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Black Organizing in the Americas

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Civil police officers detain suspects after a store was looted during a police strike in Recife, May 15, 2014. Road blocks and marches hit Brazilian cities on Thursday as disparate groups criticized spending on the upcoming World Cup soccer tournament and sought to revive a call for better public services that swept the country last June. Pernambuco state police called a strike over their demands for better salaries and benefits. REUTERS/Igo Bione/JC Imagem (BRAZIL - Tags: CIVIL UNREST CRIME LAW TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP) BRAZIL OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN BRAZIL - RTR3PDI5
Civil police officers detain suspects after a store was looted during a police strike in Recife, May 15, 2014. Road blocks and marches hit Brazilian cities on Thursday as disparate groups criticized spending on the upcoming World Cup soccer tournament and sought to revive a call for better public services that swept the country last June. Pernambuco state police called a strike over their demands for better salaries and benefits. REUTERS/Igo Bione/JC Imagem (BRAZIL – Tags: CIVIL UNREST CRIME LAW TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP) BRAZIL OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN BRAZIL – RTR3PDI5

There’s a really useful forum at NACLA on considering Black Lives Matter as a movement with hemispheric roots and importance. From the intro:

The Black Lives Matter movement is not a U.S. cultural export to Latin America and should not be treated as such, for the assertion that “Black lives matter” is far from new in the Americas. From the maroon communities of Jamaica, Suriname, and Brazil to Black independence movements starting with the Haitian Revolution, Black peoples across the Americas have long articulated a demand that Black life, personhood, and autonomy be valued and respected. Today’s movements are only the latest iteration in the long Black struggle for liberation.

As observers of contemporary waves of heightened hemispheric Black activism, we were surprised to find few talks, symposia, and syllabi that consider the issue of Black life mattering from a transnational perspective. Several questions emerged out of preoccupation with an unsettling observation: despite distinct socio-historical contexts, African descendants across the hemisphere face remarkably similar issues—from gentrification to displacement and segregation, cultural appropriation, labor discrimination, to institutionalized racism and the enduring presence of structural barriers to educational attainment and economic parity. From Baltimore, Maryland to Buenaventura, Colombia, Black people contend with what historian Forrest Hylton, in his book Evil Hour in Colombia, refers to as “the unresolved legacies of conquest, colonization, and slavery”—legacies that manifest as police surveillance and brutality, disproportionate rates of incarceration, poor health outcomes, and lower life expectancies. One need only read reports by Human Rights Watch, the U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics, and the Brazilian Public Security Forum to find a host of sobering statistics that corroborate the need for and imperative of today’s social movements that center Black lives.

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  • King Goat

    When I’m talking with less liberal friends about BLM it doesn’t take long for them to say ‘well, I think *all* should matter, not just or especially black lives.’ I then tell them you’re supposed to kind of read a ‘too’ after lives, not a ‘just’ or ‘especially’ before black. But it makes me wonder, why choose that title if it’s going to be so easily misunderstood like that? Is it supposed to be provocative under the idea it creates discussion? And does that work?

    • Nobdy

      BLM is a reaction to police and other institutions acting like black lives do not matter. It has nothing to do with the lives of non-black people, and there is no need for a white lIves matter because the cops and courts already treat white lives like they matter. They take black people’s lives like they are worthless and BLM says “NO! They are not worthless! They matter! They are important!”

      Anyone who reads BLM as some kind of claim to special status or attack on non-black people is being intentionally obtuse and misleading or is ignoring context and being racist and self-focused. If BLM had another name they would find a way to be offended by it too.

      And asking black people to change their nomenclature or slogans to accommodate the petty (usually ill-intentioned) “concerns” of others is antithetical to the BLM movement.

      The critics have an obligation to educate themselves on what BLM means and is. If you’re going to attack something you must understand it first. BLM doesn’t have an obligation to treat racist opinions like they matter and conform to those expectations.

      • King Goat

        In order to effect change on this or any issue you’re going to have to have a lot of support from white people. Knowing that it seems odd to go at it from the position that the burden is on those who don’t understand the non-obvious context behind the title. Seems like you’d want to facilitate the least amount of potential misunderstanding as possible.

        • Nobdy

          Accommodating to white people is against the spirit of black lives matter, which is about asserting the importance of respecting black loves and experience. If BLM has to accommodate racist assumptions it is diluted. Black Lives Matter (as long as we can get white people on board) is not as strong a message.

