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Thoughts On The Label Militant

I’ve never liked that label. If you really know me, then you know why. I remember my first encounter with being called “militant.” I was in the 8th grade and a teacher asked me what influential Black (African) American I looked up to. So, I spouted off a few people and my list included:

Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Sonia Sanchez.

*Actually, my list was entirely women but that’s a trivial matter.

This led to a string of questions and I answered them all to the best of my 13-year-old ability and was then called “MILITANT.” Sheesh…I managed to go ONE week without a teacher saying something sideways and three weeks, THREE, before graduation, I’m called a militant by my Social Studies teacher.

I was heartbroken.

I knew that folks got a sour taste in their mouth when they said the world. I knew that militants were looked at as troublemakers. I’d heard that people felt militants didn’t shower and that they just wanted to shoot everything and everyone down in their path (I was 13, highly impressionable, and had cousins who took advantage of that). I knew that folks did not like militant people and I wanted to be liked.

Besides, I didn’t believe in the use of guns (although I feel you SHOULD have the right to protect yourself). I didn’t believe in not showering (if there were ever to be an 11th Commandment, “Thou shall wash thyself daily” would be it). I was an Honor Roll student, not a troublemaker (unless you count the fact that I dropped pencils and knocked stuff off of desks because I was clumsy).

So I couldn’t be militant! There was no way I was a militant.

Well, I went home and I thought about my arguments. I pulled out my encyclopedias (yes…we had these because I begged my Mom to buy them) to look up the platforms that they stood on. I went to the library the next day (on Saturday) and I did more research on the people that I looked up to. I read archived newspaper articles and I even wrote a mock “Press Release” about them.

*My teacher knew I’d do something like this…he told me later. lol

I wrote up my findings. I even made him a nice poster, so he could understand exactly what I was trying to convey. I had a little speech and everything. *I was a trip.

Sidenote: I can actually remember my presentation.

So, on the next Monday, I found him on my lunch hour and asked if he had any time at all because I wanted to talk to him. He waved me into the room and said, “Sure Ms. Lawrence (that was my last name then). I set up my materials and I cleared my throat. (Now, we were required to do weekly presentations on the materials we learned in Social Studies to our class, but I was nervous. It was just this big dude who loved History sitting in this empty classroom. I could even hear the heating system kicking on and off).

I started with, “This country was ‘built’ upon principles of equality and fundamental rights that spoke to our humanity.” <— I should be someone’s speech writer. My teacher sat back in his chair and began to smile.

I continued with, “The historical record shows that only one group has ever benefitted from the system as it was structured — White males. Groups that have been seen as militant were often just arguing for the system to be restructured, so that they too could participate as full citizens and enjoy the liberties that have been set out in our country’s most important documents.”

At this point, I put down my paper. I didn’t care about what else I’d written down. Then I whipped out my poster board. On it, I’d placed major movements, political parties, and people and the things they asked for.

The heading, “What Makes A Militant.”

The byline: “I’m Militant Because…”

This is what my poster actually said:

*I will choose to exercise my right to vote, remain informed as a citizen in this country, and hold my politicians accountable.

*I believe that every child has the right to a healthy start, decent housing, adequate nutrition, and EQUAL AND FREE education.

*I believe that we all have the right to healthcare.

*I want economic stability in my community and I believe that we should have the opportunity to be business and homeowners, as well as shareholders in corporations.

*I believe in the rights of humans, which includes women, GLBT, children, and communities of color that have been oppressed.

I ended my presentation with: IF this is what makes a militant, I’m fine with that. I just hope that other people realize that what’s being asked is ONLY radical because we’ve been duped into believing that our resources are SO STRAPPED that competition has become a necessary evil in our society. Everyone COULD have the same opportunities to succeed here…if the powers that be wanted us to.

My teacher was proud of me (Sucka knew I’d go home and do that). Said that I needed to remember all that I stood for. A lot of people were going to question, point, laugh, and demean me BUT I had to remember these things.

So I do. I wonder if he’s around still. I hope so, kids today need an influential presence like him.



Militant…Something I’m Not

A thought hit me last night while I prepared for bed; “I wasn’t a militant [person] until I came to college.”

Militant. A word synonymous with words like “aggressive, radical, revolutionary, combative, rebellious, belligerent, and confrontational.” For some, this may be approached with joy. As for myself, this label disgusts me.

I am neither of those terms. I don’t consider myself aggressive, combative, rebellious, belligerent, or confrontational when I take a stance on issues. I also do not consider my ideas to be radical or revolutionary and I will readily tell you those that have inspired me, as well as who I “follow.”

My issue with being militant is that Black people are too often placed in this category if we do, say, or act in a way that suggests we are for BLACK emPOWERment. Many times, we’re simply for Black empowerment. But I digress.

The thought that came to mind last night after I realized that I wasn’t a “militant” person until I got to college was why do people classify my thinking as militant, separatist, and exclusivist when I’m only thinking, saying, promoting the same things that the Majority has been? Is it that I generally believe that people who look like me deserve the opportunity to succeed (better schools, jobs, grocery stores, etc)? Or is it because I feel deep within myself that we are capable of it and we don’t need the help of the Majority?

Maybe that’s what it is.

I’m militant because I want what the Majority wants for us…I just don’t want their help (this is an entirely different blog, stay tuned for that).

Or could it be that I’m militant for obvious reasons? I’m of a darker complexion (this makes it easier to believe that I’m inherently more sinister than my lighter brethren). No, better yet, I wear my hair in its natural state (why is it that women of color catch more slack for this than Majority women, especially when our hair is courser than cute?). Or, my all time favorite, I like to bring up the fact that race (whether we acknowledge it or not) places a role in interactions between different people?

However, I’ll go back to my initial point: “I was NOT considered or called militant until I went to college” and here is where my contention lies with being labeled as such. It’s Black people who have chosen to do this. My peers have chosen to label me in a fashion that causes the Majority concern. This troubles me deeply. I often wonder, “What’s different about the Black people here from the ones that live in my neighborhood?”

No, I prefer the definition given to me by those in my community. They recognize me for what I am. I’m passionate about issues that revolve around my community. I work to educate myself about those leaders before me who worked towards liberating the masses. I also engage in critical discussions about a range of topics with other intellectual [Black] people.

See, I wasn’t seen as rebellious when I decided that educational success was for me. I was seen as smart. I wasn’t seen as aggressive or combative for speaking up about issues that folks talk about in their kitchens when they come home from work. I was seen as socially conscious and responsible. I wasn’t seen as rebellious for choosing to educate myself about previous leaders of my community. It was looked at as something that HAD to be done. Something was necessary. And the ONLY time I’ve ever been looked at confrontational by those who know me was when I actually had to fight…as in fistfight. Never was I looked at as confrontational when I decided to point out or question why my treatment (or the treatment of those around me) was different. Never was I considered militant, but I was being a responsible person.

So whatever your reason for thinking I’m militant, I’ll ask that you stop.

Because whether or not you believe it, one way to surely cause me to become aggravated is to call me a Militant.