The Black Lives Matter organization, who had maintained a presence in the area, had planned a protest for the anniversary of the murder of John Crawford who was gunned down by police inside of a Walmart. The activist group Anonymous had planned a united rally on the same day at the same time in the same city. There were also some disagreements about the 2 groups different rules for protest and a member of the Black Lives Matter organization made some inflammatory statements regarding the increased involvement of the activist group Anonymous. The statement that the leader allegedly made was:
Sometimes I wonder if the mask is the new sheet and are they in cahoots with each other I know I know there is some black mask anon members but like the old days you had house negros and field negros and we are not that far from those times. I have associated in all these diff groups but I can’t say I trust them.
Though in the end the 2 groups met and came to terms about their differences and combined forces along with the local Cop Block organization to conduct their protests, the criticism came hard and fast. It was cited that Black Lives Matter leaders have been excluding many White supporters from their meetings and events. While their is some truth to the accusations, it is much more complex than reports have made it to seem. There is a history here and lessons that Black empowerment organizations have to consider.
Multicultural Activist Groups
Organizations with Black and non-Black members and supporters ave existed almost as long as the struggle. What we public discourse has often ignored is how this has affected the way that these organizations operate and their effectiveness to their causes.
Take for instance the fact that during the antebellum era there were a number of Black women who actively supported civil rights for both Black people and women respectively through the abolitionist movement and women’s suffrage. The efforts of these women helped to bring to pass the 19th amendment which legally enfranchised women; however, many of the Black women found themselves without the fruit of their labor due to state laws and racist vigilante practices that excluded them because they were Black. Not many of the White women with whom they had once stood beside pledged themselves to rectifying this or just standing in solidarity with the abolitionist movement.
Another example is the Civil Rights Movement specifically the initiatives led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Towards the end of his life Dr. King began to unify the Civil Rights Movement with the Labor Movement. This seemed logical as the disenfranchisement of Black people meant a lack of economic access and the power that comes along with that. However, the unifying of the 2 movements clouded Dr. King’s vision from seeing what he did not see until it was too late: that Black people didn’t just need access to American privilege they needed knowledge of how to operate in those spaces.
I am not asserting that it is the fault of non-Black members in these movements that these movements did not achieve their goals. I am stating that this history has made Black empowerment organizations more wary of the involvement and influence that these participants have in their organizations.
The people who decry the limiting of non-Black people in Black empowerment organizations are ignorant of their own privilege. That ignorance leads them to lash out at these practices in defense of the loss of that privilege – which the loss of their privilege is exactly what will happen if the groups they support succeed. The privileged have never known what it feels like to live or operate in a space where they are not the enemy and yet are forced to remain voiceless and/or powerless. That is an everyday reality for Black people.
I had a friend once who was very active in local activist groups some of which were directed towards the empowerment of Black people. He would discuss with me the things that were discussed in the meetings and some of his objections to the things that were said and often I would agree with him. He once asked me to come to the meetings and express those thoughts because he didn’t feel he could. He explained that the group was strict about allowing non-Black participants to have too strong a voice and how he felt that wasn’t really fair. I asked him why he felt he should have a voice equal to that of the people who were actually living in the struggle they were fighting against. I told him, as one of my undergrad professors once told our class: what’s equal isn’t always fair.
There has been only a civil rights movement, whose tone of voice was adapted to an audience of liberal whites.– Stokely Carmichael aka Kwame Ture
It’s the same as the debate about #BlackLivesMatter versus #AllLivesMatter. There is something insidious and dangerous to the cause of empowering Black people when other groups are allowed to reinsert themselves in equal measure in these spaces that are reserved specifically for Black interests: it negates the entire purpose. It’s not Black empowerment if it seeks to empower non-Black people – their are other groups for that. And it is not activism if it seeks to empower the people who already in power. Because what happens is the message that the movement is trying to send becomes co-opted and adapted into something that is comfortable to White people and that compromises the message and its affect. Black liberation will anything but comfortable for White people.
This isn’t about “reverse racism” (which isn’t actually a real thing). And this isn’t about equality – especially since things are already not equal to the detriment of Black people. This is about the fact that these organizations are attempting to create spaces where Black people have the power, influence, and voice to make decisions about their present that will positively impact their future. What is most important in these spaces is the perspective of the Black people that are to be helped. That means in order to be to fair to all those people counting on the work that these groups do, they have to limit the influence and power that white participants have in these groups. This isn’t fair but it makes things equal in these spaces. We would like to hope that White supporters can understand that and realize that if they truly want to help the cause, that will require that they offer their support without expectation. We want your support but you have to always remember that this struggle is ours and we will lead the revolution against it.
Black power can be clearly defined for those who do not attach the fears of white America to their questions about it.– Stokely Carmichael aka Kwame Ture
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man