FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The New Civil Rights Movement

It’s no surprise that something some white male minor celebrity said about a grassroots 21st century civil rights movement went viral. I’m referring to Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe’s December 30th comments on Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The equivalent of this happened during Martin Luther King’s era too. Who can forget the white Alabama clergymen calling King and other demonstrators “outsiders” for participating in desegregation protests in Birmingham? After quoting a black, “hardworking” friend who says he’s a “pawn in someone else’s agenda, Rowe says, “looters and arsonists run amok, and Black America suffers the association.”[i] My intention isn’t to pick on Mr. Rowe here. It’s to point out another complicated way racism exists in this country and to use him as an example of how mainstream media is failing to see the Black Lives Matter protests as a larger dynamic civil rights movement.

The police have always existed to protect the interests of the power-elite; in fact, the law functions in the same way. This Black Lives Matter movement has been brewing for some time now due to the mass incarceration of blacks and the Police State that exists in many black communities across the United States.

The Civil Rights era that we’re all familiar with began, as history textbooks would say, after Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954. Others may say it was sparked by the brutal slaying of a 14-year old black boy, Emmett Till for allegedly whistling at a white girl in 1955. Movements don’t just begin out of nowhere, or all of a sudden, but often people reach a breaking point where they are willing to risk emotional and bodily harm to make their lives better. The slaying of Emmett Till may have been the breaking point, but civil rights organizing was always happening. For example, the NAACP spent years building a court case to challenge the legal segregation of schools. In 1952, the Legal Council of Negro Leadership organized a successful boycott of Mississippi gas stations that refused to provide bathrooms for blacks.[ii]

Movements take all types of forms with various different groups and tactics to reach an end goal. King was the proclaimed leader of the non-violent movement that holds the most legitimacy in our country. But, let’s not forget about Robert F. Williams, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X and then later the Black Panther Party—all of whom advocated for violent retaliation, scaring their oppressors, and therefore opening up space for non-violent demonstrators to protest under safer conditions. The partial success of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Immigration and National Services Act, and the Fair Housing Act—and I say partial because these Acts don’t go far enough—owe a tremendous debt to more radical movements occurring within, alongside, and outside of King and company’s movement.

In our modern manifestation of civil rights, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Akai Gurley, Ramarley Graham, and Trayvon Martin are the sparks that are igniting a national Movement against police brutality, police targeting of black communities, and mass incarceration of black men. We can go back to the false jailing of the Central Park 5, the vicious beating of Rodney King, the disputed imprisonment of Mumia Abu Jamal and the late Troy Davis, the gratuitous murder of Amadou Diallo, the brutal sodomization of Abner Louima with a broken broomstick, and the execution-style murder of Oscar Grant in Oakland, CA, etc., etc., to point to incidents where the water has been heating towards the boil we’re experiencing now. Movements are imperfect, with activist leaders from innumerable advocacy groups involved. Some will be moderate, some conservative, some radical, and yes, some very radical. Often a particular group and leaders end up taking control in some way—like King and Malcolm X did—and if and when this happens—the establishment (the ruling elite) will feel endangered, threatened, and compromised. This is what they were so scared about during the Occupy Wall Street protests. They wanted to stop these before they got hyper-organized.  (It may take years, but this movement will be back too, much stronger and linked to the Black Lives Matter movement, Climate Change, Healthcare, etc.)

So, what the new social media hysteria of the day, Mr. Rowes’ letter, seems to miss is the larger movement that is happening here. Of course black lives matter—who wouldn’t say this. Police shouldn’t kill unarmed people for resisting arrest, and since they are, they need better training. There is a mental code in this county that black lives don’t matter as much, and we owe this to our nation’s undemocratic, racist, homophobic, patriarchal, and Christian-white-wealthy-privileging history. So, these protests are the foundation (continued from previous foundations) of a new civil rights movement—as perfect and imperfect as it is—that we should all welcome because people—and especially young people—are standing up for themselves and taking back their dignity. In fact, I would argue there is dignity, perhaps not the highest form, in stealing a television, as there is in blocking traffic, as there is in giving a powerful speech—both possible higher forms.

Black people, as a whole, are still oppressed, and a few black people proclaiming that their people aren’t oppressed shouldn’t obscure this. If they weren’t why would they be protesting in the streets—because they’re crazy? Because they just want to burn, loot and steal stuff? No, injustice has occurred and is continuing to occur.  To say protesting—both the “acceptable” (non-violent) and especially the “unacceptable” (violent) kind—is wreaking havoc and shouldn’t be occurring is showing a kind of privilege that doesn’t understand that what is happening right now is a Movement.

Joshua Zelesnick is a Visiting Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Pittsburgh.

Notes.

[i] http://6abc.com/entertainment/mike-rowes-comments-on-brown-and-garner-go-viral/454240/

[ii] David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito, Black Maverick: T.R.M. Howard’s Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009, pg.81.

 

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail