Last week the Democratic National Committee adopted a resolution supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. But BLM did not return the support, and for good reason. (More)
“True change requires real struggle, and that struggle will be in the streets and led by the people, not by a political party.”
Last week in Minneapolis, the DNC passed a resolution that read in part:
The DNC joins with Americans across the country in affirming ‘Black lives matter’ and the ‘say her name’ efforts to make visible the pain of our fellow and sister Americans as they condemn extrajudicial killings of unarmed African American men, women and children.
A resolution signaling the Democratic National Committee’s endorsement that Black lives matter, in no way implies an endorsement of the DNC by the Black Lives Matter Network, nor was it done in consultation with us. We do not now, nor have we ever, endorsed or affiliated with the Democratic Party, or with any party. The Democratic Party, like the Republican and all political parties, have historically attempted to control or contain Black people’s efforts to liberate ourselves. True change requires real struggle, and that struggle will be in the streets and led by the people, not by a political party.
More specifically, the Black Lives Matter Network is clear that a resolution from the Democratic National Committee won’t bring the changes we seek. Resolutions without concrete change are just business as usual. Promises are not policies. We demand freedom for Black bodies, justice for Black lives, safety for Black communities, and rights for Black people. We demand action, not words, from those who purport to stand with us.
While the Black Lives Matter Network applauds political change towards making the world safer for Black life, our only endorsement goes to the protest movement we’ve built together with Black people nationwide – not the self-interested candidates, parties, or political machine seeking our vote.
While some Democrats will take that as a rebuke, it’s a thoughtful and fair response. Most progressive Democrats would say we support racial justice. But “racial justice” is a broad term. It’s easy to embrace in the abstract, and sometimes not so easy in the details.
Many white progressive Democrats support “racial justice” as an idea, but live in almost all-white neighborhoods, send our kids to almost all-white schools, and join almost all-white churches or civic groups. Many of us go a month or more without a single conversation with a person of color, beyond “How are you?” and “Have a nice day!” in a checkout line. We don’t reach out to communities of color when there’s a job opening where we work.
It doesn’t strike us as odd that everyone at the office or the neighborhood meeting or church service or our local Democratic Party meeting, and almost every character in our favorite TV shows and movies, is white. And if someone suggests policies to change any of that – to allow low-income housing vouchers in our neighborhood, to redraw our school district lines, to recruit people of color into our churches or civic groups or workplaces – we pause or even object. We’re not racist, we say and sincerely believe. We just like things the way they are.
Of course we’re upset when police kill unarmed black men and women and children. Of course we support Black Lives Matter. We even learned why “Black Lives Matter” means something different than “All Lives Matter.” But we worry they will lose allies when they protest at our favorite candidate’s rally, or block traffic. We wish they would formulate a clear policy platform and offer it through the regular political process.
And if someone suggests that many of the problems between police and people of color begin when a white person – like our neighbors and friends and colleagues – calls 911 because they see a person of color walking down the street … we have to resist the impulse to object “Not all white people!”
Or we don’t resist the impulse.
The Black Lives Matter movement is about changing more than policy. Their leaders have seen the results of the 1960s civil rights movement. Yes, there were policy changes, yet neighborhoods and schools are more segregated now than they were in 1960. Yes, overt discrimination is illegal, but most people find jobs through social networks and most whites have almost all-white social networks. Yes, we elected a black President of the United States – twice – and his first news conference, about health care reform, was derailed by his not-really-controversial comment about cops who arrested a black professor for burglary … in his own home.
The Black Lives Matter movement is about changing culture. Specifically, it’s about changing white culture. That prospect makes even some progressive Democrats uncomfortable …
… and not all Democrats are progressive. All of the political leaders in Ferguson, Missouri were Democrats. They were white Democrats who established and defended (and some still defend) a corrupt system where the cops and courts conspired to fill the city coffers by arresting and fining people of color. A shakedown mob, acting under color of law … run by Democrats.
So yes, the Black Lives Matter response to the DNC’s resolution was entirely fair. We Democrats don’t “deserve” support from communities of color. It’s not enough that we are less blatantly white supremacist than the Republican base. To earn the support of communities of color, we must be actively working to change both official policy and white culture. This is truly a case where “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
And that’s what the Black Lives Matter response said.
Photo Credit: Otto Yamamoto (Flickr)
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