Black History Through Movements

Today’s guest post is by the always incredible Jeff Horton. Jeff has lived in Japan for 10 years and is originally from the Bronx in New York. We’ve known each other since I moved to Japan in 2011 and he continues to inspire me everyday. Please enjoy the thoughts below and let me know what you think.

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“We shall overcome. We shall overcome. We shall overcome, someday”.

These peaceful protest words of the 1960’s were my first exposure to Civil Rights movement history that I learned as a first grade student in my multicultural elementary school in Harlem, New York City in the mid 1980’s. We were taught a lighthearted version of history where whites and blacks did not get along in the past. We were fed this idea that racism was a mere disagreement between cultures and not the total oppression of a people because of the color of their skin. Now, being an educator myself, I realize my teacher had to show us a history where although there were injustices we were not to blame anyone specifically as to alienate that person/group of people, but rather to just move forward and try to do better than our ancestors did. By taking these steps towards a brighter future “we shall overcome” is what I learned in that classroom. And I believed every word of it because almost all of my friends in elementary school were white. I had felt that we had overcome racial injustices and were on the path to racial equality for all.

“All power to the people”.

Moving from the 60’s to the 70’s, where the far more aggressive and far-left Black political leaders, the Black Panthers, attempt to lead the Black community towards prosperity. Their militant position on Black Nationalism, Maoism, anti-capitalism, anti-fascism, anti-imperialism Marxism-Leninism, Revolutionary socialism, and anti-racism put a negative spin on what Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers worked so hard to get for the Black community. With such powerfully Black led groups growing in power, the government began to lay down laws that would directly affect the Black and brown communities; specifically drug laws. In the 70’s, Richard Nixon led the country in the “war on drugs”. Nixon declared the use of drugs in America “public enemy number one”. With this policy enacted, police began to comb the dangerous/bad (i.e. Black and brown) neighborhoods arresting all that were suspected of drug crimes; both consumption and sales. “All power to the people” had been taken away and given to the government to silence those that would try to oppose its authority.

“One Nation Working together, For Justice and Equality Everywhere”.

The NAACP comes to the foreground in the 1980’s. We see such Black leaders such as Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton take political stances fighting for such things like affirmative action and equal opportunity rights for people of color to have a fighting chance both academically and for job security. At this time we also saw the first possible candidate for a Black male president (Jesse Jackson), which was quickly thwarted once the media got hold of the Reverend Jackson calling New York City “Hymietown”. In addition, we see the government began to fear the Black community more and more thinking they would rise up and topple the government. This led to government pushbacks on Black communities with such programs as Reganomics and Black entrepreneurialism. Both of these policies were put into place to raise the already wealthy class to a whole new level of wealth whilst having the Black community sell dangerous drugs to one another (crack cocaine and malt liquor) destroying Black communities. “One Nation Working together, For Justice and Equality Everywhere” was slowly turning in to dividing a nation into inequality for everyone.

“Can’t we all just get along?”.

With the absence of strong Black leaders in the 90’s we see a drastic increase in police violence towards its Black citizens. We first see the savage beating of Rodney King after a high speed car chase in Los Angeles in 1992. His pleas for the officers to stop what they are doing to him go unheard as they continue to beat him into complete submission. Although the ruthless beating was caught on tape, all of the officers were let go without any charges. We see an even bigger spike in racial tension in the 90’s when O.J. Simpson is accused of brutally killing his (white) wife. The divide in the US was crystal clear. Many white US citizens believed him to be guilty and the Black community believed him to be innocent. When O.J. was acquitted the Black community felt like they had “won” something because for the first time a Black man was able to beat the system like a white man would have been able to do much more easily, but it was a win for the Black community none the less. Towards the end of the 90’s we see an even bigger spike in police brutality towards the minority community when we saw the (once again) videotaped incident of Amadou Diallo. Police officers shot at this young, unarmed Black man 41 times while hitting his body 19 times. This brought to the forefront of what was really going on in Black and brown communities.

Justice for Trayvon”/”Hands up, Don’t Shoot”/”I Can’t Breathe”.

Within the first 15 years of a new millennium, police brutality has become the center of national attention. One of the biggest sparks of bringing police brutality to light was the death of Trayvon Martin. This began a snowball of claims coming from all over the country against the police. Most recently have been the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. With the body count still increasing day by day we are having grassroots movements pop up such as the #BlackLivesMatter group, who have pledged to bring the injustices that go on around the country to light. The general public has decided to stop turning a blind eye to the obvious prejudice that still runs rampant in our legal system. The cries of the people are relentless and share a similar spirit to that of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. Throughout the decades we can see how racism has affected Black communities through the words they chose to represent each movement. We have gone from “We shall overcome” to “I can’t breathe” and everything in-between.

