By Vernon A. Williams
It seems like the struggle has been forever. That’s because it has been. But as pervasive as the expression “Black Lives Matter” may be, the truth is it only became an international catchphrase after – and as a result of – the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin, the Black teenager gunned down in Sanford, Florida, in 2012 by a white man, in his own father’s neighborhood for no reason.
Though George Zimmerman confessed to being the mindless triggerman, he was acquitted of all charges in a Florida so-called court of law. That sense of impunity among those who have taken lives of African Americans for four centuries inspired a trio of community activists to form Black Lives Matter and launch nationwide protests of the brutal slaying.
Though ungodly lynching of Black men, women and children had been an abomination in this country centuries before and continuously since, the formation of BLM was seminal.
Eight out of 10 African Americans can’t name either one of the three founders of the Black Lives Matter movement – let alone all of them. Unlike the more widely distributed platform of the Black Panther Party, few know the BLM’s formally articulated vision.
While there may be an organization of the same pronunciation with a distinct political agenda, true seekers of knowledge and understanding know the difference between BLM as an organization and the mere humane imperative that Black people matter.
Most of those who pretend not to understand are being intellectually dishonest. That is why bigots can neither force themselves to recognize the organization Black Lives Matter, nor simply speak the humanity implicit in acknowledgment that Black citizens are entitled to the same rights, privileges, protection and respect as white Americans.
The overt racists push legislation, harassment, and public behaviors that threaten the exercise of God-given, constitutional rights of people of color. The covert racists make the red-herring rationalization that saying “all lives matter” constitutes the same. They perpetuate micro-aggression and macro-aggression that precipitate systemic racism.
Micro-aggression would be indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group. On the other hand, macro-aggression consists of bigoted beliefs, questions, remarks or actions painful because they stereotype a particular group that is discriminated against.
There is yet a third group of whites pertaining to the issue. That would be lukewarm white allies who offer tacit support for the concept of Black Lives Matter but fail to demonstrate commitment in either “proactive” behavior – direct involvement in anti-racial dialogue or activities – or even a “reactive” stance of stern rebuke and rejections of white people’s racist words or deeds. These individuals are supportive in spirit, but that’s not enough.
Talk about impact. Since its formation in 2013, Black Lives Matter co-founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi have been cited by Time Magazine as being among the 100 most influential people in the world. The cry “Black Lives Matter” became emblematic as police shootings of unarmed Black Americans skyrocketed.
Ms. Tometi was the keynote speaker for the 49th Annual IUPUI Black Student Union 2018 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dinner in Indianapolis. The Nigerian-American human rights leader, community organizer and writer knew the truth. “It’s not that we created a movement. It was there. People were already inspired. But words matter. Black Lives Matter was a phrase that gave that spirit voice and a sense of oneness in purpose.”
Simple but profound. It resounded with the same sense of affirmation and fervor in the new millennium as “We Shall Overcome” motivated freedom fighters in the sixties.
The assault on Black Lives Matter by the media and conservatives, compounded by the hesitancy and lack of understanding by soft supporters, defines the challenge ahead.
But when these three young ladies developed the concept and stretched into 40 chapters across the nation, they could not have imagined that in the wake of the George Floyd slaying that their motto would be the battle cry of millions of people of all races, religions, and nationalities in more than a hundred countries, as well as over 300 cities across all 50 states in the U.S.
The broad global enthusiasm of last year has been tempered by a wave of extremist and ultraconservative rightwing backlash and white nationalism. And yet there is reason for optimism in the wake of momentum for multicultural approaches to anti-racism, a new administration focused on social progress and huge corporate commitments in 2020.
Despite unending efforts to distort the struggle that Black Lives Matter typified, the occurrence of one harsh encounter after another won’t dissuade those on the front line, like Ms. Tometi. And every now and then, there will be victories – reasons to celebrate while always keeping our reality in perspective.
In the wake of the Derek Chauvin verdict, Tometi said, “I was moved to tears. This is really a testament to the people, everyday people, taking to the streets to say ‘enough is enough.’ But it cannot be seen as what is now going to become the status quo – unless we see laws change. The work doesn’t stop with one verdict. The problem is systemic.”
The next step is legislation and enforcement. Until then, the vigilant watch continues.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: email@example.com.