It is safe to say that the election of the first Black president in the of the United States has spurred one of the most tenuous, sensitive, and divided American environments we have seen in a long time. Barack Obama’s tenure has proven to be ground-breaking, likely shifting the American social and racial climate for the foreseeable future. It has even gone so far as to incite new sociopolitical movements: Tea Partiers have muscled their way to the forefront of the political landscape; Donald Trump and Ben Carson, fashioning themselves as “anti-Obamas”, have somehow become the frontrunners of the GOP while promising to restore America’s “greatness”; the fights for and against gun control have engendered a nationwide opposing discourse.
At the center of the current stage has been the Black Lives Matter movement, which has picked up momentum as a result of the many recent killings of Black people by white police officers, and the continual lack of justice in cases where a Black person fell victim to a White assailant. These unjust incidents only served to ignite one of the biggest Calls to Action for Black people. Black Lives Matter seeks to deliver a message and instill a mentality to the American people that, to many, seems quite elementary and simple to grasp: the lives of Black citizens in the United States are important at all times and need to be treated with the same humanity, dignity, and respect as everyone else.
This is a straightforward concept. It is not calculus, physics, or attempting to understand how ESPN calculates their Total QBR statistic. Black America has persevered through years of pain and oppression, stayed resilient in the harsh face of slavery, Reconstruction, and Reaganomics and now they just want the right to live their lives in peace without the threat of being mistreated or murdered. That (among many other demands) is what Black Lives Matter is fighting for. Unfortunately the narrative of BLM that routinely persists is one of a divisive group of extremists hell-bent on causing chaos and disturbing any Bernie Sanders rally in its way.
For Black people however, even with its easy-to-grasp message, completely identifying with BLM isn’t always easy. In my more than humble opinion, BLM exists in a space that isn’t as much Black and White as it is Black and Black.
To further illustrate this point, enter Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman–everyone’s favorite neighborhood Compton-born, Stanford educated, (J-Mal look-alike), trash-talking NFL superstar. Sherman has never shied away from voicing his opinions about the hypocrisies of rules in the NFL or various other topics. Because of this, and some of his other antics,
people have identified Sherman as a “thug” or a “nigger” or the possible leader of some mass revolt. In September, according to whoever the heck King Noble is, Sherman was allegedly supposed to team up with Marshawn Lynch to kill mass numbers of White people.
We will choose to overlook the sheer ignorance of Mr. Noble’s statement. However, Richard Sherman’s own comments, in which he addressed the picture and the fake, grammatically incorrect response that was attributed to him, not only served as the impetus for this article but also highlighted the conundrum that lies within the layers of the BLM movement.
In Sherman’s interview, he eloquently dismisses any notion of him promoting racism and hate, but also explains the incongruence he senses when discussing BLM:
“… as a black man, I do understand that black lives matter. You know, I stand for that, I believe in that wholeheartedly.
But I also think that there’s a way to go about things, and there’s a way to do things. And I think the issue at hand needs to be addressed internally, and before we move on, because from personal experience, you know, you have living in the hood, living in the inner city, you deal with things, you deal with people dying. Dealt with a best friend getting killed … it was two 35-year-old black men. Wasn’t no police officer involved, wasn’t anybody else involved, and I didn’t hear anybody shouting ‘black lives matter’ then … and I think that’s the point we need to get to is that we need to deal with our own internal issues before we move forward and start pointing fingers and start attacking other people. We need to solidify ourselves as people and deal with our issues, because I think as long as we have black-on-black crime and, you know, one black man killing another … if black lives matter, then it should matter all the time. You should never let somebody get killed — that’s somebody’s son, that’s somebody’s brother, that’s somebody’s friend. So you should always keep that in mind.”
(Side note: Sherman also identifies that athletes have a role, a purpose, a voice that
should can be used when when the situation presents itself, saying “I think if we did have more guys that spoke up on those types of things, we’d be in a better place as a society and as a culture.” This concept will definitely be unpacked in further F.O.R. discussions.)