“All Lives Matter”
Through the trials and tribulations of recent events, the Black Lives Matter movement has taken a lot of flack for its outcry of inequality for Black and brown people. They have been criticized that their message is exclusive and divides people even more than they already are. People have even tried to counter the Black Lives Matter movement by saying that the message should be All Lives Matter. While I wholeheartedly agree with the message that All Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter is not ready to support such a broad statement. By claiming that All Lives Matter at such an early stage of this revolution you cast a shadow over the truth about racial inequality in the United States, that Blacks have been treated more like property and laborers than people for centuries. Blacks make up only 13% of the American population, but make up 80% of the prison system. John Legend recently stated at the Oscars, “there are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850”, which goes to show the state of Black lives after nearly 6 decades of “civil equality”.

From the bottom of my heart, I believe that All Lives Matter will become a part of the Black Lives Matter message, but not just yet. Black Lives Matter needs to move forward with everyone hand in hand to show that people from all walks of life are willing to help the most disadvantaged. Fighting together – Black, white, Asian, African and Latinos – we stand strong showing that through a movement for Black lives we make a positive contribution to the future of all lives.

Reflections on Ferguson, Michael Brown, and the Larger Problem

Outrage. Fear. Anger. Can I be surprised it happened again? Can I be surprised that it will continue to happen? Probably not. Can I still be enraged when these things happen? Yes. And I always will.

Michael Brown, from what I’ve been reading, has been gunned down by a police officer. And he was an unarmed teenager. Plus, he had his hands up in surrender. People are angry and it is all rightfully so.

This is something that is not new. From what I have read there is a black person killed by police, security guards, or vigilantes every 28 hours in America. Every. 28. Hours. Let that sink in.

Sometimes I struggle with what to say and how to feel. I float between heartache and anger regularly. It makes me physically ill when I think about it and then I get angry at myself because I live so far away from home. I feel helpless.

The most I can physically do is sit at my computer and read through horror story after horror story of what is escalating to a fever pitch in the heart of America. And this isn’t even the only person who has been killed by police in the last 2 months. Three other folks whose names should be on our tongues are Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, and John Crawford III. Dead. Unarmed. Life snuffed out by an officer of the law.

I am not blaming cops for everything. I feel that this is systemic and it is something that is poked and prodded by the top. By history. By fear. By expectation. Police officers are given weapons to control others. This instills fear. This instills distrust. It is said that we are to feel safer because of this. So, do I think that cops are 100% at fault? No. Do I think that cops are poked and prodded to believe this image of the system that was created? Absolutely. Do some individual cops suck at life? Yes. Are cops probably scared as well when they get in these situations? I would bet highly on it. So, I think we need to step back our weapons because by making them available in the first place they become an option.

Japanese police officers carry night sticks and I feel safer in Japan than I have ever felt at home. I am not afraid to walk alone at night. I am not afraid that I could possibly be shot in the street. But I know that at home I always make sure I am aware of everything around me and I don’t walk far at night alone. And I am white. So, my problems are at the bottom end of the spectrum. I can’t even begin to comprehend what real fear must be like.

When I was young I never thought about race. My parents never discussed it and even in school I didn’t understand what this concept was. I definitely didn’t think about what advantages I had because I was white. I went to college as a naïve 18 year old. I had no idea. So, I started listening and observing. Systemic racism is real. Racial profiling is real. White privilege is real. I’ve seen it in action and I’ve heard stories from friends about it. I’ve even experienced a few (although tiny) things myself. And yet, white America is blind to it. Due to white privilege we can act like it doesn’t exist and for the most part it really doesn’t exist for white folks. Our lives will continue to go on. We won’t need to feel fear that our children may not return home at the end of a day. We won’t have to worry about the possibility that we didn’t get a job due to our race, but solely due to our qualifications. We won’t need to question the motives behind being pulled over by a police officer. Hell, we don’t even need to worry about tear gas attacks happening in our neighborhood because the police won’t be gunning down children in our neighborhood. Why do I use we? Because no matter how much I read, discuss, or act I am still white and I am still part of the collective privilege recipients.

I truly believed in the “Yes We Can” mentality back in 2008 and truly believed we were moving towards a new beginning. Who knew this new beginning would start ripping the band aid off of the so-called forwardness of our nation? We are at a crossroads. Are we going to finally sit down and discuss what the real issues are or are we going to continue brushing things under the rug by calling them “isolated incidents”? We have never atoned for our past and by doing so have created this environment where folks feel that things are bright and shiny and beautiful. It could also be that we’ve created suburbs to re-segregate the nation so we don’t have to interact with black folks which in turn makes us believe these problems are not real. We consciously segregate ourselves to make it look like a black on black problem. How wrong we are. As Americans this falls into collective responsibility. We need to man up and deal with it.

Michael Brown, I hope that your unjustified and untimely death can become a beacon of light for our future. For your sake and your family’s. Rest in Peace. #DontShoot #HandsUp