July 21, 2016 Leave a comment

The tagline of the Black Lives Matter movement is “Free from violence. Free from oppression. Free to be our full selves. Free to love. Freedom Now.” Their rallying cry is a powerful quote from Assata Shakur. “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

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The past few weeks have reminded me that loving and supporting each other requires us not only to fight but also to mourn together. There are opportunities around us every single day. The recent shootings of police, alongside the seemingly endless list of black and brown civilians shot by police, seem to have awakened the nation in a new way. That is good, as long as we can “stay woke” long enough to do something meaningful. Still, I can’t help but wonder what hushed and gentle conversations we’d be having on television and in communities, workplaces, and houses of worship without the deaths of the police officers. Isn’t the almost daily murder of black and brown people enough to cause somber reflection? Aren’t the calls for action coming from grieving families, activists, celebrities, athletes, and everyday folks enough to make and sustain meaningful change?

In a recent workshop on racial equity in education, a participant asked “How do we win?” I certainly don’t have a full answer, but I am convinced that we have to wade deep into the complexities and contradictions. We can’t settle for simplistic or singular strategies. We have to transform the dominant race narratives in this country so that people will no longer accept the story that people of color are to blame for our condition and for the nation’s alleged fall from greatness. We can’t forget the “brown” in the “black and brown” conversation. The national media, never good with nuance, seems incapable of telling the story of racism in all its complexity, settling for an over simplified black-white binary that also typically overlooks women of color. The week that Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed, four Latino men and one Latino woman were killed by police. There was scant mention of their names in the national media. I wouldn’t have known but for Twitter. I don’t know about Native American or Asian American brothers and sisters, but I would not be surprised if they are also suffering similar fates under the radar of national attention.

We have a different country than 50 years ago, where systems, laws, and attitudes have indeed changed. And, we haven’t gone nearly far enough. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Both systems/structures and hearts/minds have to be fully engaged if we are going to win—if all of us are going to have that freedom from violence and oppression, and the freedom to love and to be our full selves.

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