Editor’s Note: The following guest commentary was originally a speech presented at the Black Lives Matter teach-in that took place Oct. 24 at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School.
Hello and good afternoon. My name is Rita Bunatal and today, I stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters in the movement. I stand with you in joy. I stand with you in pain. I stand with you in sadness. And ultimately, I stand with you in exhaustion. Initially, I wanted to speak about the beauty of “Sankofa” and Solidarity within the Black Lives Matter movement, but with the recent events that have been happening in our country, with student protests in South Africa, and with recent events that continue to plague my campus, Ithaca College, I can honestly be here before you today and say I will try to do those topics justice, but I am exhausted.
I am a student leader on campus, a resident assistant and a co-president of the African Students Association. I am the person students are supposed to seek advice from when going through difficult times. For the most part, I am able to handle my job pretty well. It isn’t until I am faced with a very painful, recurring experience that I usually don’t know where to turn to.
When my first-year resident approaches me at 12 in the morning and tells me they overheard white males using the n-word, who do I call?
When these white men call my resident a “black bitch” after the resident called out their behavior, who do I speak to?
When I am told to call our campus safety officers to report the crime and the officer stands in my room and comfortably justifies the use of their language, who do I turn to?
When I sit in my training session and a campus officer mentions verbatim that he will shoot someone if he saw them holding a BB gun, who do I report to?
When emotions are triggered by the justifying language used followed by the uncomfortable chuckles of co-workers, how do I remain calm?
Over and over and over, it is a cycle, an unending cycle. A cycle that I live through from the moment I wake up, up until I am able to lay my head on my pillow at night and pray to see a new day. Like most of us, I wake up not knowing what will happen to me next. I wake up praying that I won’t have to be the token black woman in class. I wake up praying that I don’t have to see another brother or sister unjustly murdered. I wake up praying that I don’t get angry at a system larger than myself. I wake up praying and praying and praying … praying that maybe, just maybe I can correct my fellow classmate in class without being perceived as an angry black woman. If only he knew that Africa is a continent rather than a country, I wouldn’t have had to correct him.
I am a student, a student who has dreams and aspirations like anyone else. A student just like some of us here today. But I am a student with a burden. I am a black woman that carries the burden of this white, patriarchal, heteronormative society. But there is one thing that keeps me going, and that is the love that I have for my brothers and sisters. The painful reality is that we are hurting. It is a pain that can’t be explained. It is a pain that can be felt by those who have shared those same experiences.
In this movement, we need to continue to stand by each other and protect each other because if we don’t, no one else will. Fela Kuti once said, “I want peace. Happiness. Not only for myself. For everybody,” and I couldn’t have said it any better.
Within the movement, we must also continue to create the space and dialogue regarding black women, black LGBTQ+ folks, black trans* folks, black mental health issues, the future of our black children and all of the intersectionalities that come in between.
It is the immense love that has me out here today. Regardless of the exhaustion, I am inspired by the ways in which our communities have come together to create spaces of empowerment. It is through this movement that I have learned what inspires me. It is through this movement that I have decided to create a Pan-African clothing brand designed for the empowerment of the black community. It is through this movement that I will continue to be there for others, as well as myself. And ultimately, it is with the movement that we will be able to pass these stories onto our children and grandchildren because as James Baldwin once said, “If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.” And I plan to live by that for the days to come.
Thank you and have a great evening.
Rita Bunatal is a senior communication management and design major. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.