So recently Oprah Winfrey made some very questionable comments while promoting the film Selma stating:
What I’m looking for is some kind of leadership to come out of this to say, ‘This is what we want. This is what has to change, and these are the steps that we need to take to make these changes, and this is what we’re willing to do to get it. I think what can be gleaned from our film is to take note of the strategic, peaceful intention required when you want real change.
Huh? Not only does she want a leader but she also throws in some respectability politics that remind me of something Black Club Women would probably say if they were alive today. As Shaun King asked in his piece in The Guardian has Oprah been living under a rock? The simple answer would be no but this statement is very problematic for a number of reasons. One of the main ones is that she is implying that the movement doesn’t have any leadership. But what about Phillip Agnew Executive Director of the Dream Defenders, or Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi who created the #BlackLivesMatter hash tag after the murder of Trayvon Martin, or the organizers of Millions March NYC which produced the largest crowds for a protests in recent memory? This list does not include the thousands of smaller local organizations in small urban cities or rural black counties that are committed to this movement and fighting racial injustice in America. So why is Oprah so convinced that there is no leadership? Is it because there isn’t a black messiah out front leading the charge? I think her answer would be yes and my response would be those people get killed look at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, etc. Others are lucky to only get run out of town like Ida B. Wells. Having a major leader is great in theory but in practice it makes no sense for black people. The concept of “strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter,” is always at play with singular leaders just look at how FBI officials attempted to blackmail MLK or more recently how opponents of ending racial injustice use Al Sharpton’s shortcomings to discredit any conversations about race (These people are delusional they talk more about Al than black people do and they are always wondering where he is, like bruh calm down I don’t know where he is).
Don’t get me wrong like most black people I respect Oprah for what she has been able to do by building her empire but what has she done with that empire to help the movement? In some ways I forgive her because she is a black celebrity and they often show their lack of understanding of how race operates for us black people still at the bottom (Charles Barkley, Raven Symone and Pharrell we ain’t forget about the foolishness you all said). On the other hand I’m frustrated with Oprah and black folks who think like her concerning this youth driven movement especially considering she experienced racism very recently when she was told in Switzerland that she couldn’t afford a purse in a boutique.
We cannot keep using the same methods that were used during the 1960’s as racism in America has changed. As reporter Jenée Desmond-Harris pointed out in her article “What Oprah Missed when She Criticized the Ferguson Protests,” :
The battle is no longer between people who say African-Americans should have equal rights and those who don’t. It’s between those who believe that we already have a colorblind society —a society where, if you just listen to what police officers say and don’t behave like a thug, you’ll be fine — and those who believe that racism still infects the criminal-justice system, including among people who don’t believe themselves to be racist.
We aren’t facing people who overtly call us n*****s anymore but we are facing people who feel with the election of President Obama all past racial ills are erased and that black people are to blame for their predicament. To an extent this post-racial doctrine has been supported by the Obama Administration manifesting in President Obama’s Morehouse speech or in recent talks that America has progress with race relations which is debatable.
So where do we go from here? Well I personally feel we have something great in the works with the movement and #BlackLivesMatter does not need one solitary leader because having one leader makes it appear as if the black experience is monolithic across America (as a black Caribbean immigrant living in NJ I can say that is not true). We need our leaders on every level. We need leaders of well known organizations such as the Dream Defenders and Black Youth Project and we need local leaders who will fight against city halls and mayor’s who are not listening to our concerns. Though I despise the Tea Party solely based on their very racist rhetoric, they successfully converted their distorted movement’s ideals into a political powerhouse to the point that we had Tea-Party Republicans challenge John Boehner (Never thought the day would come that I would be happy Boehner won back his seat as Speaker of the House). We need to turn #BlackLivesMatter into a political movement as well by building our own super PACS and electing our own voices because it seems that current politicians don’t move their feet quick enough on these issues. Furthermore, we cannot fall into the trap that once we get serious police reform that we have fixed racism, that didn’t work with electing Senator Obama and it won’t work after getting police officers to stop killing unarmed black men. Instead, the movement needs to progress to fight to end racism in all its forms including going back to fighting for the protection of Voter’s Rights and against other structural issues such as housing discrimination, health care, and education. So to everyone who thinks thinks that #BlackLivesMatter is just a fad I say don’t hold your breath 2015 just started and we ain’t going no where till we get our reforms. This isn’t a second coming of the Civil Rights Movement, this is something different. This is something designed to meet the needs of this time and all of the supporters of this movement need to do whatever they can no matter how small to help bring about change.
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