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What is a Movement?
A Movement or a Moment? I’ve thought about this question ever since I attended a demonstration over the weekend. The speaker admonished the crowd to make sure that this momentum be a movement and not a moment.
I thought it a clever play on words at the time but the words have very subtle differences in meaning. A movement is a, “group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas” or “a campaign undertaken by a group of people working together”. A moment is a “very brief period of time” or an appropriate time for doing something or an opportunity.
We’ve all heard of some pretty famous movements: Occupy Wall Street, #MeToo and the Civil Rights Movements. What made these historical events movements and not just a moment in time. The perseverance of Martin Luther King? Ralph Abernathy? Rosa Parks? Absolutely and without question. But also the willingness of ordinary people to get out of their comfort zones and be a part of something that was bigger than themselves.
It was their willingness to protest despite the risk of being thrown into jail, bitten by dogs, or hosed down by water. It was the willingness of our White brothers and sisters to stand together side by side, hand in hand, in the face of racism and persecution. It was their willingness to keep standing long after the cameras were turned off and the nation was no longer watching. Dr. King once said that it’s one thing to agree that the goal of integration is morally right, however entirely something to commit yourself to the ideal of integration. He went on to say that, this is no day to pay lip service to integration, we must pay life service to it (Freedom, 199-200: 1958).
What will prevent this moment from being a movement is for the conversations to cease. It’s easy to be part of a movement when everyone is part of the movement and have the same beliefs. It’s another when it’s just you. A movement is what you stand for when you are alone with your friends who believe differently than you. A movement is picking up a book and learning about what it means to be Black in America.
I’m Just Ready For Things to Return to Normal
“I’m just ready for things to return to normal” This is something that has been uttered many times since the demonstrations began around the country and to many Black people, this is similar to hearing fingernails run over a chalkboard. When I hear this, I can’t help but wonder what is seen as “normal”. If normal is the inordinate amount that African Americans are stopped and frisked by police officers, racially profiled, and shot, I’m not sure that I want things to ever be normal again.
This phrase is similar to the campaign slogan used in the last election, “Let’s make America Great again”. What does that mean exactly? Is the speaker referring to when things were great when Africans were trafficked on slave ships to America’s shores on the Amistad or the Clotilda for the new America? Or during the 19th century when America was producing more than ½ of the world’s supply of cotton using Black hands? Or perhaps when America was great in 1865 when the Emancipation proclamation “freed” slaves and ushered in the Reconstruction Era only to give way to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crowe, and create a society that not only perpetuated slavery, but worse, the slave mentality and being “separate but equal”? Or maybe still it was the 1960s in the middle of the space race and being the first to reach the moon? The families of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Emmett Till, Malcolm X, the four girls from the 16th Street Baptist Church, and countless civil rights activists, and student protesters may think differently. Or maybe circa 2008 when we voted in our first Black president?
Racism by definition is an embedded system of institutional power and doesn’t change because a few people of color excel (DiAngelo, 2016).
All Lives Matter
“All lives matter.” Absolutely. When this is uttered (usually by my White counterparts) what do they mean? They are not saying that Black lives are more important than White lives (or any other life for that matter). They are saying that Black Lives are as important as White lives (and all other lives). But the history of race in America bears record that this has not always been the case.
I once heard a metaphor for “Black Lives Matter” that explains it like this: there are ten homes and one of them is on fire. When the fire department arrives, does that mean that the other nine homes and families are any less important to the fire department? No. It only means that the home that is on fire needs the most attention. It means that this house, unless there is some intervention, is going to be destroyed. When you see someone wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt, they are not saying that Black people are more important than White people, or should take priority over White people. What they are metaphorically declaring is that we are on fire right now and have been for a long time. The only difference is we are still waiting for someone to show up to douse this flame. We are still waiting on someone to even see the need.
Judged in Shadows
From the moment we are born Black Americans are living in the shadows. From the moment we are born, we are given a skin color that for some reason removes the benefit of the doubt. It doesn’t matter what neighborhood you grow up in or how affluent you are. It doesn’t matter what Ivy League university you attend. It doesn’t matter if you are the president of the United States. The first thing that will be seen is that you are a Black woman or a Black man, and you will be judged accordingly.
How is it that you can dress a Black man in a hoodie and a White man in a hoodie, and one gets the benefit of the doubt and the other does not? Why is one person more intimidating, more threatening, more frightening than the other? One can walk near a group of cars and hear the sound of people locking their doors, and the other does not. Until we, as a society, figure this out, we will continue to have Black men murdered by police and an indifferent society that believes that it was somewhat warranted.
I asked earlier if this is a movement or a moment: that is entirely up to us.
This was written by Reggie Branch in June, 2020.
ADD YOUR VOICE ON RACISM HERE
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