After the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin three black activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi started the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. This hashtag gained momentum after the high profile coverage of the deaths of Michael Brown (Ferguson) and Eric Garner (New York). However for me this marked a long overdue change of direction in the voice of civil rights activism in the US. Namely that this was driven by women. Black women to be precise.
From Black Lives Matter.com the about section clearly states that
#BlackLivesMatter is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society. Black Lives Matter is a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes.
For me it goes even deeper when they state.
“It goes beyond the narrow nationalism that can be prevalent within Black communities, which merely call on Black people to love Black, live Black and buy Black, keeping straight cis Black men in the front of the movement while our sisters, queer and trans and disabled folk take up roles in the background or not at all. Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. It centers those that have been marginalized within Black liberation movements. It is a tactic to (re)build the Black liberation movement.”
This is where the big difference lies in the civil rights ambitions of the past.
The voice, often muted, of black women as equal and passionate advocates and activists against racism, has come to the fore. And about time too.
A New Voice
The civil rights narrative has been dominated by the loud and dominant voices of black men. We talk about Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, James Baldwin and yet voices of Dorothy Height, Anna Arnold Hedgeman and Audrey Lourde never got the same prominence. Often relegated to the supporting role. Even here in the UK the historic role of someone like Dianne Abbott will always be played down by both the mainstream and within the black community in comparison to say Bernie Grant.
Even in modern day discourse if you ask anyone about black civil rights, the names Sharpton, Jackson still tend to stick out as the loudest voices. To a lesser extent the garrulous sideshow of Cornel West and Eric Michael Dyson are names that jump out, but there seems to be somewhat of a change afoot.
With the advent of social media many prominent voices have come to the fore. Coralling a wider conversation around black inequality. Activists such as Johnetta Elzie, Rika Tyler, Brittany Ferrell, Ashley Yates, Zakiya Jemmott, Alexis Templeton and others have formed the vanguard of a new voice of women activists.
Black Women Matter, Too
One would be hard pressed to find media that the taking of black lives is just about black males. And yet there are the equally relevant heinous deaths of Rekia Boyd,
Ayianna Jones, Mariam Carey, Yvette Smith, Shantel Davis, Tarika Wilson, Kathryn Johnston and Gabriella Nevarez. These go unaccounted for and who could forget the incredibly murky cover up on the death of Pfc LaVena Johnson.
Maybe it’s me but I don’t see equal outrage for women from the media, but more importantly from black men, for those who have died at hands of police and vigilante groups. Even wider is the conversation about those unrecorded deaths and injuries of transgender and lesbian women. Those that don’t quite make it to the media. It is a major travesty that while so many women have gone the whole hog to hold black communities together that their men can be found wanting when it comes to having their back too.
It is just as important for those men to be outspoken on the allegations that Daniel Holtzclaw was raping black women while on duty as a policeman, as it does raising loud voices to protest the shooting and physical injury of black men.
This is a call to arms not just to men in Ferguson and Baltimore, where women are leading the movements to address inequality and police brutality, but to all of the global communities where women need our voice. #BlackLivesMatter is not just about the male voice. In fact I think it is important for those who actually use the hashtag to go read the site and understand the full implication of what the movement means.
When you don’t know you, you can blame ignorance, but now you know, there is no excuse.