          Protest movements are not purely strategic. They are also symbolic. And much of the audience of BLM is other black people, not authorities. When Deray McKesson says “I love my blackness, and yours” he isn’t talking to the palefaces, and that is okay.

          One of the ways to effect change is to be assertive and demanding. BLM demands respect. It is in the nature of the movement to demand that others seek to understand it, rather than to package itself for consumption by white people.

          • King Goat

            I can understand wanting to be assertive and maybe provocative in a way that doesn’t have to take how white people think about it into account considering what black people have to endure and how tiresome it must be to have to take into account whites feelings on everything. But in a democracy what kind of change can you get that’s meaningful unless you can get 51% (and hell with our system even that’s obviously not enough).

            • Nobdy

              There is the eternal tension between protest and political accommodation. Every movement and every person must draw the line somewhere. BLM is not monolithic and is not the only vector for political change, even by BLM advocates.

              I think I have explained why the name makes sense and has value. Whether you think is strategically the best move or not is kind of up to you. But it’s not a “bad” name. It just has more goals than pure political coalition building.

              • King Goat

                Fair enough, appreciate the feedback.

            • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

              Let’s see:
              – Black Lives Matter people are doing things wrong. They need to not antagonize conservative whites.
              – Democrats who think Republicans who voted for Trump are fools are doing things wrong. They need to not antagonize conservative whites.

              I look forward to your posting the above over and over and over and over again. Can’t remember if you also think Democrats should never have nominated Hilary.

              • King Goat

                We’ll put you down for ‘antagonize all the way down’ then. Check.

            • Not every movement, etc., has to aim for 51% or more. The fact that a lot of people apparently, like you, don’t find it provocative at all might actually suggest the purpose of the name, at least, is not provocative. (I could be wrong.)

              That it plays up and points out conflict, sure. Is there a problem with that?

    • aturner339

      It’s not really a misunderstanding. No one responds to “support our troops” with “what about the civilian support personnel?”

      People are just shitty is all.

      • King Goat

        I don’t know about that. Why do you think we have the term ‘first responders?’ It’s because when people said ‘tribute to the firemen’ people automatically went ‘what about the rescue squad people? The cops? Etc’

        • aturner339

          I do. People who play this game are true sociopaths. It’s the surest sign of a terrible human being.

          • King Goat

            I tend to reserve sociopath for offenses somewhat greater than obtuseness, but thresholds differ I’m sure.

    • Darkrose

      Anyone who doesn’t understand that the statement Black Lives Matter is in response to a society and a culture that makes it clear that black lives do not, in fact, matter, is disingenuous at best and lying at worst.

      Three days ago there was a story on this! very! blog! about a mentally ill black man who was BOILED TO DEATH in a prison shower while the four guards who shut him in laughed as he screamed. FOR TWO HOURS. Despite the fact that his skin slid off his body after they finally took him out, the medical examiner concluded that being trapped in a scalding shower for two hours had nothing to do with his death, and the state’s attorney declined to charge anyone.

      Since July of 2015, I’ve been afraid to drive on the freeway alone because of the death of Sandra Bland. Like her, I’m a black woman. Like her, I suffer from depression. And like her, a toxicology report would show THC in my system. And I suspect that if I got pulled over and mysteriously wound up dead, the response from an awful lot of white folks–including some here–would be “Well, she was mentally ill/she shouldn’t have been snarky to the cop/she shouldn’t have used weed even though it’s legal in California.” Because as we’ve seen with Sandra Bland and Darren Rainey and Philando Castile and Tamir Rice and Eric Garner and Alton Sterling and Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown is that there’s always, always some excuse for why dead black men and women and boys and girls deserved to be dead. Because in this country, and many others, black lives do not, in fact, matter.

      So while you’re wringing your hands about how mean we’re being to the white working class by calling out their racism, and while LeeEsq is worried about the message that the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is sending to white people, maybe you might want to consider that your deep concern for the feelings of white people means jack and shit to those of us watching as our brothers and sisters and parents and children are being murdered without remorse and without justice.

      • Lord Jesus Perm

        This.

    • Gareth

      One benefit of being a nitpicking pedant like me is that I have no problem with “Black Lives Matter” – it says nothing either way about other lives, and it’s irrational to assume it does.

