The United States, since its inception, has denied the value of black lives. We are overdue for a change.
I am privileged. I know that. To some degree, I’ve always known that. The fact that we were poor, living in borrowed housing, and barely making ends meet didn’t change that. My brother and I look white and that automatically gives us privilege in the United States. So much so, that our mother actually discouraged us from claiming the native heritage that courses dominantly through our blood. She specifically forbid us from getting tribal roll numbers. Her reason was rooted in history.
“They gave us numbers before,” she said. “They gave us numbers and rounded us up. Your great-great-grandparents were Tsa=La=Gi (Cherokee), had a nice home in what is now Georgia, did nice business, got along well with their Choctaw neighbors. Then, the government came, rounded everyone up, and took our land. They made us move. They watched us die. We learned a lesson. Don’t let them number you again. They don’t need to know what their eyes don’t tell them.”
We grew up with the privilege of looking white and at the time didn’t give it a second thought. There are many problems with privilege, though, one of the biggest being that it makes one blind to the challenges and abuse of others. Privilege lets us sit safely at home, watching protests on our televisions and phones, while not worrying about whether we’re going to be killed the next time we step out of the house. Privilege disconnects us from those in need, those in trouble, and those being mistreated at the hands of a government for whom too many of us voted.
We all have sat by too long and watched as our black neighbors endured challenges we couldn’t fathom. We’ve watched them be killed simply for existing and blamed it on everything except the real problem: the United States is a systemically racist country.
The protests that have filled our streets the past two weeks demonstrate how severe the problem is. Yet, protests alone don’t change anything. Policies have to change. Laws must be written. And along the way, a helluva lot of white people are going to be made to feel uncomfortable as the power to bully black people and other people of color is taken away from them. There’s a lot that has to happen.
- Use of tear gas and rubber bullets by police has to be made illegal nationwide
- Use of paramilitary equipment and/or military surplus equipment has to be made illegal, nationwide.
- Budgets for police “special ops” programs have to be eliminated.
- Police have to be charged, tried, and convicted for all the crimes they commit in the line of duty, no exceptions.
- Civilian review boards must oversee every police department in the country, with the power to fire police for misconduct.
- Once a police officer is fired for misconduct in one department, they can no longer serve in law enforcement anywhere else.
- The incarceration of black people for non-violent crimes must not exceed the per capita comparison for white people.
- Existing incarceration records for black people must be reviewed by a civilian board with the objective of overturning or dismissing charges administered unfairly on account of race.
- Crimes against black people that have gone unpunished must be re-opened and tried fairly in a court of law.
I could continue that list at some length but that reduces the likelihood of anyone reading so I’ll stop there. The protests must continue. Our history of systemic racism goes all the way back to the first white person who ever set foot on our shores. Racism was one of the diseases brought over on the Mayflower. The heritage of suffering and abuse is long and one of the places we see that abuse reflected is in the music of black people. So, what I want to leave you with today is not merely a set of pictures from our archives, but a set of songs representing the history of the struggle black people have faced in the United States.
Look. Listen. Pay attention. Keep marching. Keep chanting. Create the change that improves the lives of black people everywhere. Black lives DO matter.
“One of these mornings and it won’t be long; you’re gonna look for me and I’ll be gone.”
“You gotta fight on just a little while longer …”
“Deep in heart, I do believe, we shall overcome someday.”
“Brother we can’t quit until we get our share.”
“It’s been a long time comin’ but I know change is gonna come.”
“Black rage is founded on blocking the truth
Murder and crime, compromise and distortion.“
This is America
Don’t catch you slippin’ now
Look at how I’m livin’ now
Police be trippin’ now
Yeah, this is America.
If you think we live in the land of the free
You should try to be Black like me.