The Modern Civil Rights Movement: Life after George Floyd

Since 2016 the worlds eyes have watched American police departments, justify excessive force onto black bodies. It seems like once a month there is a new case of an unarmed black person dying in police custody that we have to rally behind. As exhausted as we are and as hard it is to muster surprise by the callousness in these deaths, we know that we have to keep trying.

Since 2016 the worlds eyes have watched American police departments, justify excessive force onto black bodies. It seems like once a month there is a new case of an unarmed black person dying in police custody that we have to rally behind. As exhausted as we are and as hard it is to muster surprise by the callousness in these deaths, we know that we have to keep trying. Three deaths caught the attention of the world this year because we weren’t too tired. Changes began to happen this year because we would not give up and throughout all of the chaos, there is more hope now than we’ve had in years for progression.

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Judge, Jury, and Executioners

On May 25, Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, after a convenience store employee called 911 and told the police that Mr. Floyd had bought cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Seventeen minutes after the first squad car arrived at the scene, Mr. Floyd was unconscious and pinned beneath three police officers, showing no signs of life.

Quote by (NY Times)

In the moments following his death, a number of things happened that people of color understand very well. The common excuses that follow police killings began to float around. Until the video surfaced and the full truth was shown, George Floyd’s case was threatened to be ignored, like the many that had come before his.

Negative comments about ethnic groups are unacceptable, hence speakers manage them by using particular types of languge, such as hedging or minimising, and other strategies, such as justifications, excuses and blaming the victim

Quote from the book Discourse & Society Vol. 23, No.1– Sage Publication, Ltd

In the case of George Floyd we heard the common phrases:

“He must have been resisting arrest.”

“He must have been violent.”

“Why didn’t he just listen to the police?”

When the chilling video was released by a bystander showing a compliant man begging for his life. The collective disgust in a person who could slowly kill a man whos lasts words were cries to his deceased mother sparked an outrage that demolished barriers between race, religion, ethnicities, and nations.

In the United States, American protests had an unprecedented number of young white paticipants. Larger than the U.S. has ever seen for an African American cause. These young activists were energized and articulate about their understanding of the struggles black people face in the U.S. and eager to absorb knowlege about anything that they did not understand. New York Times article One Big Difference About George Floyd Protests: Many White Faces explores this very concept, they wrote:

It is not just protests. White Americans are going through a wave of self-examination, buying books about racism, talking to black friends, and arguing within their own families. Still, how much of this translates into broader change remains to be seen.

Narratives and Identity

On March 13 Breonna Taylor, a 26 year old EMT, was fatally shot in the middle of the night by three police officers with a no knock warrent. Her apartment became linked to a narcotics investigation, and although the alleged drug dealer had already been arrested, the police officers came to her apartment following a lead that the young EMT’s apartment had recieved a package from the drug dealer at some point of time in the past.

Her case reached national heights three months after her death due to the George Floyd/ Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and the BLM movement. Until then her case had been sitting in a stagnant place. Her incident report had even listed that there was no forced entry and that Breonna Taylor had not suffered any injuries.

Although the police that murdered her have not been arrested, the Louisville Metro Council voted unanimously to ban no-knock search warrants and the detective that lead the case has been fired from the department.

The suppression of incidents revolving around the black community and the police is nothing new. Another case that has recently reached national headlines is Elijah Mcclain‘s. He was a 23 year old who had been walking to a convienience store in August 2019. He was apprihended by police officers for wearing a ski mask and looking suspicious. When he began hysterically begging for his life during a choke hold, he was shot with an excessive dosage of ketamine and died of a heart attack. His story is only seeing the light of day because of the current BLM movement as well.

Questions of police officer’s lack of deescalation tactics durring altercations with African American people has been on the table for years. The fear that they feel towards black people exists because of long held naratives passed down since the Reconstruction Period and little has been done since to change the fable of the savage black man.

Investigative journalist Ida B. Wells wrote an article named Lynching and the Excuse for it in 1896 that holds some errie parallels to police killings today.

“Let us assume that the southern citizens who take part in and abets the lynching of negroes honestly believes that that is the only successful method of dealing with a certain class of crimes.”

“lynchings are the desperate effort of the southern people to protect their women from black monsters, and while the large majority condem lynching, the condemnation is tempered with a plea for the lyncher— that human nature gives way under such awful provocation and that the mob, insane for the moment, must be pitied as well as condemned.

We see this pitying condemnation every time a police officer goes to trial and gets aquitted from a crime we all know they commited for the sole reason that they were “afraid for their lives”. This narrative is destructive and robs people of color of their right to be innocent before proven guilty. It robs them of their individuality and identity. How utterly unfair must it feel for a person with power to take your life simply because they were afraid of you before you’ve ever had a conversation?

While the change that has come from the BLM movement has been a great step in the right direction, it is a far cry from an end all be all. Yes, it is amazing that this era has ushered in a more introspective society and now that more people are questioning their prejudices and taking action against oppressors, much needed legislations are being passed. I just find it hard to be satisfied when I know that as long as there are generalized narratives being spread of the “scary black people” there will be police officers that “fear for their lives” when they come in contact us armed or unarmed, hostile or docile.

