In 2013, Sen. Rob Portman a Republican from Ohio had a change of heart concerning same-sex marriage and came out in support of it. Prior to this, in 1996 as a member of the House, Portman cast his vote in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, barring federal recognition of same-sex marriage. What, then, brought about the change of heart for Portman in 2013? Portman changed because he personally had stake in the debate when his son, Will Portman, came out of the closet. In order words, the revelation of his son’s homosexuality was the impetus for his evolution on same-sex marriage.
I reflect on this shift in political priorities evidenced by Portman in light of the “March for Our Lives” across the United States in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. I salute the courage of these students who marched to instill conscience into our nation’s conscienceless leaders and to prevent America from going to hell. My condolences go out to all the parents who lost their loved ones at Stoneman Douglas High School.
While watching the media coverage on CNN, I saw that a lot white people participated in the “March for Our Lives” protests across the country, which is impressive and commendable given our individualistic societal context. However, while the turn out of white people marching for their lives was both surprising and commendable, the following questions came to mind:
Did the same white people participate in any Black Lives Matter protests?
Would they have participated if the chicken had not come home to roost?
Did the lives they were marching for include Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), Homeless, Transgender lives or was it only about white lives?
Did “March for Our Lives” include the life of Stephon Clark, an unarmed African-American Prince that was killed by police in his grandmother’s backyard?
Did it include the life of Philando Castile, who was murdered with impunity for existing while black?
Or of Jamar Clark?
Or of Alton Sterling?
Or of Tamir Rice?
Or of Michael Brown?
Or of Sandra Bland?
Or of Freddie Gray?
Or of Eric Garner?
Or of Aiyana Jones?
Or of Walter Scott?
Or of John Crawford III?
Or of Korryn Gaines?
Or of Rekia Boyd?
Or of Laquan McDonald?
Or of Terence Crutcher?
Or of Keith Lamont Scott?
Or of Akai Gurley?
Or of Jonathan Ferrell?
Or of Sean Bell?
Or of Oscar Grant?
Or of Ezell Ford?
Or of Ramarley Graham?
Why do I ask these questions? Because historically speaking, the erasure and exclusion of non-whites from all forms of human dignity is legendary in America.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. This grandiose philosophical quote excluded BLACK AND NATIVE PEOPLES.
The Women’s Suffrage movement that secured white women’s right to vote on August 18, 1920 dangerously betrayed BLACK WOMEN.
The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the G.I. Bill, was a law that provided a range of benefits for returning World War II veterans. Benefits included low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans and other financial support but due to systemic and structural racism, African-Americans veterans did not benefit as much as their white counterparts.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not casting aspersions on white all people and I am not oblivious to the allyship of white men and women in the struggle for the recognition of the humanity of black people in America – people like Rev. James Reeb, Viola Gregg Liuzzo, Elijah Lovejoy and Heather Heyer were all killed while fighting for our collective human dignity. But I am speaking to the demonic system of White Supremacy that not only permeates this country but is the very foundation upon which America was laid.
For so long the system has fed white Americans with the illusion of privilege and most of them have bought into this lie, unbeknownst to them that a system that inflicts untold suffering on BIPOC ultimately won’t spare their lives; it’s just a matter of time. Now that white folks are beginning to see with the same eyes what prompted three Black Queens, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi to shout with a stentorian voice “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” I am hoping against hope that these white parents could perhaps look through the eyes of their own children, in the same way that Sen. Portman looked through his, and include BIPOC in their march for our lives. I am hoping that they would join in our call and cry against police brutality, against the school to prison pipeline, against housing and employment discrimination, and against deportation and family separation.
The truth is, if black lives had mattered, and All Lives Matter had not attempted to silence the black voice, the “March for Our Lives” would have never been necessary. With this in mind, some of the inscriptions on the placards used by the white participants of the March for Our Lives caught my eye and I reacted to them as follows:
Placard Inscription: Enough is Enough
My Response: Yes, enough is enough! The communities of color that have been killed with impunity have been saying enough is enough for a long time and we are glad you are now saying it. But is your enough is enough individualistic as usual or collectivist this time around? Does it mean enough is enough to the killing of black and brown bodies?
Placard Inscription: Protect kids, not guns
My Response: Since everything is coded and nuanced in America, can you please explain to me your definition of kids? Are kids the new euphemism for white kids? White people still don’t get it! Until black and brown kids are protected and have the right to life to its fullness, marching to protect only white kids will always be a futile exercise.
Placard Inscription: Am I Next?
My Response: Black people have been asking the same question from time immemorial. Welcome on to the struggle!
Placard Inscription: Christian members of Congress have you read your Bible?
My Response: There are two kinds of Christianity namely Prophetic Christianity and Constantinian Christianity. The former subscribes to Jesus’s teachings of Love, Peace, and Justice while the latter is rooted in the modus operandi of the empire and if Congress is to be known by its fruit, I doubt if there are any prophetic Christians in Congress. Yes, they’ve been reading their Bible but through the lens of empire, afterall the Bible was invoked to justify Roy Moore’s paedophillia allegations.
Placard Inscription: I want to Teach in Peace, not in Fear
My Response: As a teacher, the peace you crave would only be achieved, completed and sustained when black and brown parents are no longer fearful of sending their kids to schools. Currently, parents of color, including myself, are fearful of sending our children into the dens of white teachers for the fear of our children being arrested, suspended or labelled as thugs. It will be impossible for white teachers to teach in peace, especially, when in many cases the presence of white teachers constitutes fear in children and families of color.
Placard Inscription: Passionate Proud Angry and Hurting. #NEVERAGAIN
My Response: Where was your passion, anger and hurt when Aiyana Jones, a 7yr old African-American princess was shot and killed by the police on May 16, 2010? Or Tamir Rice, a 12 yr African-American prince that was murdered by the police on November 22, 2014?
There are kids and human beings living on the South and West sides in Chicago as well as kids in North Minneapolis and kids living in Milwaukee, Houston, Los Angeles, and in the Bronx – until their safety becomes a concern for all, whites living in the salubrious parts of America should know that they are not immune to the existential realities of black parents.
For centuries, Black people have fought for our collective humanity, relentlessly holding America accountable to the ways in which it continues to grasp after power. Unfortunately, the majority of white folks have remained impervious to the suffering to people of color and American Indians due to the illusion and artificial construct of white privilege. The idea of white privilege has led many to think that the systems which malign black and brown bodies will bypass them, which is wrong; it is just a matter of time before those same systems get to them. Yet, here black and brown folks are again, extending our hands of fellowship in hopes that we can together to wean America off of its addiction to violence and dehumanization of all of our lives.