Americans have long boasted of their rich history as a democratic institution. However, we tend to ignore the institution of slavery; we often gloss over such inhumanities by mentioning the Civil War, Emancipation and later, the Civil Rights Movement in justifying that it has fulfilled its duty in addressing the oppression of the Black community.
“Be a lamp, a lifeboat, a ladder.” —Mevlana Rumi
Americans have long boasted of their rich history as a democratic institution. However, we tend to ignore the institution of slavery; we often gloss over such inhumanities by mentioning the Civil War, Emancipation and later, the Civil Rights Movement in justifying that it has fulfilled its duty in addressing the oppression of the Black community. Although segregation and slavery have legally ended, a notion of Anti-Black racism remains strong in the U.S. In other words, Anti-Blackness “is about the debasement of black humanity, utter indifference to black suffering, and the denial of black people’s rights to exist” (Jeffries 2). This is visible in both public and private spaces including the disproportionate amount of black men incarcerated, blacks who have been brutally beaten and at times killed by law enforcement, as well as the legal measures taken to keep blacks from owning homes and moving out of impoverished areas. The hashtag and social movement, #BlackLivesMatter, was created to respond to this nationwide attitude of Anti-Blackness.
Created by three Queer black women, the hashtag initiates the conversation of Anti-Blackness. Starting this movement with social media has effectively reached audiences far and wide. Although many have responded in opposition with #AllLivesMatter, that many are participating in the conversation of Anti-Black racism is progress. One of the creators of the hashtag, Alicia Garza, remarks that “[We] created the infrastructure for this movement project—moving the hashtag from social media to the streets” (Garza 1). Combining a twenty-first century approach along with organization techniques from the Civil Rights Movement give Black Lives Matter a stronger voice in addressing issues affecting the Black community. The movement has faced some criticism inciting that it excludes other marginalized groups. Responding to such exclusion, Garza states that “When we are able to end hyper-criminalization and sexualization of Black people and end the poverty, control, and surveillance of Black people, every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free” (Garza 3). Black Lives Matter does not intend to exclude others, it is meant to initiate the liberation of all marginalized groups. The liberation of oppressed peoples begins with breaking the foundation of white supremacy deeply rooted in modern-day slavery. Once we can stop mass incarceration of Black as well as having more accountability in police brutality against Blacks, then this pattern of liberation will follow for all other marginalized groups. Cracking the foundation of white supremacy involves changing our perspective of our identity as Americans.
In changing the way we see ourselves, we must stop denying the value of Black life. #BlackLivesMatter sparks a 4’52” moment as described by Ashon Crawley; it is a disruption in the normative attitude towards Blackness. Crawley states that being in 4’52” is “to linger in dissent, to hold dissent as divergence, to mobilize divergence as difference, to disperse difference as desirous” (Crawley 5). Crawley describes the process in which the Black Lives Matter movement undergoes. It involves action and the dissent is that Black lives matter in both public and private spaces. The movement’s ultimate goal is to make such an acceptance of Black life desired by the entire nation and to embody that in our legal institutions. In addition, Ta-Nahesi Coates considers this change of perspective as a form of reparations for slavery in this country. Coates’s “The Case for Reparations” also cites examples where Black life is denied private space in the practice of Redlining, predatory lender agreements and how they determine the segregation of neighborhoods that remain to exist across the country. Coates remarks that reparations would require “a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history” ( Coates 41). Americans must acknowledge the nation’s history entirely to be able to see how oppression of Blacks remains to exist in the twenty-first century. Although the overt denial of Black life is over, we must use our history to detect the covert means of oppression in current institutions such as in law enforcement, the justice system and the prison system.
History can be painful to revisit but it is more painful to witness our nation repeat its own historical mistakes. The racial disparities in our zip codes and neighborhoods are a constant reminder that this nation has legally denied the right to private space to Blacks. Coates comments as recently as the 1930s to 1960s “black people across the country were largely cut out of the legitimate home-mortgage market through means both legal and extralegal” (Coates 7). The regions we now consider as “dangerous areas” such as Oakland, Detroit, parts of Chicago and Compton are the direct result of redlining in the twentieth century. Lenders back then believed Blacks were too risky of investments so they were restricted to living in these dangerous areas at the cost of home-ownership. Many blacks had no choice but to sign agreements to pay a mortgage with the disadvantages of renting. They had no protection from the government from such predatory agreements that could be terminated at any time. So when people now turn off their TVs or mobile devices in refusal to face the denial of Black life in public spaces, they should look around their living space. The comforts of their private space and home-ownership is a historical decision deeply rooted in Anti-Blackness. The more we try to ignore this issue, the closer it hits home.