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Art Education

Fighting For Our Lives

February 2, 2015
Michael Smith

Following last weeks post from Jezel Lopez we are delighted to continue a series of blog posts by High School Students from the Gotham Professional Arts Academy in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The students attended our public art performance by Dread Scott this past October in DUMBO. Over the course of the following weeks the students organized a series of “Town Hall” meetings to address the recent racial tension and social injustice. Today’s guest blogger is Michael Smith.

Everyday people of color, specifically men of the African diaspora, have to live in fear. Fear of stepping outside and losing our lives, either by someone who looks like us or due to the police killing us, as if we’re prey to be hunted mercilessly without a second thought. Unfortunately this keeps occurring to mainly the young men of color, like myself, who are trying to live our lives. This is extremely difficult to do when we’re dropping dead like flies, thus giving us more reasons to live in fear. The fact that innocent people of color are being murdered without honor, while their murders are walking around not suffering any consequences for killing someone’s son or daughter is sickening. To know that our own society can place value of our lives and find it worth nothing is an issue that must be addressed. Many people have chosen to fight for change through protest similar to Martin Luther King, Jr., who used peaceful protests to empower fellow people of color to create social justice during the African-American Civil Rights Movement (1954–68). There was a discussion in my own school between artist Dread Scott and my fellow peers about racism and the way that young people of color are being murdered and their murderers aren’t punished in anyway. Now more than ever we as people of the African diaspora have the power to manifest change by participating in peaceful protests, like the ones in Ferguson and across the nation, and by simultaneously changing ourselves for the better.

Before we as people change our own communities, we have to change ourselves. One way I went about doing it is by taking the words nigger and nigga out of my friends vocabulary along with my own. It isn’t any of our names so don’t call us by it, yet people throw those words around innocently without knowing the context or meaning of the words. To truly grasp what the word means one must ask his or herself what is a nigger? Along with the question what do we define a nigger as. “A contemptuous term used to refer a black person” (  This definition doesn’t do the meaning justice. The term “nigger” was and still is used as a degrading word that slave owners used to refer to people of color. This word specifically is often said to people of color as though we aren’t human beings, but rather animals. While the word “nigga” is considered to have a friendlier meaning such as buddy or friend, a word that was derived from one filled will hate is in no way friendly. By calling each other “nigga” we are enabling one another to be ignorant. Taking these words out of one’s vocabulary can help change his or her mindset and the oppressive mentality that comes with those words. If you think better, you strive for better and not long after that your actions begins to reflect it. By ending the use of the words “nigga” or “nigger” one can start to diminish the way we as people of color separate ourselves from each other. That way it’s no longer black people vs niggers,  the people vs niggers, or the world vs niggers. We will be united, so it’ll no longer be us and them.

Eliminating the word from our vocabulary is just the beginning, you have to want better for yourself, your community and future generations. Instead of saying “we can’t create change” or “society will never change” do what I do and dare to believe. If you say “we can create change” it forces us to get out of the lazy mindset we have. This will begin to undo a lot of the stereotypes forced onto a people. Through thinking positively and letting that speak through our actions we start to prove stereotypes wrong that perceives us to be inferior. We are human beings after all, and if we want something to change we must demand it. The killing of colored people is known worldwide and honestly we have the power to change it. We matter! Ferguson protesters are proving this by going out of their way and standing up for us. Artist Dread Scott is one of many who fight for our lives by creating performance pieces that remind us about the struggle of our ancestors. Whether your black, Latino, Caribbean or other. It teaches us to have determination in what we fight for. So instead of saying “ain’t nobody got time for that,” put the energy you use to defend your right to nothing into your right to live. By saying “ain’t nobody got time for that” what one is basically saying that nobody got time live, what we as people need to starting saying more is ain’t nobody got time to be victimized and dead out of ignorance. Don’t make excuses, fight for your right to live like me by making it your first priority to go to a protest. If you don’t your name could be the new Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin, and you’ll just be another victim dead and known for being victimized for generations to come.

Photo: An illustration by the author, an aspiring Manga artist.