By Ramatu Umar Bako
The #BlacklivesMatter movement is said to be ‘an online forum intended to build connections between Black people and other allies to fight anti-Black racism, to spark dialogue among black people and to facilitate the types of connections necessary to encourage social action and engagement’ (www.blacklivesmatter.com) It was founded by three African American women: Patrisse Cullars, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza. It came into being in 2012 as a result of the outrage following the acquittal of one George Zimmerman who was accused of killing 15-year-old black teenager, Trayvon Martin.
Alicia Garza who is one of the Founders, called the movement ‘a political and ideological intervention…..an affirmation of Black peoples contribution to humanity, our resilience in the face of deadly oppression’ (www.blacklivesmatter.com) The #BlackLivesMatter movement touches on issues of racism, discrimination, difference, gender, sexuality, oppression, injustice, extrajudicial killing, inequality, politics and freedom of expression, media, internet, and socio-economic factors.
I remember while I was pursuing my master’s degree in the UK, we were given an assignment on the BLM excerpts of which I will share here. Then, my argument was that it was an ‘American problem’ and far removed from my African experience. That was then. It was not that I did not care but I felt it really was not my problem. Ironically, living in the UK then, I felt that my experience as an African immigrant living in the UK was far removed from those of my black British friends as well. I wondered why American lives should matter more than black British or black African lives. I wondered why black had to be broken down into different boxes in the first place.
It took the outrage over the killing of George Floyd in 2020 to get me thinking deeper into the BLM movement. To be clear, the killing of George Floyd was not the first time that the world erupted in outrage at the unlawful killing of an unarmed black man, neither was it the first time that the world saw the video footage of racially motivated Police brutality. However, the global response took even the worst cynics by surprise. Many have wondered why George Floyds murder took on such a sustained and global dimension that saw majority ‘white’ countries coming out to say ‘enough is enough’ and having them tearing down and destroying historical symbols of racism and slavery.
I do not have the answer to why the George Floyd killing resonates with so many people but I cannot but wonder at the impact the coronavirus pandemic and the compulsory almost global lockdown restrictions is playing. The fact that saw most of us are restricted to our homes and forced us to watch endless television and engage more regularly on social media for information and for entertainment. The lockdown period has propelled a new reality with more time for reflection. Our usual hectic lifestyle has been replaced with more time for introspection and reflection. We now have time to think about other people and issues that we would normally gloss over.
For many years and many generations, black people have had to fight for their basic human rights and their right to be heard. It is unfortunate that despite what we have learnt as the ills of slavery, we are still fighting for equality and to be treated as human beings. It is evident that among racial divides, the black race has been given the short end of the stick when it comes to equality and humanity. We never have to shout ‘white lives matter’ and we never have to fight for white people to be treated like humans. That in itself raises a lot of concerns.
The BLM movement is beyond the issue of race, racism or white on black crime. It has become a cry for humanity and a fight for equality. In this day and age, with what we now know about inequality, injustice and inhumanity from history, we should be singing a different song. We should be standing together as one humanity one race and one mankind. The BLM should not be seen as just black people fighting for their rights but holistically as a fight against discrimination of any form. It should be seen as a revolution against any form of injustice in any form to anyone. It is an awakening of our consciousness and our shared humanity. Worldwide, black people are facing adversity because of systemic racism and injustice.
For the record, its been said that that the protests following the unlawful killing of George Floyd has been global and some of the outcomes are as follows – The use of chokeholds has been banned in some states in the US eg Minneapolis, charges against the Police Officer Chauvin have been upgraded and his accomplices have been arrested and charged, In Dallas, they have adopted a ‘duty to intervene rule’ that requires other officers to stop their colleagues who are engaging in inappropriate use of force, street in front of the White House has been renamed -Black lives matter plaza.’ Worldwide- rallies have been held in Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Belgium among other countries, Nigeria inclusive. We are seeing so many examples of what has been happening around the world. The message is clear. We are no longer going to accept any racially motivated violence. The world has said loudly and clearly that ‘enough is enough.’
The#BlackLivesMatter movement is a classic example of the power of the internet, technology, communication and mass mobilization. The hashtag is said to have defined a movement and has shown us the important role that the internet and social media played and continues to play in the #BlacklivesMatter movement and other social movements that characterize the struggle for democracy. Other examples include the Arab Spring, the #SayHerName movement which was founded after the extrajudicial killing of unarmed black woman, Sandra Bland in the US and the #BringBackOurGirls movements for the release of the over 200 girls kidnapped by Nigerian Terrorist group Boko Haram. We must all take active part in fighting against all forms of discrimination and bias by lending our voices to common causes of humanity.