Updated: Jun 8
"Black lives matter is not about just black people, it is about redefining human dignity." - Malkia Amala Cyril
Malkia Amala Cyril said it best, the purpose of the movement is just that, to redefine human dignity. Dignity is defined as a state of quality of being worthy of honor and respect. Throughout African American history it is evident that blacks are seen as inferior, threatening, property, etc., there is no dignity in these biases. Now, I am not an expert in African American history, but some of their history is relevant as to how the black lives matter movement came to be. So for those of you that are struggling to understand what the movement is about, this blog is for you.
Everyone knows that the conditions of slavery were appalling and dreadful. Women were raped, sometimes in front of their partner whom could not do anything to stop it. Sometimes black people were forced to wear muzzles to prevent them from talking. They were whipped, placed on the front lines during the civil war (and previous wars) to ensure that they died first, before the white people. Black people were separated from their families, knowing they would never see them again. To this day, it is extremely rare for black people to be able to trace back their lineage. The reason being is that black people were forced to take their master's last name or were only given a first name. This not only made it difficult to trace their lineage, but it essentially was an attempt to strip them of their identities. There was a woman named Margaret Garner that tried to escape slavery with her family, but she was not successful. Her master and his men discovered their location, so in desperation she murdered her three young children before the men got to them. Think about that for a second, Mrs. Garner thought slavery was so inhumane and vile that she would rather kill her three children in order to
prevent them from becoming slaves. About 10 years later slavery was abolished and Abraham Lincoln promised black people 40 acres and a mule to establish themselves and start to contribute to the economy; but that promise was never-fulfilled because he was assassinated. The next president, Andrew Johnson and others that followed did not make good on that promise either. So I want to put this into perspective for you. Black people were enslaved against their will, lost their identities, separated from their families, beaten, raped, had no education, and were not given reciprocity to ensure that they could be a contributing citizens to the United States. The constitution, which was in place during this time period, said all men are equal, but black people were still not seen as human but were seen as property. After the civil war, black men were given the right to vote, which is great, but it came with unknown consequences. Many, many black men were arrested for petty crimes, sometimes that they did not commit and lost their right to vote. This was a way to mute the black men so that they could not elect any black leaders to be state representatives. Sadly, muting black people by stripping their right to vote is happening in the present day. (Check out the documentary 13th on Netflix to learn more about this topic).
Shortly after slavery was abolished, more political activists started to come forward to advocate for the black community. For example, Booker T. Washington encouraged black people to ”self-help" through schooling and learning a trade so that they could start to create their own wealth, which many did. There was one gentleman, Isaiah Montgomery, whom created the first all black town called Mound Bayou. At the time this was what they perceived to be the safest place because they were trying to avoid white supremacists.
At least twice a week in local towns, there were public lynchings and horrific newspaper articles degrading black people. At these lynchings, no joke families would gather around and bring picnic baskets to watch a black person die. Even though slavery was over, blacks were still not being treated with dignity, they were seen as inferior and easily manipulated. Not only that, these atrocious events furthered the biases for white people that blacks are 2nd class citizens, criminals, and they are being punished for a reason. So during this time, an all black town was a way of peace and self-preservation. For centuries these implicit and overt biases have been ingrained in society that black people are inferior. First came lynching then came new propaganda and entertainment that was made to mock black people. It also furthered the belief that they were dangerous and less important. For example, the movie Birth of a Nation had a white man dressed in black face to represent a sexually aggressive, unintelligent black man. The plot to this movie was that the black man went to fight in the civil war and came back with a craving to rape white women, so the KKK went after him. That was it, that is the sole premises of the movie. And white people gathered to this movie in masses! It made 50-100 million in 1915!
In 1955 lynching was still happening! A 14-year-old black boy, Emmett Till was lynched after being accused of offending a white woman in the local grocery store by whistling at her and grabbing her waist. Do you want to know the kicker? That woman admitted years later that she fabricated him touching her, her exact words are "that part is not true." So this young man was captured, beaten, and lynched over a "fabrication," a lie. Guys, this was ONLY 65 years ago. Most of our parents and grandparents were alive when it happened!
