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Black Lives Matter Movement: Do I Join or Stand Aside?

Updated on June 30, 2016
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Jamal is a graduate from Northeastern Seminary but writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.

Back in the Day…

When I was going to high school in the early 90’s, pop culture was just starting to embrace Black culture, at least in pop culture. This was also accompanied by the first public realization of the problems of inner city violence and police brutality, something that was also always around, but now exposed thanks to the Rodney King beating in L.A and ensuing LA riots.

Because of this, there was also a big push for Black youth to embrace their heritage, which was now on the rise. I was familiar with heritage movement. While there was definitely a demand to have Black culture appreciated by society at large, there was also a push for Black youth to embrace and agree with all things Black regarding social issues and lifestyle.

I had to listen to hip hop music, and was told this numerous times. I could not listen to all sides or take a middle ground. I had to get a box cut hair style and dress in loose –fitting urban clothing. But now its 2016, and the reason I bring up these memories now is because I find myself feeling something familiar to it with Black Lives Matter Movement.

Deja Vu

I should probably clarify: it wasn’t as much as the movement that prompted the memories as it was the recent speech during this year’s BET awards. Actor, Jesse Williams spoke how his award was for the civil rights leaders, Black mothers, as well as speaking against police brutality and cultural appropriation, and for critics of the Black Lives Matter movement to more or less shut the fuck up. He got a standing ovation and tweet storm of support as well as criticism.

My father once said that the truth isn’t on any one side, but in the middle. In the past year, there have been a large number of kids being shot by cops, violent protests in response to that, and calls for more acceptance and diversity in society. According to their website, http://blacklivesmatter.com/guiding-principles/, the Black Lives Matter Movement stance:

“…is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”

These are points that I agree with. Officers who commit these crimes need to be held accountable. A system that leans towards favoritism of one race while leaving others behind, needs to be changed. But I find myself meeting with 17-year old self on where I once again, differed.

Agreement and Dissonance

First, the idea that a single community be it Black, White, or whomever, can achieve any lasting change on their own is something I don’t believe to be true anymore. The Civil Rights Movement that was hailed in Jesse Williams speech, was in large successful because besides it being Blacks rising up, also worked in tandem with other groups such as the Jewish community. A large number of Whites assisted and aided with the uprising. It wasn’t just one peoples’ work.

To put it another way, when Jesse Jackson ran for president in 1984, he appealed to mostly the Black community. Nothing wrong with that, but it also left other groups feeling left out, like they had nothing to connect to. He was the Black peoples’ presidential nominee, not theirs. When Barack Obama ran twenty-four years later, he too connected to the Black communities’ interest, but also to the interests of other people as well. How successful he actually was in achieving those interests is debatable, but it did win him the presidency: twice.

Bottom line: while the needs of the community are important, in a globalized century bound by the internet and progressivism, it cannot afford to be an isolating factor either. A body can’t have all its limbs wanting to go different directions, but must work together. Different in appearance and function, but going the same way.

The second issue point was with just how the BLM movement represented Black people as a whole or did not. I have had a gun pulled on me by cops. I’ve been profiled six times and had racist statements and epithets passed my way. However, I never found myself agreeing wholly with activists on issues. When someone is forced to choose a side, that automatically binds them to agree with whatever position or action that side deems necessary, no matter how flawed it might be. You don’t talk about them and hold the line in the face of the enemy.

As much as I don’t like having the barrel of a gun in my face, I loathe having my ethics made for me just as much. I stood for justice on social issues on the basis of being a human being. Yes, I had differences from other races, but we’re both still human. This point was fundamental to the 1960’s Civil Rights movement. The BLM cause is fine, but it doesn’t represent all my views on social issues and there are other Black people in other places across the world who I think would agree.

Lastly was the point brought up in the BET speech about, “how far we come”, and disregarding that as bullshit. This is something I have actually heard often over the years, not just from a Hollywood actor. Jesse Williams made this point regarding Black kids who have died from police brutality and that is a valid point.

Yet I also felt that those who attack that statement are out of line as well, simply by the fact that they can make such statements openly to begin with. Try doing that in 1920 and that’s where you will get that answer about how far we’ve come.

How far have you come? You’re all wealthy and no one is trying to take it from you. You’re educated and gathered in a nice place without someone trying to kick you out or coming to beat or kill you after the post-awards party. And when the riots over the police killings happened, it wasn’t just Black people in the streets, but other races as well who agreed with you. How do we think a Black Sharecropper would respond to seeing half this shit and not get lynched for it?

This one of the scenes that made the Civil Rights Movement so powerful and unable to dismiss a distant problem
This one of the scenes that made the Civil Rights Movement so powerful and unable to dismiss a distant problem | Source

An Outside/Inside Perspective

Does any of that though negate the killings of Treyvon Martin and David Joseph? No of course not! But while fighting for their justice and continuing to improve the system, do not disregard the fact that we are even in a position to fight for that justice in the first place where as our ancestors were not.

For these reasons, I have found myself not at odds with the BLM movement, but neither wholly joining their cause either. I am of the naïve opinion that to solve the problems of not just our communities, but others as well: transgender, Native American, immigrant, Muslim and so on, that we have to work together and care about each others’ causes. And this applies to other movements as well. Or to use Game of Thrones’ character, Robert Baratheon’s example, when comparing a fist with five fingers:

One is always the bigger number.

The tragedies of this and the past year have been marked by a coming together of different peoples in spite of it.  Such solidarity is a mark of 21'st century social movements, getting more attention than otherwise
The tragedies of this and the past year have been marked by a coming together of different peoples in spite of it. Such solidarity is a mark of 21'st century social movements, getting more attention than otherwise | Source

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