If a person has not flung open the window of a campus building to angrily yell “You hate me!” at you, while you are still reeling from invitations to scheduled public lynchings of black freshmen and marching peacefully to raise awareness, then welcome to the reality of race relations in the era of 45!
On Feb. 20, the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, toured the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Like many politicians before him, during Black History Month, President Trump quoted Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., saying, “We are determined ... to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Yet, soon after that photo-op, he went on to oversee cuts to housing, Meals on Wheels, after-school programs, school lunches and environmental protections. He then attempted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with a program that would cause over 20 million people to lose health care coverage, while vowing to “Make America Great Again.”
Beyond paying lip service to Dr. King’s call to action, President Trump has branded African Americans as the enemy within. This dehumanizing narrative sets up an “us versus them” mindset among the races, desensitizes people to inhumane treatment of “the other,” places the blame for all the serious issues affecting black people squarely on their shoulders and essentially absolves the powers that be of any responsibility for the results of their policies.
It is this dehumanizing narrative that enabled the woman to fling open the window of a building on Penn’s campus and yell “You hate me!” at black students peacefully marching to protest the GroupMe that had, just hours before, threatened black Penn freshmen with scheduled lynchings.
Somehow our chants of “black lives matter” in the face of hateful attacks on our lives was an act, not of self-love and self-healing, but of hate towards her.
“Black lives matter” is somehow seen as radical, deviant and even anti-American. But “I have a dream” is not. Why?
Dr. King and the classical civil rights movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s were actually considered radical and contentious by some.
The civil rights movement was not just about “colorblind” policies that many would have us believe have been achieved. Dr. King asserted in his 1967 “Three Evils of Society” speech that, “The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.”
The truth is, racism didn’t die with MLK. Racism killed MLK. Racism didn’t die with Malcolm, Fred Hampton or Medgar Evers. Racism murdered them. Racism didn’t end with the classical civil rights movement. Racism ended the classical civil rights movement. Racism didn’t change when the narrative of the civil rights movement was repackaged. Racism did the repackaging.
With states convicted of racially discriminatory voting laws and America’s large wealth and criminal sentencing disparities, to be sure, we are far from any equitable redistribution of political and economic power in America. Dr. King’s call to action still rings true today, as his legacy of justice for all is reduced to neat soundbites in January and February, then subsequently ignored the rest of the year.
The insidious mischaracterization of all sides of the issue, remains one of the most significant obstacles to the advancement of race relations in America. To fully understand and assess the unfinished business of race and racism, it is necessary to separate the convenient from the factual narrative and the remembered from the forgotten narrative.
“Unfinished Business: From the Great Migration to Black Lives Matter” is a mixed-media documentary project by Stephanie Boddie, a Fox Leadership alumni fellow at Penn. In an interview from the documentary, Elizabeth Spann, a member of Philadelphia’s Mother Bethel AME Church, says, “They were still lynching people when I was a little girl.”
It is a sad commentary that I too, can tell my children about the horror of threatened lynchings, as a college student in 2016.
Regarding the seminal March on Washington in 1963 and the marches happening today, Mrs. Spann said, “People had signs that said, ‘We’re marching for the right to vote, we’re marching for better jobs, we’re marching for better paying jobs, we’re marching for equality, we’re marching for better schools’ ... We’re marching for the same things 50 years later.”
It is up to our generation to continue the fight, together with all races and ethnicities, against systems of intersecting oppression, to truly make America a country with liberty and justice for all.
SONARI CHIDI is a College freshman from Los Angeles, studying Africana studies and cinema & media studies.