Movements and Digressions
By. Raimondo Graziano
~ Written prior to the 2016 Presidential Election
Please note: The piece being discussed is titled “Building a Culture of Solidarity,” written by Santos F. Ramos of Michigan State University. A thank you, both to your informing words and to your service in these causes of great importance. The piece written is one of many being written today attempting to explain and bring clarity to a movement that has grown considerably over the last few years. While there are many detractors to the movement, and an even larger number of supporters, I am under the belief that there is a misunderstanding between the more moderate voices on both sides of this argument concerning police brutality, the rights of African Americans and the current socioeconomic situation of minorities throughout the country. Of course this movement is Black Lives Matter, a crucial and pivotal group which has grown to prominence – a significant step in a continuation of the civil rights activists of the 1960’s. And, if I could switch topics for one moment, the parallels between the events of the 1960’s and early 70’s are similar today, both politically and culturally. But I digress; the movement the author attempts to describe in relation to other minorities besides the focal ‘black lives’ has been wildly misunderstood in their goals and hopes for the black community. Let me be clear – The Black Lives Matter movement is not an affront to ‘white culture’ or to police officers, and the majority of Americans do not understand this, and even go so far as to refuse to even hear what has to be said.
They have clear policy goals they hope to achieve – police oversight committees, an increased amount of body cameras for officers on duty, the closing of for-profit prison complexes which disproportionately target African Americans through a failed drug policy that has its roots in the administration of Nixon; being ‘tough on crime’ meant mandatory minimums, and a policy of policing which had a singular goal – voter suppression. America refuses to understand that there is a serious problem here. From education to our streets, the struggles faced by this community are insurmountable, and most likely not understood because the majority of ‘White America’ has never experienced systemic oppression and racism.
Though let us be clear on this as well. No matter how noble the effort may be, we as a nation cannot change what resides in a man’s heart and mind. We may try and achieve some leaps and bounds, but ending racism on a conceptual level is not plausible. However, and this is key, we can change the laws that govern a nation and these laws will in turn shift how men conduct themselves in business practice and in society. It is through legislation and rigid enforcement of said legislation, that we will be able to diminish racial injustice systematically throughout our democracy.
I believe that what the author fails to see, or perhaps focuses too heavily on, is the racial division within the movement. As the author puts it, there has been increased activity from Hispanics, Native Americans and other minorities in advancing their goals of their respective communities. The author describes themselves as a ‘chicano.’ The way in which the author states their points, points to a growing animosity and discontent within the core of the Black Lives Matter movement towards the broader focus which is taking place. As the author describes on the second page of his article, similar movements have sprung up advocating “Native American lives,” “Hispanic lives,” and others.
Now, two things. Firstly, on the second paragraph of this piece, the author states that he has joined in on the protests because of the words of an intellectual named Stokley Carmichael. He says that the destinies of black communities and Hispanic communities are intertwined. While from a policy standpoint, this is glaringly true as the plights that African Americans and Hispanics face in this country are parallel in they are grouped together by a privileged majority that does not admit to their privilege. To move a movement forward on this premise, to me, is wrong. We cannot have a double standard. At the core, this movement is about Americans, whose lives are connected in every way (though we sometimes neglect to see it), who are working to advance the rights of their fellow countrymen who have been disenfranchised, beaten and brutalized by a system that has been working against them since the founding of the country. Trying to sway the hearts and minds of men is for the philosophers, no, if what this country wants is tangible change then we need to elect legislators who will push progressive reform not for the good of one movement, but for the health and betterment of our democracy.
Through education we can ensure that our youth know that all are created equal, and should be afforded the equal opportunity to attain what they hope. We can teach that it is not Irish and Italian lives or Black and Hispanic lives but rather it is all Americans working towards what this country was founded to do – a brotherhood of man working towards the height of human equality and achievement.
However the piece leaves me with many questions: Is the group as it portrayed here and through the media, truly splintered? Where does the movement move from this point? To simply protest and become loud and boisterous is not enough. We need legislation. Below I’ve put some notes and very thoughts that I had during my reading of the piece. While they may be jumbled, they reflect my own personal thought process when reading on these frustrating stories.
“THIS IS A BLACK MOTHER DEMANDING THAT HER CHILD BE TREATED THE SAME AS A CHILD OF WHITE PARENTS. THIS IS A BLACK FAMILY DEMANDING JUSTICE FOR THEIR SONS, AND DAUGHTERS RIPPED FROM THEIR LIVES BY GROSS NEGLIGENCE. THESE ARE OUR COUNTRYMEN, OUR NEIGHBORS, FRIENDS, COLLEAGUES, COWORKERS – WHO WANT THEIR NEEDS HEARD, AND THEIR RIGHTS GUARANTEED TO THEM BY OUR CONSTITUTION. THROUGH ALL THE DIVISION AND PARTISANSHIP WE SEEM TO FORGET THAT THIS IS ONE UNITED NATION, AND WE WOULD BE BETTER OFF IF WE BEGAN TO WORK AS ONE TOWARDS GREATER NATIONAL GOOD. INSTEAD OF TEARING DOWN OUR NEIGHBOR, WE WORK TO BUILD HIM UP, AND IN TURN OURSELVES. WE CANNOT CHANGE A MAN’S HEART, BUT WE CAN CHANGE THE LAW TO LEVERAGE HOW A REASONABLE MAN CONDUCTS HIMSELF IN SOCIETY.”
We seem to forget that we are a nation united in our belief in American idealism and exceptionalism – that we as a whole are capable of great good for all mankind, and it is up to the youth, African Americans, White Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, Indian Americans and to our legislators and representatives, to live up to these high expectations we’ve set for ourselves and create a more equal, fair, and just community.