Law in Contemporary Society

The Life Stages of the 21st Century Black Advocate as Told Through the Lens of a Tired Black Woman

-- By KailaAlston - 12 Mar 2022

There are four life stages that nearly every Black person cycles through over time: awakening, resistance, exhaustion, and reconciliation. This pattern of growth isn’t well recognized outside of the Black community due to the fact that no other ethnic or cultural group will experience en masse the psychological turmoil the average Black youth must endure across the diaspora. The following is a description of these four stages through the eyes of a young Black woman born in the early 2000s.


The moment in time in which it occurs to Black youth that they are not viewed in the same ways as their non-black peers, otherwise known as the awakening period. For some Black people this occurs as early as kindergarten, for others, it can occur late into adulthood. 2012 was the year I realized that the color of my skin separated me from my peers. Trayvon Martin was the first name of many to come that became ingrained in my mind. I vividly remember sitting in my parents' bedroom watching the final verdict come down as the trial came to a close. I remember my mother breaking down in tears as the not guilty verdict was announced. I remember being extremely confused because my parents always taught me that if wrong is done then the justice system will correct that harm. After that, it became apparent to me that being Black won’t afford me the same protections and privileges as my non-black counterparts. Meeting with my white friends the day after I was shocked to realize that they had been completely insulated from the world of the trial and racism generally having no clue of what had occurred in the past 24 hours, much less 6 months. It was then, as most young black people come to realize, that I recognized my identity would color my life and experiences in a vastly different manner than my non-black peers' identities would.


The transition from awakening to resistance can vary in length depending on the age the person was when they first realized they were different. I was young when it happened so it took around 2.5 years for me to transition from an awareness that racism would plague the rest of my life to the visceral need to change it. Michael Brown was the next name that would become ingrained in my mind for the rest of my life. I was thirteen years old and feeling the exact same anguish I had first felt after the Trayvon Martin trial. Only this time, I understood what I could do to participate in the fight for justice as opposed to just sitting with my sorrow. At that time the Black Lives Matter movement had just begun to gain traction on Twitter and other social platforms. So I did what I could, I retweeted all important messages, played defense against racist middle-aged white adults, and spent countless hours making informational threads/posts across many different platforms. Social media was both a blessing and a curse for adolescent me. I was able to advocate in the most effective way I could but the countless hours spent arguing with racist people of all ages after school took its toll. As I grew in age so did the list of names that would be ingrained in my mind forever. With the growing list of names also came a growing number of times I would be suspended on multiple Twitter accounts from attempting to make my nonblack counterparts understand that we did not live in the post-racial society that they insisted existed. This arguing extended into my life offline as well. It was not an easy feat trying to get my peers to understand that the rhetoric they heard their parents spew and subsequently repeated was racist, anti-black, and problematic. The fight was relentless and neverending often with little success. With the rise in social media over recent years it seems as if there is no refuge for Black youth from racist propaganda and ideology.


There is only so much one person can handle and for young Black people, it’s no longer a matter of if they will burn out but rather when it will happen. George Floyd and Breonna Taylor would be the names that ultimately led to me hitting my breaking point. At 19 for the first time since Michael Brown, I was quiet. I did not take to the streets in anger, aside from a lone tweet my social media pages were barren, and I did not partake in arguments in real life either. The only people I spoke to about my inner turmoil were my family and therapist. I was mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted from constantly trying to prove that the color of my skin did not determine my worth as a person. The feeling of sheer exhaustion was not the only thing I had to learn to deal with nor was it the hardest. The toughest part of this period was the guilt. Growing up Black comes with a bleak realization that the only people here to advocate for your community are your ‘skinfolk’ and yourself. Even then you’re also made aware that not all 'skinfolk' are 'kinfolk' at the end of the day. It’s this knowledge that led me to one of the most difficult questions of my life: If I stop fighting, who will be there for me and my people?


Reconciliation. The beginning of a balancing act. The realization that sacrificing your health in any form is not a sustainable form of advocacy. The acknowledgment that taking a break is not giving up. I now feel unashamed about “selling out” for a career in biglaw to sustain the lifestyle I desire for myself and my family while doing pro-bono and advocacy work where I have time for now. Reconciliation for me revolves around the idea that I cannot be the best advocate for my community if I am not taking care of myself fully.

Collective autobiography is a difficult genre. It might be that making this more about one person than about a generation would be preferable. It would allow you to write more directly, for one thing.

The real subject of the draft is reached at the end. This is one of the powerful jobs a first draft can do: it can clear the road for the longer journey. This is the beginning of a new phase in life, a juncture in young adulthood often experienced as a new birth. Writing about now, from inside that process, will be very valuable for you, now and later. That's where, in my view, you should take the next draft.

Hi Kaila, You very aptly describe the self-education and burnout that has been my own experience in a country that was not designed for us. I think you do a good job of giving examples of how we can adjust our goals to things we can control to make them more practical. Best, Nereese

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r4 - 25 May 2022 - 12:26:52 - KailaAlston
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