When Mike Brown's lifeless body was left baking in the hot sun in the middle of a Ferguson street, riddled with bullets and surrounded by aloof police officers, the Black Lives Matter movement was born amidst controversy, tragedy and hope.
Since that day, this movement has been the impetus behind familiarizing our modern western society with names of black men, women and children, all victims of state-sanctioned violence that would have otherwise faded into obscurity such as Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and John Crawford III.
Yet, unfortunately, it seems as if there is a new name to add to that list every single week, with an increasingly alarming act of violence behind it. Whether it's Walter Scott being executed by Michael Slager, or Freddie Gray being intentionally tossed around the back of a Baltimore police van so violently that his spine was severed, this tragic list grows. But it seems every time a black person becomes a horrific hashtag that reignites the dire need of structural change in a system that doesn't prioritize black lives as important or equal, there's always a large contingent of folks ready to utter the same ignorant retort of, "Black people need to fix their/our communities FIRST, before worrying about [insert extreme act of racism here]."
This bullshit troupe is quickly reeled out by non-black people who are uncomfortable with acknowledging the factually disproportionate racism that we suffer from everyday. They are so damn scared to engage their own privilege and the reality of systemic racism, that they rely on every prejudiced, anti-black ideology to steer the conversation away from even the most blatant acts of discrimination.
It goes something like this: Black man shot by police? Let's talk about "black-on-black" violence. Black children being disproportionately expelled from school, taken away from their parents and placed in child social care? Let's talk about absentee black fathers. Black women demanding better childcare options in low income neighbourhoods? Let's talk about "welfare queens".
Every single time the conversation is shifted away from a real problem to arguing over racist bullshit, it never fails that black people will be instructed to "fix" every last, single problem in our community before even thinking of addressing the whole, "being treated like a human being" thing.
And probably the most disappointing thing of all, is how frequently this disgusting concept is parroted by black people to other blacks. On Monday July 6, I was invited to speak on WVON 1690AM's radio show The Talk of Chicago about an article I wrote about black people forgiving white supremacists who murder our children and burn down our churches.
But during that weekend, the weekend of July 4, 10 people were killed in Chicago and 55 others were wounded. Among the dead was a teenage boy named Vonzell Banks who was shot to death while playing basketball in the same park named after Hadiya Pendleton, the young girl who was murdered in Chicago weeks after performing at President Obama's second inauguration in 2013. There was also a story about a seven-year old boy named Amari Brown who was murdered by gang members who were aiming for his gang-involved father.
So as I was being interviewed about the tenants of structural prejudice, almost every other caller basically said, "Hey, we need to FIX ourselves before worrying about police violence and racism." And I damn near lost my mind because both issues can not be stacked and prioritized in a checklist, when they are separate issues that both require immediate action. Issues such as inner-city gang violence must be fixed in that city and others, but as tragic as these incidents are, they do not exclude Black people from demanding the human rights we're born with.
Besides being incredibly reductive and anti-academic, this ideology is incredibly harmful because it's inherently predicated on the belief that equality is something that is not given to Blacks as an unalienable human right, but rather a privilege that must be earned through an arbitrarily measured concept of good behaviour. This is the most dehumanizing way to frame Blackness because it reduces us to less than our white neighbours who don't have their equality burdened by the collective respectability of their entire race.
When young, white men shoot up schools, churches and movie theatres, there is no demand on the entire white race to "better" themselves so they can achieve access to the equality endowed upon them by the Declaration of Independence or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- nor should there be.
The truth is, black folks must do better, not as a matter of being seen as "respectable" enough for any damn body but because all humans must do better as a collective society tasked with the monumental responsibility of stewardship -- leaving this earth in a far better condition than we found it.
So when opponents of police brutality demand answers as to why Andrew Loku was summarily executed, we don't want to hear about how we need to "fix" our communities to ensure tragedies like Lecent Ross's never happen again. When we insist on a full investigation into why a police officer decided to strangle Jonathan Sanders to death with a flashlight, we don't want to hear about our "collective task" of reducing "Black-on-Black" crime in every neighbourhood across North America.
Black people do not have to "fix" ourselves to demand being treated as equal human beings, and that's a message that every race of people in this society, including us black folk too, need to thoroughly understand.
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