This Moment: Fighting Racial Oppression in America
Following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, citizens around the globe are protesting against racial oppression and police violence. “There’s a sense that everything is possible right now,” says Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, in this conversation with Michael Eric Dyson, sociology professor at Georgetown. The transformation happening across the country is on the magnitude of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, Dyson says, and it’s largely led by young activists. Together with Eugene Scott of The Washington Post, they discuss policing and safety in our communities, the discomfort that comes with big cultural shifts, and the importance of self-care to sustain the movement.
We are in the midst of a national uprising. While there have been protests against anti-Black racism and police violence before, in the summer of 2020 we are hearing the voices of Americans of all colors recognizing and railing against injustice. But that is not enough — it is time for change, says Alicia Garza.
Big IdeaI think a lot of rules have been rigged against Back communities for a very long time. We need to see the courage, drive, and political will to actually start to shift.Alicia Garza
It’s not just a matter of changing people’s attitudes, it’s also time to change policies of systemic racism, particularly when it comes to community safety, says Garza. “Whether you feel comfortable or uncomfortable with the slogan of ‘Defund the Police,’ it's important for us to be grappling with what actually keeps communities safe.” Is safety only achieved through punishment? Or, is it achieved by ensuring the infrastructure that has been denied Black communities for so long is fixed and rebuilt.
Marches are happening everywhere — ”in Alaska and Idaho and Wyoming,” notes Eugene Scott — and recent polls show that a majority of Americans now support the Black Lives Matter movement. What makes this time period different?
The difference, says Garza, is that white people are finally showing up to the movement. And while there may be some very real questions about what took so long, there’s simply no reason not to welcome everyone. Black people have been clear in stating that Black Lives Matter for going on a decade, and when the rest of America joins, they can take actions “to actually make Black Lives Matter where [they] are.”
Black Lives Matter is a new (and very powerful) way of saying something that’s been fought for since the abolitionist movement and then the Civil Rights movement. But BLM, says Dyson, “is an ideal so deep and profound that you knew it was doing something — because it made white folk uncomfortable, and it made comfortable Negroes uncomfortable.”
Big IdeaBlack Lives Matter was the wave that crashed against white supremacy for a hundred and fifty years. Miss Garza and her colleagues simply named it, and when they named it they were able to give it an identity, and that identity has seen it through.Michael Eric Dyson
But “Black Lives Matter” — though an easy concept to hold on to — must be more than a simple slogan. “We need to connect it to deeper wells of social resistance and political intensity that allow us to leverage our history in new forms, so we have to think ‘Black LIves Matter’ as often as we can,” says Dyson.