One of the things the civil rights movement did best was stay on message with a central goal of ending Jim Crow segregation and racism. That message was delivered by the NAACP, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and of course the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The witnesses and historians sometimes tell the story as though it all took place over a year, or even a summer. But even before it had a name, and yes, a brand, the movement to fight discrimination had begun. The fact that the NAACP launched an Anti-Lynching Campaign in the 1930s gives us some perspective of the struggle. Bills were passed by the House but blocked by Southern senators. In essence, lynching was a state crime and the law was written to prosecute lynchers if the state failed to do so. That didn’t go over well.
I bring up lynching because just like police shootings of unarmed black men, I can’t think of one civilized person that would support the practice. But just like lynching, in spite of it being illegal, police shootings keep happening. The purpose of lynching in the South was to keep Black men in their place. Lynching sent a message reminding Black men of who really held the power.
“They are who we thought they were,” the late Arizona Cardinal’s coach Dennis Green yelled at a press conference following a frustrating loss to the Chicago Bears. That phrase fits perfectly when it comes to racism in this country. It’s very difficult, sometimes impossible, to get people to change their hearts and minds. That’s why we have laws and that’s why we need to elect prosecutors who are not afraid to convict cops when they are wrong.
Radio One recently released the findings from its study, Black, White & Blue, A Spotlight on Race in America. While I don’t discount the findings, my issue with polls is that they yield responses that most people already know. How many times do you see headlines about a new study and your only response is, “Duh?”
Black, White & Blue confirms some things I already thought or knew to be true, like more Black people than white people believe Hillary Clinton is the best candidate for improving race relations. I was more interested in how people felt about issues that were more controversial – the kind that Black and white people who are friends, co-workers and church members tend not to discuss, like the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
Here’s what I found out:
In a nutshell, the study points out more Black people than white think “Black Lives Matter” is making a positive difference and more whites than Blacks think it’s dividing America and encourages violence. Duh.
There are interesting findings like Blacks and whites are almost even in their belief that neither presidential candidate will improve relations between Black Americans and the police.
Blacks (83%) and whites (85%) in the study had very similar numbers when asked if the relationship between Blacks and police was the same or worse since President Obama was elected. Most of us agree that there’s a problem. It’s just that the problem has way bigger impact one group than it does on the other. So, all this conversation seems fruitless. What’s needed is action on the part of the people being victimized.
I don’t remember there being a lot of polls and studies going on during the Civil Rights Movement. People were just doing the work. Even though I’ve shared my stories about being motivated by all the good food we protesters got along the way, I was also motivated by an urgency for change put forth by my parents and other adults I respected. Are Black parents today encouraging their children to get involved in “Black Lives Matter” or are they hoping someone else’s kids will put themselves out there?
I don’t know personally know any who are.
Here’s what I do know. Racism is a real thing that is embedded in our society. Trying to change the minds and hearts of people is noble effort, but the key to fighting for equality against things like police brutality is through legislation. That means registering to vote, voting and changing laws and lawmakers. That’s how any advocacy group is successful. Marches, protests, boycotts, sit-ins, even rioting in the streets, all play a role in bringing issues to the forefront in this country. But what’s most important is electing people who will fight for our causes, implement policies that protect us from violence and appoint Supreme Court Justices who will turn the clock ahead and not back.