By Rosie Alger
Elm Staff Writer
Since the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement, there has been controversy surrounding this seemingly simple phrase. People have had a variety of responses to its presence on social media and in the streets. Recently, reporters on Fox News have even questioned whether or not the movement should be labeled a terrorist organization. What is so upsetting about these activists?
Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi created the movement after the death of Trayvon Martin when George Zimmerman, the man charged with Martin’s death, was acquitted. Since then, it has evolved into a complex system of activists across the country, flaring up in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, and many other areas facing racially charged violence. Feminist leaders and organizations have joined the movement as well, bringing attention to the struggles faced specifically by women and trans women of color. According to The Washington Post, “Nearly 20 transgender women have been murdered across the country in 2015, most of them women of color.” Recently, Black Lives Matter organizers held a rally in D.C. to honor and support black trans women.
The quintessential essence of the movement is people of color wanting to claim an authoritative voice for themselves. It is about speaking up about the systematic racism that oppresses them in their daily lives and recognizing that we are far from living in a post-racial society. We have a lot of work to be done before the experience of black people in America has the same safety, opportunity, and basic human dignity as the mainstream white experience currently does.
You may be saying to yourself, “But doesn’t everybody matter?” If you find yourself about to type All Lives Matter, please pause for a moment and think about this. The leaders of this movement are not saying that other lives do not matter. They are reminding us that black lives, which for so long in this country have been trampled on and belittled, do in fact, matter. They are merely asserting their right, along with everyone else, to speak out, and to live without fear.
Another thing to consider is that the conversation doesn’t always have to be about everyone. Right now, the focus needs to be on black lives. Imagine that you are trying to tell your friend about a hard time you are going through, and instead of listening and trying to help, they begin to tell you all about their day and get mad that you haven’t included them in your story. Would you understand why that person felt the need to insert themselves into your struggle? Would that person have been helpful in any way? As Garza wrote in her article entitled “A Herstory of the Black Lives Matter Movement,” “When we say Black Lives Matter, we are talking about the ways in which Black people are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity… When Black people get free, everybody gets free. Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important–it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation.”
Still, there is controversy around the movement, mostly centered on the idea that people are concerned that these groups of protesters are violent. While the riots in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo. were both very violent at times, it is important to remember a few things when considering this. Firstly, mainstream media has historically struggled in covering these kinds of revolutionary events. In Ferguson, Mo., during the time of the riots, there was even a media blackout in which no information was able to leave the area at all. It is not at all easy to confirm honest and objective information about what kind of action is being taken during high tension situations like these. The best place to get information is from the people in the middle of the issue. Social media platforms have become an excellent source for this. The intense feelings of powerlessness and anger in areas like Ferguson, Mo., where the population is predominately black and yet the police force remains mostly white, is understandable. In Nov. of 2014, “Time Magazine” released a brilliant article entitled, “Ferguson: In Defense of Rioting.” It explained that rioting is a forced response to these extreme situations of injustice. “The violent protests in Ferguson, Mo., are part of the American experience. Peaceful protesting is a luxury only available to those safely in mainstream culture,” it said, “and the racism they are fighting, the racism we are all fighting, is still alive and well throughout our nation. The modern racism may not culminate in separate water fountains and separate seating in the backs of buses, but its insidious nature is perhaps even more dangerous to the individuals who have to live under the shroud of stereotypical lies society foists upon them.”
Similarly, in April of this year, “The Atlantic” posted an article about the Baltimore riots, pointing out that when the media call for non-violence happened, there was still no released explanation for the death of Freddie Gray. “When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is correct or wise, any more than a forest fire can be correct or wise. Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community.”
The Black Lives Matter movement has evolved into a system of grassroots organizations across the country who are angered by police brutality, violence against people of color, a lack of answers or justice for the many cases that have cropped up, and by the overall systemic racism that overlays so much of the way that our country is run. The most important thing we can do is to listen to them. Regardless of your race or whatever your preconceived notions of the movement may be, listen to what these protestors have to say. Read their articles and resources. You may just find yourself reminded of the rights that every American is supposed to be able to count on. You may even start to consider yourself an ally. There is so much more to say about this enormous topic, but for now, I will say, Black Lives Matter.