      • J. Otto Pohl

        True and BLM activists and leaders don’t exclude others either. As far as I can see the most controversial thing BLM has done is to publicly support Palestinian human rights. That got them in trouble with a lot of organizations and individuals including a fair number calling themselves “progressives.”

    • Rob in CT

      The “misunderstanding” was willful.

  • Lord Jesus Perm

    I do like how quickly this turned into a discussion about white people’s feelings about Black Lives Matter.

    At some point, I think genuine concern-as genuine as it can be in this case, at least- just becomes blackmail. Black people organize a group that centers their lives and concerns? White scream and demand that they be centered (because let’s be honest, most of the people who shout all lives matter don’t give a damn about other people’s lives), or threaten to not support them.

    Like, we get gunned down on the street for living and sorry motherfuckers are bitching about a name. I’m supposed to think you’d support the cause if the name just got changed? Nah, you can save that shit for somebody else.

    • aturner339

      Yeah in the eternal battle between serious or just trolling the jury is in.

    • King Goat

      Because, to repeat myself, in order to effect change on this or any issue you’re going to have to have a lot of support from white people. White people are like 70% of the electorate.

      • aturner339

        Fortunately scociopaths are a good bit less. Because that’s who “misunderstands” this.

        Sociopaths. People you don’t want near children.

        • King Goat

          Just sociopaths? And they’re few you say?

          Shew, I’m glad you told me. I thought a sociopath, who went out of his way to berate BLM, just won the Presidential election and his party controls all the other branches and most statehouses! I’m happy to know that actually the movement is doing great, save for a few sociopaths here and there.

      • Lord Jesus Perm

        To repeat myself:

        Like, we get gunned down on the street for living and sorry motherfuckers are bitching about a name. I’m supposed to think you’d support the cause if the name just got changed? Nah, you can save that shit for somebody else.

        If white people’s support on this hinges on a name in a situation where we’re being murdered by the state, then they aren’t ready to support anything. And if it weren’t the name, it would be the tone the protesters took when speaking, it would be their method of protest, it would be something else.

        Not to put too fine a point on this, but I don’t think BLM protesters are really expecting much from white people. Hell, if they could they wouldn’t have to exist in the first place.

        • gmack

          Why, it’s almost as if these responses to the declaration, “Black lives matter” demonstrate why the phrase has to be asserted in the first place!

          Seriously, threads like this make me want to tear my own face off. White people, and I ask this in the most loving way possible (since I’m white too, after all): what the ever loving fuck is wrong with us? It is simply not the case that most white people really believe that black lives matter and would totally act on this too, if only black people would use the right messaging. We live in a society that, from its inception and pretty much throughout its history, has stated explicitly and/or acted as if black lives are not valuable. And then when people contest this, when they declare, “our lives matter, God damnit!,” the response of our totally sensitive liberal types is to respond with, “but why do you say it this way when it’s so easy for us to misunderstand?”

          • aturner339

            So of course I’m needling the troll with the “sociopath” description but it’s not far from the truth. Peole engage in these “strategic misunderstandings” as a passive aggressive action. It’s meant to cause harm.

            • King Goat

              You couldn’t be further off. *I* am not confused or bothered by BLM’s name. In fact, I’ve spent a fair amount of time defending and explaining it to people, including on sites like InsideHigherEd under the same name, King Goat. Go look it up.

              I’m just noticing that a lot of people I talk to, Internet or not, have that misunderstanding.

              Now, your response is to tell them, and goofily me, that they and I are sociopathic racists. It never occurs to you that the messaging might not be ideal. Like I said, youre like the guy who thinks there’s something wrong with the women he asks out instead of the line he always uses. Worse, you think the friend who tells you ‘could there be something wrong with the line, maybe’ is the bad guy too.

              • aturner339

                Tell me friend. Is the punchline here that these people you totally discuss things with on the internet can’t be racists because … you know them?

                I’ll let you in on a secret. The internet has these things called trolls. They pretend to be obtuse when really they just want to make any discussion impossible.

            • gmack

              People engage in these “strategic misunderstandings” as a passive aggressive action. It’s meant to cause harm.

