By Barney Blakeney
It would be easy to use this space as a platform to rant and rave about protests to police murders in America. But this ain’t a space for my rants. I’ve been given the privilege and honor to use this space to offer information. I’m obligated to use it productively. Not a lot of us get the opportunity.
I’m tempted to go on a tirade about how my generation dropped the ball and now our grandchildren are protesting the same issues our parents and grandparents before us protested. I’m tempted to spew anger with my generation over our collective negligence and ignorance across this page because, as perhaps the most educationally and materially equipped generation of Black folks in American history, we allowed ourselves to be lulled into a near comatose state of acceptance in which effective Black leadership, satisfied with a few dollars more, is almost nonexistent.
Our Stinkers, Muffins, Princesses and Boos are in the streets protesting the social outrages we’ve all but ignored the past 50 years as our best and brightest shifted their focus to the personal acquisition of money houses, cars and professional positions. As the Black middle class grew so did the entrenchment of Black second class citizenship. And here we are nearly 60 years after the 1963 March on Washington; our babies are peppered in a sea of predominantly white protesters.
Our kids are looking at George Floyd’s Minneapolis, Minnesota death with fresh eyes. In 2016, 32-year-old Philando Castile, was shot by a St. Paul, Minnesota police officer as his girlfriend live streamed the incident. Floyd isn’t the only Black person killed as America watched. In 2016, police in American killed over 200 African Americans. According to one report since January 2015, 4,728 people have died in police shootings – 2,385, were white; 1,252 were black; 877 were Hispanic; and 214 were from other racial groups.
That same report offered, today’s stories are anything but a recent phenomenon. “There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?” said Martin Luther King, Jr. in his iconic I Have a Dream speech at the 1963 march. His words continue to resonate today after a long history of violent confrontations between African-American citizens and the police. “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”
So today, my generation’s grandchildren are continuing that unfinished business. Oh how easily appeased my generation has been – and appeased with an illusion! Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. said in a recent interview, the consequences of us not doing the equal rights work is what we’re seeing today.
June 8, some 80 young people in a student-driven protest at North Charleston City Hall laid down on their stomachs with their hands behind their backs for eight minutes and 46 seconds every hour on the hour during a daylong protest in recognition of the time it took to kill George Floyd. Two princesses, seniors at Fort Dorchester High School, organized the protest. Another princess, infuriated by the historic slaughter of Black people in a Facebook post, said America is lucky Black people still are looking for equality and not revenge!
I shared that post with former South Carolina State University Board of Trustee Chair Dr. William Small. Here’s some of his response: “This young sister put it “where the goats can get it”. I also listened to Roland Martin’s piece along with the comments from Shannon Sharpe. Thankfully all three conversations have repositioned the issue from a conversation about police brutality to a broader conversation about historic American injustice towards Black People … Voting is important and an essential part of the formula. However, voting is a compliment to the more essential fix and that is de-brainwashing our minds and overcoming the negative effects of hundreds of years of negative socialization … Now, our community (diaspora) infrastructure must be reconstructed in order for the house that we need to build will be able “to stand”.
Our grandchildren and their children will have to reconstruct that infrastructure using, as Kipling said, “worn out tools”. The culture of abuse and devaluation of Black life is so embedded in law enforcement June 6 as protesters in Columbia marched one police officer was photographed with his knee on the neck of a protester. Since the protests began our children have been subjected to the same excessive force our generation experienced during the mass protests of the 1960s.
And too many of us still don’t get it. I talked with two of my peers the other day. I left those conversations with renewed realization that too often different people see the same things so differently. People have beliefs that project their focus in very different ways. Despite the facts, they remain unmoved in their beliefs. There is none so blind as he who will not see.
For many of us it will take discomfort and inconvenience to get us to see what kind of change needs to take place. In a CBS interview, Smithsonian African American museum founder Lonnie Bunch said, “As a Black man in America man, I’m lucky I’m still breathing; As a Black man in America I wonder for how long?”
Hope springs eternal. So as I watch our grandchildren, Black and white, protest for rights that have been sought for Black people since our ancestors first were brought to this land, I’m hopeful they won’t become delusional and neglect their obligation to their grandchildren as we have neglected our obligation to them.