For us Black folk, the fight for social justice in America continues to be a long and arduous fight. Since the day our African ancestors set foot on this land, we’ve endured the chains and whips of systemic oppression and marched arm in arm for our civil and economic rights. Along the way, we’ve witnessed the senseless killing of our Black brothers and sisters at the hands of police brutality and white supremacy.
Let’s face it. Today, 400 odd years later and in the midst of an anxiety-inducing pandemic, being Black in America is still exhausting. Our Black brothers can’t go for an afternoon jog without running into the armed, confrontational, and self-appointed neighborhood watch. Or question their arrest before being handcuffed and forced to lie face-down, while gasping for air under the pressure of a police officer’s knee on their neck. The most disheartening of all is that our Black sisters can’t rest peacefully in their beds without trigger-happy police officers raiding their homes with a fatal shower of bullets.
The gut-punch of it all? Justice for Black bodies is far and in between. And the group less likely to see any form of justice? Black women. The women who’ve carried and birthed nations. The women who’ve fearlessly aided and led historic uprisings while fighting on the front lines to spark social change. In the upsetting case of Breonna Taylor, one of the officers responsible for her death has been indicted on “three counts of wanton endangerment” for endangering the lives of those in a neighboring apartment.
One activist who has been vocal about the lives of Black people in America is eight-time Grammy award-nominated artist Janelle Monáe.
“I feel like this world owes Black women so much. At the very least, it owes us peace…I have to actively fight for my own peace,” shared the actress in a recent sit-down with VIBE correspondent Jazzie Belle. “It’s tough, especially when you see your brothers and sisters, that look like you being murdered and killed, all you can really feel is rage. And when that festers in you, it’s hard to shake it. It’s hard for me to unwatch the videos I watched of Sandra Bland, of Trayvon Martin, of Jacob Blake, thinking about Breonna Taylor, it’s difficult. So, you have to actively fight. I have to actively fight for my own peace.”
In the newly released thriller Antebellum, Monáe plays Veronica Henley, a best-selling author and outspoken sociologist. After speaking on the marginalization of Black people in America at an event in New Orleans, Veronica wakes up as Eden, an enslaved woman working on a Louisiana plantation in a Civil War era. As Veronica experiences the past life of slavery, she (Eden) finds her strength and voice to plan and lead fellow slaves to freedom. Even if she fails over and over again.
“I used to say, ‘Black women are superheroes.’ That’s not what I say at all. It’s not our job to be superhuman. It’s not our job to clean up systemic racism or dismantle them,” pointed out Monáe.
“This film [Antebellum] is a look at what it is like for a Black woman to carry the burden of dismantling and deconstructing white supremacy every single day. We persevere through it. We are triumphant, but we shouldn’t have to carry that emotional labor and that heaviness every single day.”
This same weight of responsibility can be seen in today’s oftentimes women-led social movements and calls to action in the streets of America. You can see how it’s cinematically embedded as a theme in the twisted Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz co-directed film. But there’s one thing that must take precedence during any physically and mentally demanding mission for change: rest. And those of us protesting for equality should have loved ones around to serve as a reminder of joy and lightheartedness. For self-care is an underrated superpower.
“I think that it’s important to surround yourself around people that if you are doing heavy lifting, if you’re out there on the front line, if you’re just having a difficult time, [you can] go watch some comedy films,” encouraged Monáe. “Just be around people that make you laugh. That’s really important. I think laughter is something that we can do a lot more of together.”
Watch the full interview with Janelle Monáe above. Also, catch our chat with Antebellum‘s co-directors Bush and Renz where they talk about how one nightmare inspired the film’s premise.
Antebellum, co-starring Gabourey Sidibe, Kiersey Clemons, and more, is available now on premium video-on-demand platforms.