A year ago Columbia-raised Bree Newsome scaled the flag pole in South Carolina to take down the Confederate flag. Some saw it as an act of liberation--I did. Others saw it as lawlessness, provocation. The last year has been filled with more violence and injustice towards African Amercian citizens of this country. More of the same, more of the status quo.
Here in Howard County a racist video made and posted publicly by Mount Hebron students was a punch to the gut from which we are still recovering. Local students mobilized, spoke out, walked out. The response from the school system felt more like spin. "Let the grown-ups handle this." The sincerity of their actions was called into question when it was learned that the student who had shared the video in order to call out racism was punished right along with the maker of the video itself.
An all-day youth summit on racial justice sponsored by area churches sought to lift up, educate, and empower the young people themselves. One of the presenters: Bree Newsome. Local student activists were flown to San Francisco by Twitter to participate in a panel on "Creators for Change", focusing on their work with HoCoStudentWalkout. The school system floated the idea of a Diversity Coordinator, the Board passed it, then the school system cut it when the budget negotiations didn't go their way.
All the while members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia have been standing out in the center of Downtown Columbia one Sunday each month with their Black Lives Matter signs and a banner proclaiming, "Standing on the Side of Love". From their website:
BLACK LIVES MATTER MONTHLY VIGIL – 4:00-5:00 PM at the intersection of Governor Warfield Parkway and Windstream Drive. Join us on the second Sunday of each month for a recurring action in Columbia to keep public attention focused on the problem of black lives NOT mattering in our society.
Last night actor Jesse Williams gave a speech at the annual BET Awards that just about set Twitter on fire, and rightfully so. Video and full transcript are here. These words, in particular, struck me:
And let’s get a couple of things straight, just a little side note: The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job, alright? Stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance—for our resistance—then you’d better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest… If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.
In the battle for racial justice, I never sought to be a leader. I have thought it was enough to "have my heart in the right place." Reading Mr. Williams' speech made it clear to me that I'm not even a very good follower or ally. What does it mean to have your heart in the right place if it does not move you to act for justice? Being a nice person on the sidelines is still a choice to be on the sidelines, after all.
Today, June 27, 2016: this is where we are.
Where are we?