              Here’s the thing: I don’t actually think this is a misunderstanding at all. The opponents of Black Lives Matter know very well what the protesters are saying; they just disagree with it. Not that they disagree with the claim, “black lives matter” (I suppose some do, but those are the overt white supremacists, and the folks in the White House notwithstanding, that’s still not a majority position among white people). Rather, they disagree with the idea that we live in a world in which it is necessary to assert that black lives matter. They disagree, in other words, with the claim that we live in a world marked by systemic racism that systematically treats black lives as if they are less valuable. All of the efforts to respond with “all lives matter!” or to object to BLM on the grounds that the phrase is just too hard for many white people to comprehend amount to this kind of denial.

          • King Goat

            I get what you’re saying at some level, but it’s also so idealistic. It makes me think of a marketing person addressing the creator of a car that he wants to name the Lemon because it’s his family name and he wants to honor his dad, who was a hero.
            ‘You can’t name it that, it’s associated with a bad car.’
            ‘But it’s my name, and if people took the time to know my dad’s story they’d see. And if they don’t take that time, it shows they’re terrible, shallow people! So I’m going with Lemon, if the company fails it’s their fault for being so stupidly shallow!’

            • aturner339

              It’s not marketing. It’s just that some peole don’t actually think black lives matter. those people though I can respect. What can’t be respected is people who pretend it’s all just a misunderstanding.

          • Ronan

            Oh for christ sake, two people made comments. One of them calls himself King Goat. This hardly generalises to ‘white people’.

            • aturner339

              Really? You see this discussion and the takeaways here is that gmack has been overly broad? I don’t blame the troll. He’s performing in his role.

              God knows why long standing commenters are playing along.

              • King Goat

                No need to get worked up, just dismiss them as sociopaths. That seems to work for you.

            • gmack

              I do thank you for the concern you have about my overgeneralization. But in my defense, I have lived in the U.S. all my life. Pretty much all of this time has been spent surrounded by white people, including my family, most of my friends, nearly all of my co-workers, most of my students, most of the people commenting on this blog, and so on. I have also spent a whole bunch of my life studying issues of race (and especially white attitudes about race) as part of my job. So of all the things I might feel comfortable generalizing about, white people and our hang-ups about race would have to be pretty close to the top of the list.

              • Ronan

                “White Democrats are about as likely as blacks to express at least some support for the Black Lives Matter movement – about two-thirds (64%) do, compared with 42% of white independents and 20% of white Republicans.

                Among white adults younger than 30, six-in-ten say they support the Black Lives Matter movement at least somewhat. About half (46%) of whites ages 30 to 49, and even fewer among those ages 50 to 64 (37%) and those 65 and older (26%), express support for the movement. It is worth noting, however, that about three-in-ten whites ages 50 and older (28%) say they haven’t heard anything at all about Black Lives Matter…..Still, about a third (36%) of those who have heard about Black Lives Matter say they don’t understand its goals too well – or at all. Blacks who have heard at least a little about Black Lives Matter are far more likely than whites who have some general awareness of the movement to say they understand its goals very well (42% vs. 16%). About four-in-ten whites who have heard of Black Lives Matter (38%) say they don’t understand the movement’s goals particularly well.”

                http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/07/08/how-americans-view-the-black-lives-matter-movement/

                • My understanding is that self-identified Rs are about 20% of the population. Ds are 30-40%.

                  So it’s difficult to understand why someone like KG thinks everyone who matters finds the name too offputting to even consider. The poll data would seem to demonstrate it’s otherwise.

                • gmack

                  (1) This poll data pretty well confirms my main claim, which is that large percentages of white people (including a sizable percentage of white Democrats) either do not understand what BLM is about or are actively opposed to it.

                  (2) I suspect that the percentages of white people expressing opposition to BLM would significantly increase if we move away from vague expressions of support for the movement and actually got into more details. For example, I’m guessing that majorities of white people would not agree with the idea that most of the major institutions and practices in the U.S. are structured in ways that benefit white people over non-whites. I would also suspect (I don’t have time to track it down) that white support for things like school integration, or for the full implementation of the Fair Housing Act’s mandate to “affirmatively further” desegregated neighborhoods, is vanishingly low.

                  (3) In furtherance of point (2), white attitudes toward race are rather different from black people’s. For instance, nearly 50% of white people think there is “too much” discussion of race; a majority of whites think have a “great deal” of confidence that the police treat everyone equally, and this percentage actually went up in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting (between August of 2014 and December, when the Grand Jury refused to indict Officer Wilson, white support for the idea that the police treat everyone fairly increased: see here). Perhaps most interestingly, a recent political science study showed that white people’s support for the death penalty actually increases when they are informed about the racial disparities in its application and in the criminal justice system in general (see Hurwitz and Peffley, “Persuasion and Resistance: Race and the Death Penalty in America,” in the American Journal of Political Science”).

                  Given all of this, I feel quite comfortable in saying that white people have some issues with race.

                • JKTH

                  I would also suspect (I don’t have time to track it down) that white support for things like school integration, or for the full implementation of the Fair Housing Act’s mandate to “affirmatively further” desegregated neighborhoods, is vanishingly low.

                  The experience of the 60s and 70s would seem to confirm this.

    • LeeEsq

      I’m going to second King Goat here. I understand what your saying but if BLM wants to effectuate change than they are going to have to convince enough White Americans to go along with them. Part of stopping persecution is getting the more inactive members of the persecuting group to see your point of view. During the Civil Rights era, White Americans outnumbered African-Americans enough to ignore them and clamp down harder if they really wanted to. Enough White Americans thought that it was time for at least the formal end of legally enforced racial inequality for something to be done if not enough from the African-American standpoint. I’m not aware of any persecuted group being able to get what they want in the face of real unlimited opposition from the persecutor.

      • aturner339

        Let’s be abundantly clear. People who object to the phrase “black lives matter” are not people ole you are going to persuade. Glenn freaking Beck understands “black lives matter”.

        Anyone trying that hard to miss the point doesn’t mean anything good for you or anyone else. It really is a pretty reliable sign of ill will.

        • King Goat

          I keep using that line and yet all the women have turned me down. It can’t be the women, cuz that line is great. Must be the women…

          • Hogan

            I dare you to trivialize this issue some more.

      • Nobdy

        If asserting that black lives matter results in real unlimited opposition from the persecutor (whites) then there is no hope of success.

        If white people are on that sensitive a hair trigger then they fundamentally do not respect the humanity or rights of black people.

      • vic rattlehead

        Let’s be real for a second here. Their tactics are not for you to decide. Maybe they’re making a mistake. But it’s not really you or me to say. I don’t see this as being a good ally.

        • LeeEsq

          They might not be for me to decide but if they aren’t working than they should be open to constructive criticism.

          • Nice Guy (TM)

            Especially if a female BLM organizer is wearing headphones on the subway.

            “Than” she has to listen, amirite?

  • LeeEsq

    Very interesting stuff here and I’m not sure what to make out of all of it. My inner idealist definitely sees why BLM is of hemispheric importance but my inner pragmatist/squishy liberal has some qualms about this when it comes to implementation. I have no idea what is meant by Black autonomy. If Black autonomy implies some degree of independence from the state than I’m not sure if I can support it. It contradicts liberal statism. The state must have a right to administrate over all groups in it regardless of the privilege or history of the group.

    • aturner339

      I think that rather for other groups in society the state has been instrumental in creating autonomy and it’s time it did so effectively for black Americans too.

  • aturner339

    So if there are people here who actually want to discuss the topic and not engage in some of the most transparent trolling ever seen on this website…

    I do think the American social justice context has often cross pollinated with movements. I certainly saw that with BLM and the concurrent opposition to the Dominican Republic planning to deport residents of Haitian descent. I don’t think this is some sort of “civil rights colonialism” any more than Ghandi’s experience with the INC deligitmized King.

  • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

    I also note in the photo that the police officers are the same color as the kids they’re arresting.

    I remember back in the 60s it was thought that part of the solution to racism was to integrate what were then almost all-white departments. Slightly later it was thought the solution to police over-aggressiveness was to hire women to break up the almost all-male departments.

    I think both moves have helped, but only somewhere between marginally and moderately, depending upon the particular city. IMO it illustrates how hard it is to change an organization.

    • LeeEsq

      Police is spelled in Spanish so the above picture does not take place in the United States. Its fairly easy to find stories of police authoritarianism taking place in much more homogenous countries than those in the Western hemisphere. A quick google search can reveal that anti-immigrant violence is not uncommon in nations with a non-white majority. This isn’t too say that BLM is wrong and there is not a strong racial element to police actions but that we might be dealing with a more complicated problem than its all racism.

      • wjts

        Portuguese, not Spanish. (Though, yes, that’s more or less how the word is spelled in Spanish.)

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