An Examination of and Identifying The Historical and Current Politics and Power of Black America Focusing On Comparing and Contrasting Aspects of The Civil Rights Movement And The Black Lives Matter Movement
The, “Black Lives Matter” movement has brought the plight of African Americans and black people across the diaspora back to the forefront of mainstream western media. The reality of issues such as the school-to-prison pipeline, the overwhelming and disproportionate nature of black unemployment rates, and what will be examined in this essay, the staggeringly high brutality and death outcomes African Americans disproportionately face when encountering police in America and the politics of such, have once again placed the African American community and the politics of and behind the African American community on the table. These discussions and debates have become reminiscent of the debates and discussions held in high offices about similar issues effecting African Americans in the reconstruction era, 1960s, and 1990s. Little has been done outside of the African American community by elected political officials to effect and change said issues facing the African American community. The question then becomes, do Black Lives Matter only long as they equate a politically liberal, democratic voting block that can be counted on as part of a political base and will the leaders of the African American community be satisfied with high ranking liberal political figures saying their names and handing empty promises and vapid to no efforts of aid.
As did Booker T. Washington, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and many other black leaders of respective eras met with high ranking figures in American politics, the leaders of the, “Black Lives Matter” movement have also met with high ranking figures in American politics with the exception of the President of the United States, whom in this era is paradoxically and ironically African American. At the Congressional Black Caucus’ annual legislative conference, Khalilah Harris, Deputy Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans said, “The administration definitely considers Black Lives Matter, because we agree that Black Lives Matter,” Harris later went on to say, “We understand the nuance of being clear that everyone is a valuable person the moment that they are born.” she went on to say that those in government should be tasked with making sure they use “race consciousness” when considering policy, something she says the White House is currently doing. (Coleman)
While Franklin Roosevelt initially took a big political risk in redefined the Democratic Party in the 1930s, with promises that the new deal would affect African Americans in positive ways, it was the Civil Rights Movement that solidified African Americans within the ranks of the Democratic Party, both as a dependable voting block and source of political power. These moves further displayed that American politics and the African American Community were married to one another yet the Democratic or Republican parties have done little of the own volition to directly address the unequal treatment that African Americans face in regards to criminal justice, police brutality and or death outcomes, unemployment and other aspects of systematic inequality faced by African Americans. Much of the state of “Black Politics” can be viewed and revealed through comparing and contrasting the Black Lives Matter movement with the Civil Rights Movement through a historical lens.
The assumption might be made that by President Obama being The United States first, and so far only, African American President, the politics that have arisen and surround The Black Lives Matter movement would affect him personally. The reality is that President Obama has only given verbal support to The Black Lives Matter movement by making statements such as,
". . .there is a specific problem that's happening in the African-American community that's not happening in other communities. And that is a legitimate issue that we've got to address." ("President Obama Defends Black Lives Matter Movement.")
The problem occurs when he then follows that statement with other statements like,
"understand the overwhelming majority of law enforcement's doing the right thing and wants to do the right thing" and "recognize that police officers have a really tough job and we're sending them into really tough neighborhoods that sometimes are really dangerous and they've got to make split-second decisions." ("President Obama Defends Black Lives Matter Movement.")
By having these two statements follow eachother, he does a fine job of addressing both sides of the assumed issue and gives an allusion of being nonpartisan on what should be a nonpartisan issue but these two statements negate eachother. If the overwhelming majority of law enforcement was doing the right thing, at all times, then it would stand to reason that there is a specific element within law enforcement that not only escapes the already implemented policies to weed out agents that seek to do specific harm to the African American community, but in fact, find ways to specifically target the African-American community. It also stands to reason that if the understanding is established that as a law enforcement agent you will be sent into dangerous neighborhoods and have to make instantaneous life or death decisions, an extra emphasis should be placed on making sure that whatever decisions that said law enforcement officer makes, they are not one made out of racial bias or prejudice, or one that is intended for specific harm.
