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Insomnia got the best of me (again). So, this morning I was up scrolling through Facebook and came across a post and screenshot from two days ago with actor Hill Harper misgendering Dwayne Wade and Gabrielle Union’s daughter, Zaya Wade. 

What happened was, Union posted a doting birthday tribute for the teen on social media, and here comes commenting Harper with, “Happy Birthday young man!!!” He then proceeds to plug his book, insisting that Zaya read it. 

I’m scrolling through the comments on the Facebook thread, and it’s mostly pure and unmitigated ignorance. Thousands of other Black people cosigning Harper with the overall summation, “Well, she is a boy”. 

I Googled the incident looking to see if Gabrielle had given her Think Like a Man co-star a nasty Deliver Us From Eva read, and it turns out, that debacle happened three years ago! Harper immediately apologized, perhaps due to a looming induction into the “Canceled Celebrities Club”, but we can assume he meant what he said. 

Three things dawned on me. First and obviously, that was some tacky and unnecessary sh*t from Hill. Period. Also, as it pertains to the Facebook post, people love stirring up old mess for likes. Finally and most importantly, despite the mess being old, the internalized oppression in the Black community always stays fresh. Deep sigh.

It’s Black History Month and in one unified breath, we’re all “Say it loud, we’re Black and we’re proud!”. In the same or next breath, we can be our own worst enemies.

Black people: Don’t do the work of White supremacy

For 404 years, Black Americans have been crushed under the thumb of White supremacy, racism and oppression.

We’ve been robbed of culture, history and overall, true freedom. And for generations, we’ve fought to preserve and have access to those things. We’ve fought to live and just be.

So when I see us perpetuating the same oppression on one another and inflicting the same pain – as in the case of Hill Harper and his chorus of social media-certified theologists and biologists – I consider it dangerous and backwards.

In those moments, we are no better than the systems designed to destroy us physically, mentally, spiritually and soulfully.

First, let’s not forget the trailblazers that identify similarly or the same as Zaya Wade and helped pave the way for us to have some semblance of freedom today. Chainbreakers like James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes, Marsha P. Johnson, Alvin Ailey, Barbara Jordan and Audre Lorde. 

These people had the audacity to live their lives and fight for ours despite living in times where existing in the crux of multiple identities was even more forbidden legally, socially and religiously.

High level, we must be more cognizant of the weight of internalized oppression and trauma in Black communities and be more judicious in practicing love, healing, respect and resistance.

Unlearn self-hate, embrace all Black people

In 1962, El-Hajj Malik El Shabazz gave a speech in Los Angeles and posed the question “Who taught you to hate yourself?”, imploring us to examine the deeper impact of White supremacy and root causes of self-inflicted hate. The answer to that question has always been right in our faces.

For generations it’s been drilled into our minds and spirits that we’re dangerous, ugly, uneducated and unteachable. We’re treated like livestock in this capitalistic industry. Let White supremacy tell it, our Black men are worthless savages and Black women are nothing more than baby churning sex machines.

Conditioned to these beliefs, we’ve been taught to hate ourselves and instead of rebuking this mindset, we sometimes subconsciously (or knowingly) subscribe to it.

Subscribing to that mindset looks like the 4,000 reshares of that Hill Harper post, challenging Zaya’s decision and desire to live how and as who she wants.

It challenges her freedom, retriggers trauma and tries to force her back into a box–back into chains. And at the end of the day, any objection to one Black person’s right to freedom is an objection to all of our rights.

Black and proud

I stand on this soapbox imperfect, admitting that I’m still in the process of unlearning and releasing.

But I’m elated to say that I’m at a point where I can better see what’s prevented me from authentically being Black and proud. 

Being Black and proud means not allowing those stereotypical and oppressive boxes hold or house us.

It’s using resistance and unity as tools of liberation. It means loving ourselves and each other for who we are and encouraging others to do the same. It means respecting what brings us healthy and harmless joy.

It looks like drinking your water, moisturizing your skin, staying out of and ceasing to keep up mess. And above all it means letting Black people actually live and be free in their identities and culture.

Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work--"If not me then who?" As a strategist and injustice interrupter, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for radical...