One Love: A Millennial’s Journey to Pan Africanism

Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Claude McKay

Disclaimer:

This is a post about my ongoing journey to learn about Pan Africanism through journals, articles, literature, and videos for an African American Literature class that I am taking. I am by no means an expert in the study but I hope you all enjoy my findings and journey as much as I am. If at anytime I present false or off information please let me know, I am definitely open to correction. Some one else may be struggling in the same areas.

Reach one teach one!

To kick this off, I’d like to give a little insight to what lead me to studying Pan Africanism.

I’d spent 19 years in St. Louis Missouri living in either predominately African American or Caucasian areas as I glided between the private and public school systems. If there were any people in my life at that were of African or Caribbean origin at that point of time, I hadn’t known about it. My family, which migrated from Mississippi to STL during the great migration is large, close knit, and very connected to the baptist church.

Much of southern African American culture and prominence stemmed from the community and local government connections made through black church organizations throughout American history. If you would like to know more information about the rise and importance of churches in the south here’s an article written by the Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2001. This article breaks the information down better than I ever could.

I say all of this to emphasize that for populations affected by the generational traumas of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, the Tuskegee Syphilis study, the Massacre of Black Wall Street and plenty of other atrocities, many find trusting sources outside of the community . . . daunting. In a city like St. Louis with the demographics placing African Americans at 48%, Caucasians at 46%, Asian Americans at 3 % and all other races around a whopping collective of 2%, the focus of the an individuals world could seem fairly . . .

But I digress, this isn’t a post about the racial tension of my home town so stick with me, I promise all of this will circle back to Pan Africanism.

In 2011 I did a thing that would change my life forever.

I joined the military.

Stationed on LSD 49 USS Harpers Ferry (follow the link to a pretty cool video of the ship I lived on for about 4 years), I would go on to meet people of all ages, races, and ethnicities. But for the purpose of this post, I am specifically referring to the friends that I made from the different countries in Africa and the Caribbeans. These friends gave me something that I had never known was missing in my life; an understanding that across the African diaspora we are all more similar than we are different.

I began my African American literature class with the intention of understanding some of those old military friends better. After traveling overseas myself and understanding what it felt like to be an African American in another country, I wanted to know what it was like for them to be in this country (the US) that had so many people that look like them but mostly have no knowledge about their heritage. I wanted to know if moving to this country and seeing how racially divided and economically/systemically disproportionate we were affected their opinions of African Americans in any way.

What I found was quite the opposite.

In this class I have found inspiration from great African American writers to name a few Ida B. Wells, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni and W.E.B. Dubois. The writer that related the most to my inquisition and who introduced me to the notion of connecting the diaspora was a Jamaican native Harlem Renaissance poet named Claude Mckay.

Follow this link for more info about this poet!!! (It’s a video)

If you don’t know who he is don’t worry, it isn’t your fault! He, like so many of America’s most affluent and prominent black academics, he never made it to your history books.

Why was He so Important?

Remember how I mentioned my mission to find this narrative of immigrants from the African diaspora voicing their opinions about the lives of the American people? I read this poem of his from 1919 and it changed everything:

If we must die—let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die—oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

After I finished the last line, I found myself yearning for more. Still, I am perpetually drawn back to his poem. Like a new shiny piece of jewelry, I have a hard time leaving it to sit in waiting as I struggle to find reasons to casually bring it up, wanting and just waiting to show it off to someone else.

Instead I am often compelled to take it out just to admire it, to try it on and envision myself wearing it. In fact, I have spent a considerable amount of time both mulling over the events surrounding its creation and connecting it to events surrounding African American’s cries for justice today, some 100 years later.

But again I digress, this is not a post about racial tensions in America.

Getting back to the point, Mckay did not distinguish himself from any African American in this poem. In fact, If We Must Die was one of the first pieces of writing that would kick off the African American awakening known as the Harlem Renaissance. My gears shifted after learning all I could about him. I now wanted to find more people like him. People who found a connection with the struggle, who saw it all and didn’t distance themselves from it but instead saw a pattern in the pain and destruction in other parts of the African descendant populations of the world.

At this point of time I had not yet known what Pan Africanism was but as I searched for other scholars, writers, artists, and activists that shared this common urge to connect across the diaspora, the term started to pop up more and more.

What is Pan Africanism?

According to an article from the New York Public Library

Pan-Africanism represents the complexities of black political and intellectual thought over two hundred years. What constitutes Pan-Africanism, what one might include in a Pan-African movement often changes according to whether the focus is on politics, ideology, organizations, or culture. Pan-Africanism actually reflects a range of political views. At a basic level, it is a belief that African peoples, both on the African continent and in the Diaspora, share not merely a common history, but a common destiny. This sense of interconnected pasts and futures has taken many forms, especially in the creation of political institutions.

Minkah Makalani – Rutgers University

Since discovering Pan Africanism I have done sooooooo much research on the subject matter that I don’t really think it would be fair to try to condense it under the umbrella of this post. I’m going to write at least one more post to visit what I have learned about it and list my pros and cons.

olivia willis

Stay blessed all and I hope to see you guys soon!

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