Today’s post is written by a special guest, Teddy Burrage is a Portland, Maine native and local activist who focuses on social justice. He is an organizer with Portland Racial Justice Congress, a group of students, activists, and concerned citizens who are promoting multiculturalism, social consciousness, and racial justice in the Greater Portland area. Teddy’s writing can be found on his blog.
There has been a major call for racial justice across our country with millions of people taking to the streets, organizing, and literally crying out for the lives of their communities. Despite catching mainstream attention, the recent movement for Black lives is often dismissed and trivialized while still being exploited for TV ratings and political gain. We expect descent from Republicans but how responsive have progressives and Democrats been? Are our leaders and presidential candidates really listening?
THE REAL MESSAGE
The Black Lives Matter Movement has it origins in the epidemic of police brutality and misconduct that has plagued Black communities for decades. Having made Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Sandra Bland household names, the movement has also inspired important conversations about what it means to be Black in America:
The typical Black household now has just 6% of the wealth of the typical white household. More than 60% of the people incarcerated in this country are Black or brown. Predominantly Black communities such Flint, Michigan face neglect and blatant mistreatment by their state governments. Transwomen of color bear the brunt of transphobic violence and murder. And even Black school children suffer from this disparity as they are subject to a disproportionate amount of suspensions and detentions in school districts across the country.
It’s hard to argue that these statistics are not the result of 400 years of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation, only ending one generation ago. And that was just on paper.
THE MEDIA PORTRAYAL
Regardless of the complexity and urgency of these issues, politicians and media still frame the Black Lives Matter movement, and its protests, in a single dimension. If one relied solely on the word of our leaders or cable news for their information (which many do), the take-away would be that the Black Lives Matter movement is just a group of angry, unorganized, and irrational Black people who interrupt America’s favorite white politicians, disrupt travel, and burn down CVS drugstores for fun.
The belittling, exploitative, and dehumanizing lens through which Black plight is portrayed in the mainstream contributes greatly to the ignorance and acts of violence exemplified by recent Donald Trump rallies.
We all saw the young black woman who was assaulted at Trump rally in Kentucky and the Black man who was sucker punched at another in North Carolina. In both incidences, Donald Trump encouraged the violence and even offered to pay the legal fees of the batterer in North Carolina. Ted Cruz said that the Black Lives Matter movement was about “celebrating the murder of police officers” and former presidential candidate Chris Christie agreed with Cruz’s misrepresentation. But the buck does not stop with Republican candidates and their supporters.
It’s easy to call out those who we consider the opposition, but the true measure of integrity is when we allow ourselves to critically examine the attitudes of self-professed progressive allies and leaders.
PROGRESSIVES AND RACIAL INSENSITIVITY
The recent Hillary Clinton rally during which her husband “shutdown” protesters was actually the impetus for this post. He doubled-down in defending his wife’s use of the racially coded term “super-predators”—a term she’s expressed regret for using. He went on to say to the protesters, “You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter.” Again, I repeat, the Black Lives Matter movement has come to the defense of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Sandra Bland among others – but in many ways that is beside the point.
It’s also important to note that despite the mainstream reports, it’s not even clear if the protesters were part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In an interview with Mic, one of the protesters said: “We were not there to say black lives matter, just there to show discontent with Hillary Clinton because she’s profited off of the black vote and now she’s going after mothers who’ve lost their children due to unjust policing.”
Former-President Clinton is often characterized as an “honorary Black person” which makes his brash attitude towards the protesters a bit dismaying. Moreover, the grievances and concerns of the protesters were legitimate and deserved a more understanding response.
With all that said, one can understand why he came his wife’s defense: it was a rally intended to boost her credibility and campaign and he was there as keynote speaker. But the question remains, is this an instance of him wanting to have his cake and eat it, too? Does he get to receive affection from the Black community while dismissing and deflecting their concerns?
The incident seemed to be only an extension of uncomfortable and racially insensitive moments in the Democratic primary.
At the beginning of the race, Governor O’Malley said in response to Black Lives Matters protesters at Netroots Nation Conference,”Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter” for which he later apologized, recognizing that the comment was inappropriate in the context of systemic racism and the murder of Black people. In March, a peaceful protester was removed from a $500 per plate Clinton meet-and-greet where attendees hissed and jeered at the young Black woman.
Even at a Bernie Sander’s rally in Seattle, Washington, supposedly one of the most liberal bastions of the country, a Black Lives Matter protester was booed and heckled by audience members as she tried to explain the atrocities that were happening in her community. While it was commendable that Senator Sanders gave the protesters the stage, as with other incidences, it was most disheartening to witness the negative reaction of self-professed progressives in the audience and on social media in the following days.
DEMOCRATS VS REPUBLICANS
It’s clear that Democrats are more sympathetic to concerns of the minority communities, and many of them express that they are committed to substantive efforts to reform public policy to improve lives of Black Americans. Out of the 43 Black members of Congress, only 3 are members of the Republican party, so that says something.
There are also stark differences between the priorities and messages of the two major parties on most issues. The 2016 Republican debates can only be described as something between a circus and playground quarrel, while the Democratic debates have covered real policy and solutions.
But at the core of this post is the question are we committed to equality and justice even above political party?
Paying allegiance to a certain affiliation, candidate, or political ideology doesn’t make you immune to being part of the problem. To solve issues like racism (sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc., etc.), we need to shed our political labels and have hard conversations.
Mainstream liberalism has proven time and again that it is okay to protest and stand up in the name of Black lives at conservative events, but when those protest fly in the face of liberal white leaders, it’s gone too far. That, my friends, is what you call hypocrisy.
During the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. often talked about the subtle racism of Northern white liberals and how it was just as dangerous as the segregationist attitudes in the South. He recognized that people can contribute to racism regardless of being liberal or conservative; Democrat or Republican; Confederate Flag waving KKK member or self-professed ally.
In order to realize equality, justice, and every other right we are promised in this country, we must look beyond the narrow scope of the mainstream. We must seek common ground with people outside of the framework of Washington, DC and Augusta . We must put integrity above all else if we are going realize the dream Dr. King described on the steps of the Lincoln Monument fifty-three short years ago.