in the check-out lane; they're tapping into this space of your psyche—a House of neurotic anxiety or unconscious fears.
The ego allows us to maintain a realistic balance between pleasure and pain. It also allows us to compromise with the Id. Essentially, it's our self-control center—a House of reality anxiety such as falling down a flight of stairs.
The superego balances our moral compass; comprises two categories of the ideal self and the conscience. The latter contains those images and thought patterns of how we ought to behave according to society's perception. Appears as feelings of guilt or shame.
I openly discuss the fact that I underwent 9 months of therapy. I can honestly say it was the hardest thing I ever endured. In each session and with each worksheet completed during my Cognitive processing Therapy, I had to face all the good, the bad, ugly, toxic straights I possess, traumas I suppressed, and traumas that still come to mind. Years before therapy, I actively allowed others and myself to silence me. At my worst, it was the reason my anxiety attacks steadily increased. Some of the things I would say to myself were so unkind and, at one point, made me feel as though my life wasn't worth living. I second-guessed nearly everything I said and did. Then when I would speak, I would criticize myself for even saying anything. These bouts would come during times of intense stress and were ultimately the result of not having proper boundaries within my relations, work included. All the while, no one was the wiser. I seemed fine, always silencing myself in sacrificial servitude to others and wearing my mask with a convincingly manufactured smile. With fear in my heart and prayer on my lips during those 9 months, I spoke to my inner demons (inner critic or superego) and told them they no longer had power over me. I knew this was something I had to overcome for me and my daughter. I will be someone she is proud to call Mom. When on the journey towards mental wellness, you must talk to your fear and remind it who you are and that it will not win. I realized that my mental state and negative thought patterns were the roots of me blocking my blessings. The more I pour positive affirmations over myself, the better I became, and the better I became, the freer I felt to use my voice. The first and most important conversation had to be with me before I came to this point. Battling the superego is intense! However, victory is attainable; you must do the work!
If you need a visual, and because this article is heavy, let's tap into the Disney kid in us all. Remember "The Little Mermaid"? Ariel gave Ursula her voice because Ariel didn't know its value until she no longer had it. Additionally, if it weren't important, then Ursula would have suggested something else in the negotiation. So, you have your voice. What or who is holding you back? Is it fear? It is a lie you're telling yourself? Who is your why? Going on the journey despite fear will allow you to persevere through any trial that comes along your path, whether to initiate change within your local area or an entire system, your relationships with others, or encouraging yourself to build an empire. Imagine if the many change agents had remained silent. Where would we be? I don't want to imagine it. The one thing that both racist systems and unhealthy mindsets want from you is your voice. Their main portal of suppression is through your mind. They both will attempt to beat you to a pulp, belittle you, weaken you, and anything to break you down in pursuit of suppression if you allow it. They may be Goliath, but they don't realize that you're David. You must own your power within you. Remind your fear who is in control. Do it with your voice!
Songs to inspire you:
Young, Black, and Gifted” -Donny Hathaway
“Black Gold” -Esperanza Spaulding
“Alright” -Kendrick Lamar
“A Great Work” -Brian Courtney Wilson