Happy Birthday, America. Now Get Your Act Together.
On Monday, July 4th 2016, America celebrated its 240th birthday. Fireworks, booze, barbecue, and time spent loved ones were the themes of the day. Little did we know, this day was the calm before the storm. America’s racial tension and reaction against police brutality were brewing, about to spill over into one of the most contentious and violent weeks’ in America since the mass shooting in June at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, FL.
The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, on Tuesday and Wednesday, sparked intense public debate, global protest, and media frenzy. Two black men were murdered by police, and their deaths captured on video and posted on various social media for all to consume. It was black tragedy, misery, and death on display for all to see. I refused to post these violent videos that I considered modern day lynchings. Things exploded on Thursday night at a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas that became very violent, very quickly and resulted in the deaths of five police officers.
That evening, an alleged shooter named Micah Johnson killed five white police officers. Johnson, a black Army veteran, apparently acted alone in the crime. According to Dallas police, he stated that he wanted revenge on white officers for the deaths of black people killed by cops. In the wake of America’s birthday, the original sins of the United States of slavery, racism, genocide, and perpetual war came to a head once again in a bloody spectacle.
The legacy of white supremacy permeates every institution of this nation. From our education system, the police force, the military, and the judicial system, white supremacy is at the root of the America’s socio-political structure and day-to-day interactions. Even to this day, there are those white people who will claim that “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter” whenever someone proclaims “Black Lives Matter.” Folks like Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Aiyana Jones, Mike Brown…their lives mattered. Their humanity mattered. Their futures mattered. The five officers who died on last Thursday evening…their lives mattered, too.
To say #blacklivesmatter isn’t to say that other people don’t matter. It means that the common humanity of black people has not been valued in this country, since the very beginning of this nation’s history.
Thanks to European colonization, the ideology of white supremacy is global, and in the United States, whiteness is valued above all other people. Whiteness and white people are the measuring sticks for all other groups of people in this country. White, in other words, normal, average, and regular. Everything else is hyphenated, “different” or “other.” For example, if you think about the term “All-American” or “Average Joe,” I’m sure brings it brings up a certain image in your mind. I bet you a million dollars, that image isn’t of a black or Latinx person.
Since black lives are not valued, not viewed as normal or regular, in this country politicians can make open threats and incite violence against black people and against our country’s first black president Barack Obama on Twitter and never have to worry about the police or FBI showing up at their door. We aren’t valued, which is why black Americans are twice as likely to live in poverty as their white counterparts. We aren’t valued, which is why black folks are five times more likely to be shot by police than their white counterparts. So yes, #BlackLivesMatter now more than ever in today’s political and social landscape. It’s time to grow up and acknowledge this reality.
From Troubled Childhood to Teenage Wasteland
We have a lot of growing up to do and a shaky foundation from which to do it. Since the days of Sojourner Truth and Fredrick Douglass, blacks have tried in vain to convey and assert our humanity to the larger mainstream (white people). Slavery ended in 1864, then Jim Crow came into effect, which ended in 1964, thanks to the tireless work of nameless activists. Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers were the public faces of the Civil Rights era. Black people demanded peacefully and ‘at times’ forcefully that their humanity be recognized by the powers that be. MLK died fighting for racial equality and economic justice, and in the wake of his death, the Black Power Movement rose from the ashes like a phoenix. The likes of Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Kathleen Cleaver, and Stokely Carmichael rallied the battle cry of “Black Power.” Their efforts were designed to uplift the black people and reaffirm our humanity in the wake of continued political, social, and economic oppression. Real community policing, community clinics, economic empowerment, black business, and black self-love manifested in the Black Power era.
I was born in the 1980s, at the height of the so-called “crack era” and during the reign of Ronald Reagan. It seemed the progress made in the 60s and 70s began to be peeled back. Black people were again the target for politicians and pundits alike. We were blamed for the economic recession of the 1980s; we were blamed for flooding the streets of urban cities with drugs, guns, and gangs. Black men were called “gangstas” and “thugs” and black women were referred to as “welfare queens.” Once again, the police targeted communities of color. Rodney King’s savage attack at the hands of the LAPD showed America overwhelmingly that racism was far from over.
Fast forward to 2013, Mike Brown’s body lay dead in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. His death, among other recent high-profile deaths of black men, women, and children, gave birth to the Civil Rights Movement 2.0. #BlackLivesMatter has become the rallying cry of countless young black people, in the wake of what we have witnessed and learned first hand: that America doesn’t care about its black citizenry. We want our contributions to America to be fully recognized. We want our culture to not be demonized, and violence against us to not be justified. We want our humanity to be fully respected.
Growing Pains: #BlackLivesMatter and White Privilege
Growing up requires taking risks and making sacrifices. I applaud my brothas and sistas on the streets, schools, and city halls across the country fighting for full equality. I have fought that battle myself as a social worker in Chicago. My website has been dedicated to truth, justice, and equality for all people. But now, I think it’s time for white people to stand up to their racist brethren. It’s time for white folks to not to wallow in white guilt or condescendingly call black lives matter protesters “reverse racists.” It’s time for them to challenge those white people who have no problem calling black children “thugs” and “criminals” or blaming black people’s problems on so-called “black on black crime.” It’s time for white folks across American to recognize that if they want this country to live by its creed–that all are created equal– then justice must be served, and the system of white supremacy must be dismantled once and for all.
Black people have marched towards the path of equality for centuries now. We have accomplished great things and made American culture more soulful. Like all people, we black people are flawed too. But that can be never used to justify racism against us. If America wants to survive and become the land of the free, then white people have to admit to themselves that racism also robs them of their humanity. Racism encourages and rewards white people for dehumanizing their fellow human beings. White people need to recognize that their privilege comes with a price, and that price is the loss of their humanity and dignity. If not, the issue of racial hatred will continue on for future generations.