On Aug. 8th, 2015, cable news erupted with images and news clips from Black Lives Matter, or BLM, activists taking over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ stage in Seattle. The protest sparked a tidal wave of controversy that even captured Donald Trump’s attention when he spoke to CNN. He said, “I would never give up my microphone. I thought that was disgusting…” Trump wasn’t alone in his disgust. Liberal America loathed the seemingly irrational tactics of the BLM Seattle protestors. Commentators from all sides of the political spectrum demanded to know why the BLM movement would attack and berate the most progressive and liberal candidate in the presidential race.
The activists responded, “We honor black lives by doing the unthinkable, the unapologetic and the unrespectable.” Specifically, BLM activist Marissa Johnson named “white supremacist liberalism” as a crucial barrier to “holding Sanders and other white progressives accountable for failing to support [the BLM] movement.” Still the question remains: why do present-day activists, like Johnson, rely on “the unthinkable, the unapologetic and the unrespectable” as means for proclaiming their message of freedom and justice for black lives? The answer is simple: because black political activists, like those of BLM, are responding to the evolution of racism and systemic oppression in the 21st century.
America no longer uses “white” and “colored” public signs to segregate and marginalize black populations. The politicians of today, with the exception of Donald Trump, no longer consider it politically viable to explicitly endorse black economic and political subjugation. Nowadays, racial discrimination and disenfranchisement takes on a more insidious and covert form. Instead of battling outright racists, black Americans are confronted with white supremacist views masked in “color-blind,” “post-racial” rhetoric. Thus, contemporary social activists are compelled to respond accordingly.
However, abuses against people of color are not all inconspicuous. Extrajudicial killings of black people by law enforcement are the worst kept secrets of American history. From the establishment of colonial slave patrols to the development of the modern American police state, police brutality against people of color in the U.S. is old news — 300-year-old news. Black political activists of today are still attempting to raise awareness about police brutality. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was born out of long historic tradition of black activists fighting to “[broaden] the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state.”
We cannot ignore the rallying cry against police brutality. Historically this issue has been at the epicenter of racial justice conflict. Police violence against people of color harkens back to deeply rooted social and racialized inequalities that have existed in America since its founding. The Civil Right Movement — as victorious as it may have been in some respects — left behind a legacy of unfinished business that activists today are addressing in the contemporary moment. The issues of black America are being re-televised and reinterpreted through hashtags, Twitter chats and other online forums connecting advocates from around the globe faster than ever before. Whether we like it or not, we are witnessing the next chapter in civil rights history.
America’s moral conscience cannot afford to entertain the gross dichotomy of Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter that dominates American political discourse today. We owe it to succeeding generations to tackle issues of criminal and civil justice head-on and permanently eliminate historical injustices. Regardless of skin color or ethnicity, all people have a role to play in race-related debates. These issues are not solved in isolation and are certainly not overcome by silence or passivity. When opportunities present themselves, we ought to respond, offer constructive criticism and contribute to the broader mission of constructing a truly inclusive America. However, sidestepping the process of addressing the historical roots of America’s racial divisions will only delay much-needed social progress. Until we confront and acknowledge the abuses embedded in American institutions and ideologies, social epidemics like police brutality will endure.
DeAnza Cook is a contributing writer for The Cavalier Daily and Black Student Alliance’s bi-weekly “What’s the Word” column.