“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
On the night Philando Castille was killed by police, I was at a youth group mission trip called Walking in Memphis. We were aged anywhere between 10 to 24, and a lot of the younger kids didn’t know what was going on in America right now with police brutality and essentially shared whatever belief their parents possess on Black Lives Matter. But, when the leader sat us all down on one big couch and told us another unarmed black man had been killed by police, regardless of where our politics lay, we all shared the same despair, horror, anger, and fear in that moment.
We had had plans to be at the Civil Rights museum the next day, and the leader of the youth group told us that she had no idea what to expect. She also gave us a piece of advice which has been sitting in the back of my mind since that July evening:
“If you’ve ever wondered what you would do in the Civil Rights movement, do it now.”
Which got me thinking. Are we going through another Civil Rights era? Is history repeating itself? In my opinion, no. The movement in the 1960s addressed exactly what the movement itself was called- civil rights such as voting, equal opportunity employment, and use of public accommodations. It never however challenged the racial debasement that black people face from a humanitarian standpoint, specifically at the hands of police and law enforcement.
Which is why rather than “I am a man”, we now chant “black lives matter”. People like Ashley Yates have coined the term “black humanity”, which evokes this intermutual anger and helps to make activists out of those who have not yet acted. She says, “He [Michael Brown] was human. And when we neglect to see that we end up where we are today.”
Black Lives Matter is about changing the personal behavior and culture surrounding black people instead of addressing those structural barriers which were addressed in the 1960s. Those barriers absolutely needed to be addressed, but this is what separates Civil Rights from Black Lives Matter. Today we need to recognize that all black lives deserve humanity, and racial justice is human justice.
To say that history is repeating itself would be to totally disregard the fundamental changes the movement has gone through to improve itself and to disregard Black Lives Matter activists as people “stuck in another age”. This movement is bigger than it’s ever been and has learned from its mistakes. It’s true that the past is never dead, but neither present. We are alive and we are here and we’re not gonna shut up any time soon.