Can we disagree and still love each other?

By Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

Last week, Jenn Jackson, a PhD student at the University of Chicago, Managing Editor of Black Youth Project, and a writer published in a variety of venues such as B*tch Media, took to Twitter to instigate thoughtful discourse about Bruno Mars’s relationship to Blackness:

For “daring” to highlight that he has never self-identified as Black, Ms. Jackson has been met with derision, poorly written summaries on websites that purport to serve Black audiences, and hate-mail including invitations to walk into traffic and death threats:

Much has been made of the internet as a tool for amplifying voices once at the margins. Social media creates space where Black people build community across disparate geographies, where communities such as that of Black trans women can reclaim space they were previously denied.

This new communality is in tension with the reality that in an extremely connected environment––anti-Black racism and its anti-woman component, misogynoir––travels at the speed of light from the machines of total strangers to targets whom they forget or don’t want to accept are real human beings.

While it is clear that summer is an especially difficult time of year for Black Americans, as we deal not only with the unjust acquittals of those who kill us but also an uptick in the frequency of brutal state sanctioned murders and shootings of Black people across the country, we should emphasize the fundamental value of holding space for each Black person’s pain in this moment, and responding thoughtfully, with an awareness of each other’s humanity.

It is easier now than at any other time in history for a Black woman scholar to share her thoughts with a wide audience and have her very existence impeached in retaliation, from (ableist) attacks on her intellectual capacity, to everyday racist vitriol, and the more insidious but fairly common threats of violence, to the point of death.

Not all of these attacks are from non-Black people, but it is clear they are rooted in a fear of being challenged by a differing viewpoint, a fear that is amplified when the differing viewpoint is expressed by any Black person, especially those who are women and femmes.

This week, Professor Johnny Eric Williams of Trinity College was forced to go into hiding, fearing for his life because of conservative media attacks on him for sharing an essay that superbly critiqued the coddling of white supremacy. His college administration, rather than support him, has placed him on an extended leave of absence and publicly condemned his ideas.

Two years ago, I was attacked by the same collective of conservative “press” organizations, and just as with Professor Williams, I received hate-mail and threats of violence. It is clear that these kinds of tactics are steeped in white supremacy, intended to silence Black scholars (and their supporters) who dare to openly challenge white supremacist hegemony.

As Black Americans, we know the very real threat of violence that constantly hovers over our families and communities. We know that we do not need more of it. There is no way to know who truly sends the hateful missives that folks like Jenn Jackson have been receiving, although we do know that press organizations such as The Grio have at times goaded them on.

While recognizing the broad and diverse viewpoints and standpoints that exist within the Black community, and knowing that disagreement can be a powerful and important part of knowledge production, it is important to be accountable for holding each other with care; to be ready to be wrong; to be ready to disagree while still actively supporting someone’s thriving existence.

To clarify beyond the shadow of a doubt, these concerns are animated by a set of serious and important questions about the ways we hold each other in Black space (real and digital). As practitioners of peculiar forms of Black care under disastrous conditions, we must consider the ways we hold one another. How we hold one another accountable, how we hold one another closely, and how we hold space for the fullness (and full messiness) of each other remain key considerations for how we might build and advance Black kinship in and beyond cyberspace.

Moreover, as a recent study made clear, Black women are one of the most civically engaged demographic groups in the United States, yet they often are forced to take a back seat when it comes to social capital––such as equal pay and equal treatment in the exchange of ideas––despite often being on the front lines of civil rights and anti-violence organizing. The targeting of Black women for any reason is a threat to our movements for liberation.

The spaces we occupy and create remain imperiled from within and without, but with a careful attention to how we might be fully attentive to the wrong and right in one another, we might continue to boldly go, moving and writing in search of the whens and wheres that can contain and sustain us.

Originally from east Los Angeles, Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein holds degrees from Harvard College, University of California, Santa Cruz, and University of Waterloo & Perimeter Institute in Canada. She currently holds a research position in theoretical physics at the University of Washington and divides her time between Seattle and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her academic work has been published in Classical and Quantum Gravity and Physical Review D, while her social commentary and popular science writing have appeared in Bitch Media, Black Youth Project, The Toast, Gawker, Physics World, and Nature Astronomy. She is also a contributor to the book On Antisemitism: Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice in Palestine and wrote the introduction for the young adult book Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA.

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