When the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement started, there was so much controversy about why Black people were being singled out. “All lives matter!!” people would contend. “Why do we have to emphasize that Black lives matter?”
The truth is that society isn’t as progressive as we’d all like to think, and Black people still aren’t treated the same way as our brethren. We are actively fighting to be accepted, and acknowledged, as equal – to be seen and protected as people. Racism wasn’t eradicated simply because segregation ended. In some ways it’s grown deeper because it’s less overt, but more offensive. It has rooted itself into laws, regulations, education and hiring practices; more commonly referred to as “Systemic Racism.” The fight for “freedom, liberty, and justice for all” rages on.
I wish it wasn’t this way. Who wants their legacy to be framed by the word “resistance?” Resistance has a negative connotation until you do more research and begin to expand your thinking. Black Resistance is the fortitude to stand up for what is just and right. It is the same passion that fueled the revolutions that established America. As long as there is racism and oppression, both in violent and non-violent forms, I must use my voice to resist. Hate and terrorism against Black people are plaguing our society. Racism and oppression are the root to the public health and public safety crisis in the Black community. Despite the numerous laws that have been enacted “requiring” equality in various institutions, we are still fighting for equal opportunities. Black people are still not inherently treated as equals. Having to pass laws such as The Crown Act in 2022 to give Black men and women the right to wear their hair naturally, continuous underfunding schools in predominantly black communities, and removing and altering textbooks to whitewash history is proof that inequalities still exist even in today’s “more tolerant” culture. Movements stemmed in Black Resistance - or only resistance – only occur when people are desperate for their circumstances to improve.
If we were living in a time where “all lives” do matter, I would be writing about something very different. Maybe I would be talking about how Black music or art has evolved over generations to kick off Black History Month. Or perhaps I would be able to rejoice about the struggles Black people have overcome in a historical context. Another topic I’ll save for a different day is showcasing all of the amazing Black boys and girls trailblazing in the field of education to become politicians, doctors, lawyers, and inventors. But here I am, asking my colleagues to help me explain to the world why Black Resistance, which dates back over a century by the way, is still an active and necessary movement today and why we (Black people) haven’t been able to leave the past in the past.
DeArthie Reid and Gary Whitney, who are both part of the Zebras of African Descent (ZAD) inclusion network leadership team here at Zebra, are just as invested as I am in educating others about the inequalities still faced by the Black community. Like me, they don’t want our children to have anything to resist in the future. So today, we spent our time sharing our “Black experience” as Americans and the resilience built up as a result. We also debated solutions to the ongoing racism and oppression toward the Black community; wondering if it’s even possible to convince people to reconsider their beliefs, acknowledge implicit bias and take actions toward correction. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:
Sheronda: Throughout history, Black Resistance has transpired in many different ways. What are the most notable to you, either because of their effectiveness, ineffectiveness, or evidence of desperation for change?
Gary: The effectiveness of the non-violent movement led by Dr. King has to be the standard by which any success can be measured in this struggle. The lack of a central figure of his stature and galvanizing power, erudition and intellect are what’s sorely missing from our current era. I struggle to think of anyone in the modern day that could unite the factions of “Blackness” as effectively as he did back then.
Sheronda: How is Black Resistance most evident to you today? How do you see it occurring in modern society?
DeArthie: Social media has given more visibility to Black Resistance. I see our young people standing up for what is right by participating in protests, posting videos of inequality, and speaking up on behalf of others.
Gary: Culturally, we are at work on multiple fronts. Look at the power of art, particularly music to evoke the spirit, if not the letter of resistance among Black people. The BLM movement, troubled as it is, has a kind of power that could be better expressed. That would make it more impactful. The technology and media of the day has made it possible to make the struggle uniquely individualized. YouTubers, etc. are all staking a claim.
Sheronda: What do you believe is hindering equality? What is it that makes it challenging for people to accept and treat members of the Black community as equal to all other people, even as tolerance improves?
