Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Black Lives Still Matter One Year Later

A year after the violent confrontations between police and protesters reacting to the murder of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, Furgeson is once again making headlines for the very same problem. One man in critical condition after being shot by police after a gun fight, countless protesters tear gassed. Has anything been learned over the past year? At times like these, it seems not.

Since Michael Brown's death, there have been a number of high profile cases, and a total of 1,083 deaths at the hands of police, in addition to countless cases of misconduct and abuse of civilians. Americans are having an uncomfortable conversation about race and the modern day implications of a country that only began to desegregate 50 years ago. White Americans as a whole seem to fail to recognize the fundamentally different relationship that they have with law enforcement, and that the rapidly increasing militarization of police has contributed to a staggeringly disproportionate use of force against black and other minority civilians.

Even progressive, liberal white Americans seem to falter when confronted with the need for black voices to be heard. When the pride of the left wing of the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders was interrupted by black lives matter activists during a rally in Seattle, the divide was made very clear. Black people were expressing their frustration at feeling left out by white progressives, who they believe are happy to talk the talk, but don't want to make real change. The response from those white progressives was to try and silence black voices, by booing and otherwise berating the protesters for pointing out the flaws in their liberal hero. Sanders left the stage without addressing their concerns.

The main issue with Sanders is that although he makes appeals about economic inequality, he seems to ignore the compounded effect that race has on economic inequality. Until now he has remained mostly silent on issues like mass incarceration of Black and Latino citizens, and immigration reform. It's the problem that socialist leaning progressives have always had. They believe that economic inequality alone is the problem, and that once economic inequality is solved, all the other problems will fix themselves. It was the same rhetoric socialist leaning men gave to women participating in the labour movements of the 20th century. Gender equality and racial inequality were not as important in their minds. The truth is that these are deeply intertwined issues. You cannot address just one.

One organizer of an earlier protest at the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix said, “[this conference] a space where people call themselves allies in the movement for black liberation, but often times we’re invited into that space and we don’t feel welcome,” and this is deeply disheartening.

Continuing to ignore black voices is not the way forward. There needs to be more of a willingness in the white progressive community to address the concerns of black people, and not just assume that they have the same priorities, or can speak for black people. White progressives need to confront their own privilege in progressive spaces, and they need to learn to listen. Because of these protests, Bernie Sanders has been forced to respond with some positively received initiatives.

Yes, these confrontations may be part of an ugly process that creates divisions on the progressive front before a very critical 2016 election, but it is a discussion that must be had, because at the end of the day, it will strengthen the progressive movement.

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