A Message to Black Millennials: #iProtest Isn’t Enough

Howard Hands Up

I’m going to start this post with a little bit of honesty: until recently, I thought that organizations like the NAACP and the National Urban League and some of the other old Civil Rights infrastructure were outdated, irrelevant, and unhelpful in the conversation about race in America. I thought that the idea of sit-ins and protests were good tools for another time, that peace marches and locking arms were something for a time gone by. Quite frankly, I had an attitude of “what have ya’ll done for me lately?”

I never thought that these organizations should disappear… I considered them to be Professors Emeritus in the sphere of race and class conversations in this nation. We see them as an authority, representations of the “old school,” but I thought that it was time for a new vocabulary, because we live in a new world with new needs.

And then Trayvon Martin died.

And then Renisha Mcbride died.

And then Eric Garner died.

And then Michael Brown died.

I call out their names because theirs are the ones who have been brought up out of obscurity, but I know that there are too many more. Too many more young Black lives snuffed out because of White Bias, White Supremacy, White Fear.

Don’t think me some stupid naïve Millennial. I have always known that this is a world that does not love me or my Brown skin. The rules never change, they are simply rewritten in more colorful language so as to give us the perception of progress. I’m not a stupid Millennial. I was simply a hopeful Millennial.

And then Trayvon Martin died.

And then Renisha Mcbride died.

And then Eric Garner died.

And then Michael Brown died.

But the reason why I frame this through the lens of the Civil Rights Movement, and why I now understand how utterly wrong I was, is because of the numbers that’s been jumping out at me all week.

21,000.

67%.

3.

A small town of 21,000 people, 67% of whom are African American (29% are White). I’ve seen reports that Ferguson police force only has three Black police officers. The Mayor is White. The Police Chief is White. The majority of people in power of the town are White.

And the question that keeps popping up in my head is: Who is voting in the town of Ferguson, Missouri? What the hell happened to the progression of Black political power in this country? Where is the browning of the halls of powerful America?

I’ve never seen a stronger case for more Black political participation and engagement in my life. I’ve never seen a stronger case for fighting hard to beat back the encroaching laws for disenfranchising Black youth in America (In Missouri, you cannot vote if you are in prison, on probation or on parole. You can only get your voting rights back after you’ve done all of your supervised stuff. Then you have to re-register to vote). With the average age of the town being a mere 31, with an average income of only $37,000, I’m real curious to know what percentage of that 21,000 person population is eligible to vote.

And that is where that old Civil Rights infrastructure comes roaring back into my mind. The work that they started back then isn’t complete. Where the battlefronts have changed and the tactics have shifted, less and less people are vigil, keeping a watchful eye and fighting the fight. Where opportunities to move up, give back, do more and lead have been presented to some, we haven’t always seized them. (And frankly, we know that some our own who have seized those opportunities were always simply in it for themselves and never in it for the rest of us.)

The simple act of voting, the simple act of registering people, the simple act of teaching our children the importance of democratic participation (and the profound loss when we forfeit that right) can make a difference. It makes a difference in New York, it makes a difference in Florida, it makes a difference in Michigan, and it makes a difference in Ferguson, Missouri.

And I recognize that though I have been a huge benefactor of the progress that the old Civil Rights guard has fought hard for, I have rarely given back in the ways that I should. I often participate in political debate and vote with my heart and conscience. I taught civics in an urban school in an inner-city neighborhood, but also I gave to political campaigns and volunteered my time without demanding that my political leaders talk to me. I recognize that I have to do more. I know that I’m not the only one.

We have to go back to the basics. Look to halls of power with unflinching criticism and unrelenting demands for change. We must train up our best and move them into the offices when they can make change. We need not merely lean-in but propel forward with unwavering resolve and not a moment of remorse. We must break the white supremacist machine and rebuild atop it a new brilliant new complex of opportunity, justice and change.

And it starts with us. You, and me, and anyone young, gifted and Black.

So don’t just get up on Twitter and Facebook and post pictures. I didn’t say don’t do it, I just say don’t just do that. Do more. Get up on the NAACP website. Show up at a meeting. If you aren’t registered to vote, do it. If you haven’t voted in your life, start. If you know three people who aren’t register to vote or who don’t vote, you need to become an evangelist for political participation. If you have never written a letter to a local political leader, do so. You need to show up at Town Hall meetings and City Council meetings during non-crisis times. If you can’t instantly name, who your Governor, Senators, Congressperson, Mayor/Executive, and at least 2 city counselor/aldermen are, educate yourself. And you need to teach it to others. And if you have children, you need to teach them as well.

A parting thought before you leave me. Just in case you don’t yet get it:

When Suburban White women mourn en masse, there are Congressional hearings. You know why? They are one of the most important voting blocks in this country. We should be too. I’m going to write more about that in my next post. Until then, protest in peace. Lift up your voices in solidarity. Educate yourself in honor of those who fought, fight, and have been martyred.

KC WiseK.C. Wise is a married Millennial Mom raising two bi-racial (B/W) boys in suburban Massachusetts. You can find out her thoughts about mothering, homemaking, writing, renovating a 100 year-old farmhouse and other musings at her blog:  blackbunchedmassmom.wordpress.com.

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49 responses to “A Message to Black Millennials: #iProtest Isn’t Enough

  1. My heart is heavy and full of sorrow for you, because Gen Y became complacent after the civil rights battles ended and assimilation was the order of the day.

    We stopped teaching, lowered expectations, let the community crumble and die away. We forgot “we”, became all about “me”, letting our guard down…

    And then Michael Griffith died

    And then Willie Turks died

    And then Yusuf Hawkins died

    And then Eleanor Bumpurs died

    And then Gavin Cato died

    And then Amadou Diallo died

    The list is endless, the blame is endless, the solutions are too. The commitment of masses to change our paradigm is not existent.

    The next death brings national cries of outrage, rallies,protests, anger, and an ocean of tears. This is not where the fix begins or ends. You are correct in suggesting that political education and advocacy are positive solutions. Reorganizing, revitalizing civic and social pride.

    I disagree that we are an “important voting block”. To be that, we would need to know and understand how government works en mass. Adults 18-years of age and older, should all be registered voters (across the various political parties), and we all would be voting in every election. Especially in the local elections, where local legislators are places in office (supposedly) to serve our communities.

    Solidarity will come – only after addressing the pathologies responsible for the degradation of two generations and counting. Until a true attempt to heal begins, and we get to work on laying a foundation a strong for a better future free of martyrdom.

    God bless your boys.

    Like

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