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To My Progressive Athens Community

I am an Athens activist-scholar. As a doctoral student studying black geographies and white supremacist landscapes in Athens, I have cut my teeth making organized demands in this city around the Baldwin Hall and Linnentown activism. My dad, a refugee of Harleyville, S.C., double-takes at the reflection of his Southern queer black offspring he raised in California. 

 I have at least two more years in Athens, and I am preparing to sit alone for another summer as I scroll through images of black death, pain and sorrow. I’m so far removed—removed from action, removed from my black body, and my black and brown people. This feels very similar to when I was in my master’s degree in Detroit, slowly deteriorating as the endless flow of videos, images and commentary of black death picked at my decaying flesh. I could not bear to look, and I could not bear to look away. So much of me has died since then. 

Truthfully, only my voice remains, and I’ve seen its soft velvety tone disarm police of their fear of my queer black body. I dream of sharp objects removing my colonized tongue. Only then would my body reflect outwardly the pain I feel. However, that would be a short-lived freedom, followed only by more mourning.

In this moment, our community plans to raise the salaries of the police, while other communities are burning down their local precincts. We are where we are, and they are where they are, and it requires organizing to stage a rebellion. 

Yes, a rebellion.

There are no shortcuts that allow us to skip organizing. No amount of rhetoric is going to catapult us into this moment ready to fight institutions of state violence. 

Why a rebellion? Because we have the audacity to call this place—The Classic City—”progressive.” It is incrementalist, at best. Really, there is no difference between progressive and incrementalist; both are anti-radical/revolutionary movements of people supporting small tweaks that maintain settler colonialism and white supremacist heteropatriarchy.

How can you fix your lips to say good things about our “progress,” when a black man is assaulted with a police vehicle and there is no meaningful protest, while a police officer gets $250,000 for defamation after assaulting this man and still no protest, and the police chief who swiftly removed the officer from our streets is fired for that action—and there is again no protest.

 How about when, over the course of only this past year, Athens-Clarke County police summarily executed eight people, each suffering from mental health crises at the time—and we only bat an eye. And yet, we lament that the “progressive” commission starts to look and sound like the old one so quickly. 

I am responsible for the inaction as much as anyone else, but we have to stop lying to ourselves that our democratic voting bloc means fuck all, that white liberals are not moderates with hoods in their closets, and that your white friends—those who don’t do shit or don’t invest in doing things well—don’t maintain the white supremacist status quo. 

Protest equals a set of people organized to disrupt public space and normalcy, to spread information, discomfort and awareness with the current state of affairs, and to make demands of people in power 

Standing at the arch with a sign with other people is not a protest in and of itself. You must make organized demands outside the seat of power, and then if you are ignored, let your rage become a match to burn it all down as if they did not hear you the first time. 

This community is built on the stolen lands of indigenous people and the remnants of slavery. The massive gravesite of white supremacy we are living on top of haunts us through its ghosts and descendants. This is at the same time global and particular to Athens. As a friend pointed out, “What makes Athens unique? Well, Sherman didn’t burn it down. He should have.” 

Atlanta got a new ethos after it was destroyed: no less white supremacist than ours, but at least making room for black capitalism. Again, no less white supremacist; however, the white supremacy that exists in white liberal spaces in Athens is vehement, cancerous, self-reproducing and inherited. 

We grow what we pay attention to. I need white people to pay attention to anti-racism and grow it in themselves, their families, their communities, their organizations and any place you move into. If BIPOC have to doubt if you are anti-racist, then you are not working hard enough. None of us is guilty of creating white supremacy, but we are all responsible for dismantling it. White people who benefit from it hold the most power, either inhibiting or kick-starting the growth of anti-racism in this community. 

There are three people in this scene: the person standing on my neck, the people black and white horrified watching my not-so-slow death, and the white woman who called the police, weaponizing her feelings and setting this scene into motion. 

Where are the people ready to physically remove this white man from my airways? Even after the black man’s body was lifeless, no one physically removed the white man from this position. 

We cannot let the police murder our people in front of our eyes. Athens is a tinderbox; are you ready to see it all burn? If I were so inclined, I would start with the white supremacist memorial downtown.