The president, or Congress, could enact special legislation, or begin the process of legislation, that would task people with the power of special oversight of local law enforcement; such actions had been put in place during the Civil Rights Movement to protect African Americans. Federal Marshals were sent into southern states to protect African Americans not only from the population that sought to do them harm but from the corrupt officials that openly violated federal law by not protecting African Americans from the population that intended harm, or even those officials that participating in the harming of African Americans (Reuters). What has taken place under President Obama’s administration is that the United States attorney, general, whom is also African American and the person that would be responsible to investigate the killings, misdoings, and widespread corruption that has given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement, is instead investigating the corruption of Fédération Internationale de Football Association aka FIFA (Staff). FIFA is the international governing body of soccer, a sport that North Americans care little about, but if the her actions of investigating FIFA and not the wide spread corruption of the death outcomes of African Americans interacting with local police, then one could draw the conclusion that North Americans care even less about black lives than they do soccer. This act personifies the blatant disregard for black lives that the Black Lives Matter movement speaks to and about. However the President, and Hillary Clinton have been very vocal about their plans to strengthen gun control laws and about what they both view as the regrettable and deplorable routine of recent mass shootings (Harris). Bills with various implications and plans to affect gun control have been swiftly crafted, and just as swiftly defeated in both houses and parties of Congress in the wake of the recent mass shootings (Everett). This then brings focus back to the question, do black lives actually matter to Americans, American politicians, and non-African Americans.
This pattern of lip service and non-action squares with the political game and actions of some of the other members of the democratic party that have also only given lip-service to the current politics and issues concerning the African American community through the Black Lives Matter movement. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has had two notable encounters with members of the Black Lives Matter movement. After first incident, where a group of assumed Black Lives Matter protesters were not allowed into the main room of her presidential forum on substance abuse (Merica), Hillary Clinton had a fifteen minuet meeting with the members of the Black Lives Matter movement and told them,
"Look, I don't believe you change hearts,". . ."I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You're not going to change every heart. You're not. (Merica)
Again, her statements square with the Democratic Party as a whole and the president in that they say that they offer their support but have done very little to actually effect change or create policies or implement changes that would match her words.
The second incident was an hour long meeting where she and they discussed, “militarization of police, violence against black members of the LGBT community, and the so-called "school-to-prison" pipeline.”(Tani). The meeting concluded with the two main representatives of the Black Lives Matter movement stating, “they are still waiting to hear more specifics about how Clinton will actually implement the changes she proposed in the meeting.” (Tani) This again furthers the point that in liberal politics, one addresses the issues and concerns of minority groups to secure the support of those groups and to also appear to be apathetic to their issues in the eyes of the non-minority liberal community, but historically, little is actually ever done by these liberal candidates bases to effect change, and if anything thing is done it is because of overwhelming force or pressure calls for them to act.
A less direct approach of the Democratic Party was one implemented by the Democratic National Committee. The Black Lives Matter organization had sought a direct debate with the members of the Democratic National Committee candidates. This debate did not happen. A direct debate was rejected by the DNC and a town hall-style forum was offered in its place ("President Obama Defends Black Lives Matter Movement.") The issue with changing the discussion form was that a debate would allow Black Lives Matter members to directly address the candidates. A town hall style forum would allow candidates to take questions from all areas of the public, allowing them to ignore direct questions from the Black Lives Matter participants if the so chose. These are passive aggressive political power tactics that have been employed by liberal and or democratic politicians in the past.
