FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The New Civil Rights Movement

by

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:
November 20, 2017
T.J. Coles
Doomsday Scenarios: the UK’s Hair-Raising Admissions About the Prospect of Nuclear War and Accident
Peter Linebaugh
On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest
Patrick Bond
Zimbabwe Witnessing an Elite Transition as Economic Meltdown Looms
Sheldon Richman
Assertions, Facts and CNN
Ben Debney
Plebiscites: Why Stop at One?
LV Filson
Yemen’s Collective Starvation: Where Money Can’t Buy Food, Water or Medicine
Thomas Knapp
Impeachment Theater, 2017 Edition
Binoy Kampmark
Trump in Asia
Curtis FJ Doebbler
COP23: Truth Without Consequences?
Louisa Willcox
Obesity in Bears: Vital and Beautiful
Deborah James
E-Commerce and the WTO
Ann Garrison
Burundi Defies the Imperial Criminal Court: an Interview with John Philpot
Robert Koehler
Trapped in ‘a Man’s World’
Stephen Cooper
Wiping the Stain of Capital Punishment Clean
Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
Ryan LaMothe
A Christian Nation?
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Finger on the Button: Why No President Should Have the Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons
W. T. Whitney
A Bizarre US Pretext for Military Intrusion in South America
Deepak Tripathi
Sex, Lies and Incompetence: Britain’s Ruling Establishment in Crisis 
Howard Lisnoff
Who You’re Likely to Meet (and Not Meet) on a College Campus Today
Roy Morrison
Trump’s Excellent Asian Adventure
John W. Whitehead
Financial Tyranny
Ted Rall
How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition
Jim Goodman
Stop Pretending the Estate Tax has Anything to do With Family Farmers
Thomas Klikauer
The Populism of Germany’s New Nazis
Murray Dobbin
Is Trudeau Ready for a Middle East war?
Jeiddy Martínez Armas
Firearm Democracy
Jill Richardson
Washington’s War on Poor Grad Students
Ralph Nader
The Rule of Power Over the Rule of Law
Justin O'Hagan
Capitalism Equals Peace?
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: From the Red Sea to Nairobi
Geoff Dutton
The Company We Sadly Keep
Evan Jones
The Censorship of Jacques Sapir, French Dissident
Linn Washington Jr.
Meek Moment Triggers Demands for Justice Reform
Gerry Brown
TPP, Indo Pacific, QUAD: What’s Next to Contain China’s Rise?
Robert Fisk
The Exile of Saad Hariri
Romana Rubeo - Ramzy Baroud
Anti-BDS Laws and Pro-Israeli Parliament: Zionist Hasbara is Winning in Italy
Robert J. Burrowes
Why are Police in the USA so Terrified?
Chuck Collins
Stop Talking About ‘Winners and Losers’ From Corporate Tax Cuts
Ron Jacobs
Private Property Does Not Equal Freedom
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail