By: Raymond Humienny ~Campus News Editor~
The #BlackLivesMatter cocreators Janaya Khan and Alicia Garza spoke to a roomful of spectators in a Cintas Center banquet room about social justice and activism in the Black community. Each speaker shared an experience they had prior to the hashtag movement and addressed topics that outlined how today’s generation could continue propagating a call for social change through #BlackLivesMatter.
The Newswire sat down with Garza and Khan prior to the event and discussed the media’s effect on the movement’s perception, as well as the many intricacies of #BlackLivesMatter that fuel its progress.
“There’s kind of two parts of one narrative,” Garza said. “The one part is the ‘All Lives Matter’ narrative, which says that Black Lives Matter only cares about black people at the expense of and exclusion of everyone else. Then there’s this other piece of the narrative that’s about actions that Black folks take under a banner – a broad banner – get perceived in a particular way and actions that other communities take, such as Caucasian communities, get seen in a particular light.”
Vernacular used in journalism has been an ongoing controversy when addressing action taken by #BlackLivesMatter. Garza and Khan outlined the power that certain nouns and adjectives hold in a racial context, juxtaposing the Oregon standoff with recent protests by Black people.
“Well, one, if Black people ever occupied a federal property for nearly a month – I’m just not sure that’s possible in our current political context,” Garza said. “But two, the way that they’re described – they’re described as ‘militants,’ they’re described as ‘protestors,’ but Black folks stopped in the street are called ‘violent,’ ‘criminal,’ ‘breaking things,’ ‘Black supremacists.’”
“‘Thugs,’” Khan added. “‘Rioters.’”
Media outlets have often attempted to reduce #BlackLivesMatter to singularities such as advocacy around police brutality and violence, according to the co-founders. The viral movement has taken steps to show that its actions represent the complexity of Black lives.
“The very short way to say that is that it’s about reinstating the humanity of Black people. That’s what we’re doing with each other, and that’s also the demand that is being put out externally.”
Social media has advanced the storytelling aspects of #BlackLivesMatter, capturing the minute-to-minute experiences the hashtag helps people share. A resistance to cultural change has played heavily into institutions that perpetuate systematic racism and often distracts from the true story of Black Lives Matter, according to Khan.
“The media is really archaic in its narrative and understandings around Blackness, and we are a growing and shifting movement of people,” Khan said. “What’s come out of that is we’ve built up our own alternative media outlets, because we are resourceful … and I think with the advent of social media, mainstream media has got its work to do to keep up with us.”
The intricacies of Black Lives Matter are frequently glossed over, according to Garza. The group allows space for leadership that challenges a paradigm administered by straight men.
“I think what Black Lives Matter has been able to do is both make visible and protect leaderships for those communities to be able to shape the future that we want,” Garza said. “I think where that comes from is a real reckoning around social movements in this country that get told through the lens of straight men, but that have been supported and some cases theorized, and the strategies developed by women, by people with disabilities, by immigrants, by queer people. Even in the case of someone like Martin Luther King. Many folks still don’t know Bayard Rustin, who was one of Martin Luther King’s closest advisors and literally designed the March on Washington – and he was a queer black man who was a socialist.”
Garza mentioned how the movement poses this challenge around the world in locations such as Venezuela, South Africa and Canada, where the cultural context of Black lives shifts away from conceptions held in the U.S.
“There are all of these different ways in which Black lives are put in danger, whether it’s at the hands of the police, whether that’s at the hands of state-sanctioned violence, which we understand as being broader than policing,” Garza said. “We understand that as the ways that laws and policies reinforce poverty for black communities. We understand that in the ways in which differential immigration policies and the ways it relates to black folks who are now nonessential to the U.S. economy. We understand that in ways of the case in Oklahoma where 13 poor black women were raped by a police officer (Daniel Holtzclaw). If it wasn’t for this movement, and lifting up the complexities of black life around the world, I don’t think we might’ve seen that kind of response, so those are some of the ways that you’ll see some of the intersections come to life within the movement broadly.”
“I think the concept and the ideology behind it is when the most marginalized have what they need, we all have what we need,” Khan said. “And so, at the heart of it, we have seen cis-straight, male-led movement before and at this time, should we not have different successes, different failures?”
Khan proceeded to address the various junctions within the Black community, noting how important it is to consider the space Black Lives Matter has given for progressive leadership.
“We talk about, for example, within the movement transformative justice, and that’s non-prison and (non-)police based strategies on dealing with violence in our communities,” Khan said. “Who knows that best than non-documented people and sex workers, for example, who can’t call the police in the event that something happens with a client because it’s in so many places, it’s not decriminalized? We look at the intersection of Blackness, and add that to a layer – add disabilities to a layer, add non-status to a layer. We recognize that actually the folks that have those (leadership) skill sets that have been developed over centuries are those who are most marginalized, and so the job of the movement is to sort of build up that capacity for leadership.”
Garza and Khan reproduced these ideas during the event, drawing the focus toward addressing the role of today’s generation in the Black Lives Matter movement. The co-creators discussed the investment in responsibility of each of its supporters.
“Our personal morality determines political reality,” Khan said. As the evening progressed, Garza and Khan fielded questions submitted prior to the event and from the audience, which included topics such as how to be a White ally, holding the present judicial system accountable for racial struggle and the issue surrounding the term “Black-on- Black crime.”
“White supremacy is a bitch,” Khan said. “We need to recognize the tactics people use to shut us down: reduction, minimization, derailment, tokenism … ‘Blackon- Black crime’ is political immaturity. We don’t need to give space to that.”
Garza and Khan called to white people to help dismantle White supremacy, which they denote as certain laws meant to benefit some at the expense of others. The duo also expressed concern over this presidential race, emphasizing the importance of voting this year as well as White involvement in the movement’s progress.
“Tell white people to vote,” Garza said. “Donald Trump is your mess. His entire platform is galvanizing folks who feel afraid … We have to build a multi-racial movement. We have to be together, but white folks are unorganized by us. We need you all not to be paralyzed by the guilt of what’s been happening.”
“It’s not what you’ve done, it’s what you will do,” Khan said. “Riot where you’re quiet. What is your intervention into White supremacy? How will you build (that intervention)? Our movement cannot grow until you grow, too. You need to work harder, because we are dying. You can do better.”
The event closed on a personal call for more social activism by this generation of individuals. Khan addressed the audience present, recognizing the need for a broader conversation on race.
“You all will determine where the movement goes,” Khan said. “The direction is determined by people like you.”