Fifty years ago today Malcolm X was murdered in cold blood. Fifty years on, and we have not move on from where he left us, still fighting the same fight, still trying to make sure people know our lives, Black Lives, Matter.
I waited a long time to read this issue of Essence, we get it several weeks later than the States. I was immediately intrigued by the bold front page and impressed with the honest conversation on the subject matter.
Black Lives Matter is first and foremost a call out on society and a call to action to fight the prejudices Black men and women face in society, dead or alive. Its a directive to change the narrative. It is more than just a hashtag of the moment.
When we say Black Lives Matter, it is by no means to offend, though some take offence and counter it with “all lives matter”, as it should; ALL lives should matter, regardless of race or class, and in an ideal world, all lives would matter but we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where the killing of a 12 year old unarmed boy, Tamar Rice, by a police officer is just another day, just another black crime, the murder of a helpless young woman, Renisha McBride, by a white man from whom she was seeking help would not have gone to court were it not for protests, a grand jury sees nothing wrong with acquitting a policeman of killing an unarmed black man. All lives should matter, but when the victim is black the narrative is different, justice becomes based on the life he led. They brand him a “thug” the new substitute for the N-word or her a trouble maker because she acted out in class as a child. Tell me what kid never acted out. A teenage boy playing his music too loud becomes a threat to a white man. A young boy walking his neighbourhood minding his business is a target for a racist neighbourhood vigilante.
Black Lives Matter is about changing the conversation, heck starting a conversation, to raise consciousness around the growing issue of police brutality and unjust killing of young black men and women. Its about redirecting the narrative on the victim, its about getting justice for the lives taken by police in the guise of doing their jobs. A police officer is caught on camera administering an illegal choke hold on a man going about his business yet gets away with it. A white policeman shoots and kills an unarmed teenager in the streets and leaves his body there for four and a half hours without following the letter of the law and it is still called a lawful kill. If situations like that don’t offend you, therein lies the problem.
James Eagan Holmes shot and killed twelve people in a cinema, but was captured alive, and is given his day in court. George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin in cold blood but a jury still failed to acquit him, he has since been arrested for several crimes after that. Glaring biases and misrepresentation by the media of black victims, choosing to focus solely on who the person was, and not the fact that he or she was unlawful killed. We have regressed from the days of Malcolm X, stuck in this rot, new forms of Jim Crow laws lives in the institutionally racist society with police brutality accepted, tolerated, even lawfully protected. We keep having the same conversations, centred around the same issues, every time one of ours is killed. That conversation is stale and a waste of time, because we are not being heard.
The mere fact that we need to say the words, Black Lives Matter, to remind the world that our lives really do matter is a problem in itself. A problem not of our own doing. Our lives should matter just as much as the next man’s. Being black should not demean our humanity.
Its a crying shame that 50 years on from a movement about asserting our rights as human beings, we are still taking to the streets, trying to assert those rights, demanding to be seen as no less. A crying shame indeed.