POST: (Not So) Strange Fruit
June 4, 2020
By Shamyle Dobbs
American streets bear the same fruit.
Blood under knees and anti-blackness at the root
Black bodies begging for mercy, gasping “I CANT BREATHE”
The SAME fruit rotting in the popular streets.
Images and videos of death triggered by anti-blackness and racism are tragically nothing new. Incident after incident, they serve as reminders of systematized oppression and the infrastructures that maintain them.
Image via Facebook
I stood paralyzed in front of the television last week, next to both of my children, and watched for 8 minutes and 46 seconds as George Floyd slipped into unconsciousness. (Mind you, we had recently discussed the video and death of Ahmaud Arbery.) We watched in horror as Floyd’s lifeless body was placed on the stretcher. I felt numb as I had to untangle the unrelenting onslaught of Black death and Black disrespect to my 13-year-old. We discussed the flippant nature of some of her white classmates around this issue. Tears streamed down her face in disgust for the lack of humanity. I found myself at a loss for words. I am still at a loss for words. What do I continue say to this Black child who has to navigate largely white spaces in pursuit of her education? How is she processing this pandemic within a pandemic, exacerbating Black death? Her sorrow that she graduated from 8th grade into this broken world was palpable.
My thoughts immediately shifted to my Black husband, and my Black Daddy, and my Black uncles and nephews, godsons, and friends. My heart ached for my family and friends with young black sons. I imagined for a moment the conversations they are forced to have – yet again. I thought about the Black men on my team: Jamii Tata and Malik Jackson. I thought about my husband’s instant shift in demeanor in front of law enforcement, and the inflection he puts in his voice in front of white people generally, as not to appear threatening. I thought about how my heart races every time I pass a police car when I am driving. Then I wept. I knew that the narrative to flow from this grave injustice would be more of the same.
The fruit isn’t strange anymore.
The original poem “Strange Fruit” that I adapted above was written by Abel Meeropol and recorded in song by Billie Holiday over 85 years ago. The lyrics themselves were a form of protest against the horrific lynching of Black Americans. In 2020, we are still bearing witness to “blood on the leaves and blood at the root.”
I continue to unpack this, as a Black woman, at the helm of a community-based legal service nonprofit organization. Parsing through the global uprising of a people, burning fires, the magic of young people in this movement, misplaced white anarchy, flanked with the realities that the law and due process continue to fail Black Americans time and time again – I find myself mixed with rage and hope. This admission only serves the point of illuminating that the COLLECTIVE WE – are not ok. I am exhausted. Truly.
My leadership in this moment calls me to lift up the kindred weariness of my Black colleagues as we balance the injustices of this world, COVID-19, our families, and this yeoman’s work of running a nonprofit. The parallels that trickle down from white supremacy and black hatred, into a broken criminal justice system, into (pick any “system”), into philanthropy, into the nonprofit ecosystem, are often coded under restorative and remedial banners of “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
But the fruit isn’t strange anymore. Moreover, we’ve become accustomed to the bitter taste.
This leadership duality of being one’s most authentic self while feeling pressured to “hide under the mask that grins and lies” is suffocating. From this day forward, I must divorce myself from complicity, jargon, behaviors, influences, and practices in opposition of Black liberation – particularly my own.
Radical change requires radical action. Enough is Enough. Black Lives Matter. Black Leadership Matters. Black Businesses Matter. Black Representation Matters. Black Thought Matters. Black Men Matter. Black Women Matter. Black Wealth Building Matters. Black Communities Matter. Black Families Matter. Black Children Matter. Black Joy Matters. Black Voice Matters. Black People’s Peace of Mind Matters. Black Liberation Matters.
From this space, I will continue to serve as the CEO at MCR. There is much work to be done.