Let’s allow all of that to sink in for a minute, because herein lies the issue. Where some people, myself included, wholeheartedly agree with Sherman–recognizing that our power as Black people to change our community starts from within just as much, if not more than from outside the community–other people would just as easily throw a penalty flag on Sherman’s keen retort.
If Black people acknowledge that the mass killings against our community by our community are just as, if not more, detrimental than the executions and civil rights violations of Black lives by white police and vigilantes, then we not only discount the legal and economic systematic oppression that Black America is continually enduring, but we also engage in victim-blaming, placing all of the ills of the Black community on the Black community.
The converse is also true: if Black people defend the assertion that the harassment, mistreatment, and injustices towards us is stifling our growth and progress in this country, then we diminish our own ability to persevere, to be resilient in the face of adversity, and to be–albeit limited–self-determinant in our pursuit of our dreams. Additionally, like Sherman reiterated, we place emphasis on inter-racial murders and wrongdoings, while minimizing the intra-racial ones.
Herein lies the dilemma that I and many other Black people face when identifying with either Sherman’s statement or the message and methods of BLM.
Black America faces a true crisis; we must solve a mystery that entangles us in a seemingly endless conversation about the most plausible path to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, safety, and freedom in the country literally built on our ancestors’ backs. Being killed in what feels to be record numbers by white extremists and police officers, the actual value and importance of the lives of Black Americans are constantly in question.
John McWhorter, a writer for The Daily Beast, bluntly stated in his article that BLM is “Living in the Past” and that “a movement cannot make a real difference in 2015 by pretending that it’s 1965.”
Well John, why don’t you tell the people how you really feel?
He goes on to say, “But what disturbs a great many—and I highly suspect many more—people about the philosophical underpinnings of BLM is that black people in poor neighborhoods are in vastly more danger of being killed by young black men than by the occasional bad cop.”
And there it is again. This never-ending feeling that bubbles in my stomach each time I see another Black person mistreated, oppressed, or killed by a white vigilante or a “bad cop,” coupled with the reminder from Richard Sherman that many of my former classmates, and neighborhood pals were beaten, robbed, and slain by other members of our community, and the confusion of not knowing how to proceed with these diverging feelings.
Our complicated history as Black people affords us the opportunity to be confused, perplexed, and simply stuck for a while. It seems like we spend so much time fighting for equality and rights, that we forget to actually take care of ourselves and think about what our community needs from our community. We tend to live in the aforementioned paradox of fighting against oppression from others, but allowing injustice and transgressions from our own people.
One has to look no further than rapper Future’s new song “Slave Master.” As you can imagine, this uplifting, inspiring classic features lyrics like “Jump out a new whip, n*gga, like I’m a slave master.”
Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think it is ever good to glorify hundreds of years of a systematic destruction of an entire race. But especially not when trying to describe the feeling you get when purchasing a new vehicle. Why are we okay with this? Is a hot beat really all you need to get a free pass? I would anticipate a swift response from Al, Jesse, and the Twitterverse if any non-Black person created a song making light of slavery. This song, while paling in comparison to the unjust killings of Black lives, further highlights the inconsistencies of what we will accept and choose to turn a blind-eye to in our own community.
McWhorter states that the “Black Lives Matter’s mantra means, lip service notwithstanding, Black Lives Matter When Taken by White People.” And they should. They should matter in tremendous ways. Fighting the ills that continue to allow the spreading and growth of systematic oppression should be at the forefront of the movement.
To move forward however, this cannot be the only meaning. As McWhorter continues to say, “a Civil Rights movement for today rather than yesterday can’t focus only on racism…We must also base our activism on the pure and simple truth that…’Black Lives Matter When Taken by Other People Too.’”
As Black people we must operate with the two ideals working cooperatively. At this point of convergence, will we finally have a space to move forward and truly believe that Black Lives Matter.