Before Emmett Till, another incident occurred to Dick Rowland. Dick Rowland was a 19-year-old black boy who allegedly assaulted a 17-year-old white woman. This resulted in the Greenwood massacre, also known as the Tulsa Race Riot. White people were so angry that they went into the black communities, torched and looted businesses as well as homes, and killed hundreds of black men. Thousands of black people were left homeless and the property damage was extensive.
In 1946, Isaac Woodard was discharged from the army and was on a bus home to his family. At one of the stops he asked the bus driver if he could use the bathroom, which the driver said no. Without incident, Isaac went back to his seat to continued his ride home. However, at the next stop there were police waiting for him and they beat him to the point that he was permanently blind. But there are SO MANY others whose stories have not been shared, I am talking about every day civilians. But during the 1940s, Mr. Woodard was one of the main catalysts for the civil rights movement.
The civil rights movement started to give the black community hope for change. Segregation was ending and they acquired many black leaders such as MLK and Malcom X to help fight police brutality. But there are things that happened that is not taught in schools.
For example, Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) was created by J. Edgar Hoover and was a secret FBI task. The only reason the public knows about it is because a group of white activists, broke into the FBI office, stole the documents and revealed it to the public. COINTELPRO was designed to spy and discredit any progress in the civil rights movement, with specific focus in taking down their leaders. Their first goal was to try to discredit their leaders by falsely portraying them as radical, evil, and snitches. COINTELPRO created rumors that civil right leaders were working with the FBI and they could not be trusted; thus, attempted to get the black community to turn on each other. The second goal developed by COINTELPRO was to scare the society into thinking that the black panthers were dangerous, they wanted that reputation to reflected on the civil rights movement. They wanted the civil right movement to be seen as out of control, violent, threatening, something that needed constant law enforcement intervention. They painted the Black Panthers as people that were out to kill police officers for no reason, when in actuality that was not the case. The group exercised their 2nd amendment right and legally acquired guns because of the consistent police brutality against the black community. They wanted to defend themselves. One of the leaders of the Black Panthers was Fred Hampton. Mr. Hampton was in school to study law because he wanted to help people. He recognized the white supremacists (KKK) was a strong force and was out to hurt/kill black people; as a result, he tried to bring the black community together so that they could protect each other and face the white supremacists together. #BlackPower The FBI saw that the black community was gaining momentum and they saw this as a threat, so they murdered Fred Hampton at the age of 21. In the middle of the night, they broke into his home and fired 99 shots, and the panther members shot only 1 in return. To make matters worse, the police that killed him tried to tell the public that the panthers were violent during the raid. They said that there was 200 shots exchanged between the police and the panthers. And they insisted that it was a miracle that not one policeman was injured or killed. The only reason we know it did not happen the way the police stated it did, was because the stolen documents GAVE A DETAILED PLAN OF HOW THEY WERE GOING TO MURDER Fred Hampton. Shocking right?
People are not taught that our government is capable of something as evil and racists as these events. It is easier for white people to put trust in the government and its institutions. We are taught from a young age that it is reliable and fair. #WhitePrivilege But for people of color, the centuries of distrust and lack of dignity from people makes it extremely difficult to have faith in the government. Black people still face implicit biases similar to the reputation that was portrayed in Birth of a Nation: dangerous, aggressive, unintelligent, and sexual deviants. They are fighting the same battle that were present in the civil rights movement, police brutality. And before that it was Jim Crow laws, slavery, and many other obstacles that I didn’t share. This is why the black lives matter movement is about redefining human dignity. Black people deserve the be honored and respected, they are just as worthy as every other human being; especially after everything they have been through.
It is said that resiliency is a true predictor of success, and I have to say that the black people are the most resilient and brave people. I am hopeful that this movement will bring change and dignity to the black community. They are long overdue. #BlackLivesMatter