In the 1960s the Kennedy brothers and the Democratic Party made it a point to offer a similar appearance of support for the Civil Rights Movement and Dr Dr. Martin Luther King Jr (Stanford University). In one instance in the 1960s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been jailed for a probation violation after participating in a sit-in in Atlanta (Stanford University). There were even speculations that if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was left to serve out the four month sentence, he would be lynched in prison ("The Kennedys and Civil Rights."). JFK called Coretta Scott King offering her words of support and concern while Robert Kennedy made calls to the judge and governor and used his power as a senator to have Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. released, both against the advice of their staff saying they may lose their southern support (Duke). While this act may have seemed noble and righteous, it was really a calculated move by the Kennedys because even though this may have seemed small, so small that the mainstream media of the time ignored it, the African American community payed attention and Martin Luther King Sr, whom had just as great of standing with the African American community as his son, switched sides and stopped endorsing Nixon and endorsed Kennedy ("The Kennedys and Civil Rights.") With Dr. Martin Luther King Sr’s support many older African Americas threw their support behind Kennedy as well. This tactical move ultimately paid off because, “The black vote was pivotal in the swing states of Illinois, Michigan, and South Carolina that Kennedy carried.”( "The Kennedys and Civil Rights.") This simple political power move was not lost on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. because he made it known that he himself and his personal organizations did not fully support either candidate. This is strikingly similar to how Alicia Graza, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, stated how the Black Lives Matter network as a whole does not endorse and republican or democratic candidate (New York Post,.). When asked why Graza said,
“It’s too early in the development of the network and it’s too early in the genesis of the movement to rally around anyone in particular who hasn’t demonstrated that they feel accountable to the Black Lives Matter movement or network,’. . .‘What we’ve seen is an attempt by mainstream politics and politicians to co-opt movements that galvanize people in order for them to move closer to their own goals and objectives,’ she said. ‘We don’t think that playing a corrupt game is going to bring change and make Black Lives Matter.”’
The concerns of Graza are historically valid because while the Kennedy brothers publically used and supported King, his supporters, and the Civil Rights Movement to tentatively gain the pivotal “black vote,” Robert Kennedy as attorney general authorized a phone tap of King's and his associates' phones, homes, and offices. (Christensen). Kennedy also dictated to the FBI the "delicacy of this particular matter" and that he wanted to be personally informed of any pertinent information (Christensen). The FBI watched King from 1958 until his death and due to a court order, some information will not be released until 2027 ("Pickler Memorial Library.").
The Democratic candidate’s actions are in sharp contrast to the Republican candidate’s actions in regards to The Black Lives Matter movement. Jeb Bush, a republican presidential candidate, claimed to have had a private meeting with members of the Black Lives Matter movement but it was later confirmed that no actual members of the Black Lives Matter movement were in this private meeting.(Liebelson) The people whom were in this private meeting were a local elected official [that is black], a GOP lobbyist[that is black], and a staffer from an anti-poverty organization[that is black] (Liebelson). This again follows a historical pattern. While liberal politicians have been willing to work and meet with African Americans to discuss the issues effecting the African American community, conservatives have been the ones either causing the harm or refusing to help African Americans.
During the Civil Rights Movement one of the most vocal and out right openly racists that opposed any advancement of African Americans was George Wallace, whom was a member of the KKK and governor Alabama (Karson). He is most infamously remembered for a speech in which he said in regards to race relations, “Segregation Now, Segregation Forever” (Karson). With this historical remembrance of conservative treatment, many African American activists like Marissa Johnson, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Seattle, refuse to even engage conservatives. When questions why the Black Lives Matter movement had not, at that time, engaged the GOP she stated that there would be, “no point to confronting the GOP … during the primaries, because GOP members will pretty much tell you flatly that they don't care about black lives.”(Lillis).
In conclusion, the political issues of race that the Black Lives Matter movement have raised again, such as criminal justice, employment and other issues of equity facing the African American community have been largely ignored by American politicians, from the sitting democratic African American president to the conservative republican presidential candidate. What little attention they have given African American politics and the Black Lives Matter movement have only equated to lip service and photo opps but no actual efforts of change has been put in motion like there has been for issues like gun control. The idea and reality of Black politics in America, even with a sitting African American president, still remains something that to liberal politicians is good to talk about and be seen around, but there is no need to actually effect change. As the Federal government stepped in to assist African Americans during the reconstruction era, and the during the Civil Rights movement, so too should the federal government take initiative and step in now. Instead of being the lead investigators of corruption of the governing body of a sport that most North Americans do not care about, actually investigate how a “pattern” of “isolated incidences” not only continue to happen resulting in the deaths of African Americans at the hands of local law enforcement but also, enact change, establish laws, so that it stops and can never happen again to show that black lives actually do matter to those that are not black.
©Christopher F. Brown 2015
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