DeArthie: Unfortunately, skin color still matters in our society. We still cast judgment on anyone that doesn’t look like us. I believe we have to look in the mirror and ask why we find it hard to treat Black people as equals. Sometimes it is how we were raised, sometimes it is our perception, and sometimes we are unable to move past our insecurities.
Sheronda: Do you feel more action at the institutional level, whether via companies, schools, or governments, would help eliminate the stigmas that still exist and fuel the discrimination? If so, what type of action do you believe would be most impactful?
DeArthie: I think the stigma will be truly eliminated when we start at home. If I grew up in a household where mistreating someone of a different race was accepted, I would have a hard time accepting my company, school or government telling me that I need to change my behavior. However, at the institutional level, the action must be genuine. To help eliminate the stigma, institutions must elevate Black people and place them in higher positions.
Gary: It is not the role of these particular institutions to concern themselves, necessarily, although every bit can help with eliminating some issues. Hearts and minds are challenged and changed at a very personal level and the communities that can encourage interaction by creating a social infrastructure that supports all types of people coming together will see the benefits of such an investment of time and resources.
Sheronda: I believe Black Resistance goes hand in hand with Black Resilience. Anyone who has had to endure obstacles, whether big or small, will naturally become stronger through the struggle. Would you agree?
DeArthie: I would agree. As Black people, our ancestors had to organize resistance efforts to continue to fight for equal rights. We have come a long way, but there is still work to do. Our generation must remember that we are people of resiliency, which means that we have the capacity to withstand and recover quickly from difficulties. We credit our ancestors with our resilience.
Gary: Steel is tempered in fire for a reason. When a human endures, we can only hope that there are equal parts of grace and maturity to accompany the toughness they’ve developed in their trials. Too many think the quality of “hard”-ness is to be appreciated as a goal in itself. This is misguided.
Sheronda: We recently celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who advocated for resistance via non-violent methods. And we know he was very influential in driving positive change for the Black community. What would you say to those who want to know how they can join the resistance, whether as a member of the Black community or an ally? What do you tell friends, family members, neighbors, colleagues, or perfect strangers who ask, “What can I do?”
DeArthie: I share with those who are not part of the Black community that change starts with them. It starts with their mindset and behavior. It also starts with teaching their kids about people of different races. It starts with listening to our experiences.
Gary: Education is key. This is the first step in any struggle to understand what you are involving yourself in, so make sure that your mind is strong enough to understand the topic and relate to it fundamentally and purposefully. Set a simple goal, or several goals, each one designed to support the next and enlarge the scope of your investment. Thirdly, look to the six principles of non-violence published by The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. It is always the perfect time to make a worthwhile contribution of your time, effort, and energy to the timeless causes of justice, equality and peace. Over time, I hope more and more people can say that they see a civil rights champion staring back when they look in the mirror.
A Final Thought
We are all born as human beings; we bleed and breathe the same way. Our authenticity makes us different, and elements of that authenticity include the color of our skin and our cultures. As individuals we all have the ability (and responsibility) to assess a situation and make a self-determination of what’s right and wrong. Together we can (and should) override societal or familial programming. Even science has proven that genetics can be changed from one generation to the next. Hate is not inherent; it is taught, and the act of hate is chosen. You should check in with yourself on a consistent basis and ask, “Do I act negatively toward Black people because this is what someone else told or taught me to do or think? Am I conforming to someone else’s expectations of me? Am I living up to my own expectations? Are my actions making the world I live in a better place for myself, my family and my community? Am I assisting racism and oppression or am I resisting it?”
I know resisting the “ways” of your family, your culture, your church or even your own norm can feel uncomfortable and daunting, but conforming is as much of a choice as resisting. History is writing itself every day and the narrative is constantly evolving. Will your silence ring loudly as your complicity in the anti-racism work? Or will your actions assist in writing an end to racism and holding America accountable for “freedom, liberty, and justice for all”?