By Eric Boyd
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Face to face, you’d be foolish to say Nique Craft looked vulnerable. You might wake up on the ground if you did.
Yet as a black, nonbinary metalhead, there aren’t many people in this city more marginized; because of this, Nique has been at the forefront of the Pittsburgh protest movement, despite not wanting to be.
“I just happened to be the loudest person and literally the most colorful in every way imaginable. If you’re gonna chant and wake up buildings, you have to scream and let them know you’re there.”
Those screams have continued to be heard for several days in Pittsburgh as daily actions have popped up in different parts of the city. Truthfully, the screams never stopped. The murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd added two more knicks to the bleeding body of America’s civil rights movement, but this is a crusade which has never ended. Ask Nique how long they’ve been protesting and you get a resigned chuckle.
“I mean, I’ve kinda been against my oppression my entire life, so…”
Adopted by a white woman, Nique learned about racism in kindergarten when a classmate asked them why their skin was a different color than their mother’s.
“I punched him in the face because I thought he was lying,” Nique says. “I asked my mom about it and she told me she didn’t want me to be treated any differently than anybody else. She thought if a black person just articulated well and wore a suit, you wouldn’t get shot. So I wasn’t raised with my heritage, and that was super irresponsible on her part.”
As a heavily tattooed person who uses They/Them or Alien as pronouns, embracing their black heritage was particularly hard until they realized that black culture was not a linear experience and that intersectional voices needed to be amplified. The danger, Nique believes, is that these protests could become homogenized into the heteronormal culture of a city like Pittsburgh. George Floyd has deserved this moment, but so has Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade.
In grabbing a bullhorn and standing at the front of any protest they can, Nique is ensuring that other outsiders feel seen and heard.
“I know we’re all very vain and people like seeing photos of themselves on Facebook and Instagram doing cool shit, but that’s because you get to remember that you did it. That doesn’t mean that’s why you’re doing it.”
While their white peers could more easily navigate their identities, Nique had few role models they could actually relate to. The visibility of these protests can help correct that.
“When I was a kid, there was no one that looked like me and it was hard to become somebody that looked like me. I’d have been so pumped to see just one person on TV who was like me,” Nique says. “It just makes it that much easier when you see somebody that looks like you doing it to make you think you can do it too.”
Of course, the concept of intersectionality can also be co-opted into something akin to an All Lives Matter mindset, which Nique says is not the point of the current moment.
“This isn’t about patting white people on the back just for showing up when you weren’t out here even two-and-a-half weeks ago,” Nique says. “We should have crowds of all different kinds of people, but then there’s the impression that everyone should have a chance to stand up and talk about what bothers them. That’s not true. We need people who are 100% intersectional in their minds to stand up for every level of blackness.”
Along with that fear of coddling white protesters, Nique believes that anger has not played a large enough role in Pittsburgh’s protest. While we happily celebrate the death of the Pinkertons, dozens of people were arrested in East Liberty essentially because someone may or may not have thrown a water bottle at a riot cop.
“Logically, I think we should fuck shit up like everybody else is. Also logically, I feel like we’re not ready for that,” Nique admits. “When someone calls me a nigger, I want to fucking throw them in the river. I need to be able to feel that, even if I’m not gonna throw some dude in the river. I should be able to feel like that and you should trust me to know what to do with that feeling… I don’t want to judge anybody’s anger on any scale.”
That anger isn’t going anywhere. Bill Peduto can send a tweet about peacefulness into the ether but it won’t change what it refuses to address. Nique, and so many others, are pissed. Protesters are being brutalized by the police for speaking out against police brutality, and as long as people stay on the streets to call it out, this savage American tableau will likely grow.
However, there is an unfortunate disconnect. Even as polls begin to show a majority of Americans believe these injustices are indeed a result of systematic racism, you can march in any local protest right now and hear well-intentioned white cries of Fuck Trump muffle out the name of a murdered black person during a singing of Which Side Are you On?
“We’re sharing the civil rights movement with people who shouldn’t be a part of it,” Nique says. “I don’t want to talk about Trump because police brutality existed before and it will exist after him if we don’t make these huge changes now. People think they’ll show up in November and then it’ll just be done and that’s just terribly naive.”
Admittedly, Nique was hopping trains when Obama was first elected; they were not even registered to vote. They have since come to understand the power of voting, but it’s also time to discuss things that neither republicans nor democrats want to discuss.
“In the service industry, if a kitchen staff is fucking food up, nine times out of ten you just fire everybody. We don’t need police,” Nique says. “We can replace them with social workers, mental health workers. Yeah there’s always gonna be ridiculous people doing crazy shit, but if we could weed out certain aspects of what makes them get there, we won’t need cops corralling some wild drug addict who’s eating people’s faces off because we’ll have gotten them help way before reaching that point… Put that money into the Hill district, into black womxn’s health, into our LGBTQIA community. Everybody needs a boost.”
As actual police reform is slowly dragged into Pittsburgh’s public consciousness, Nique believes things will continue to be turbulent in the perfect storm that is 2020.
“White people broke a legit lockdown to get haircuts, so I guess we’re allowed out now, but they didn’t get riot cops for that. We did… So I’m looking forward to Juneteenth and seeing all the black leaders on our biggest holiday, I think that could unite the country; but then by July 5th, all the evictions will start after quarantine and I think things are gonna get heavy for everybody.”
Until then, Nique is trying to take care of themselves, but it’s hard to step away from current events.
“Today I’m supposed to go hang out with my friends in the middle of the woods but I really don’t want to be away from my phone for that long. I know that kind of behavior is going to consume my brain. I’m gonna keep doing it as long as I can before I totally break I guess… I just don’t want to see vulnerable people get fucked up.”