We recap the thought-provoking discussion with special guests in the US, shedding light on the history and current politics surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement.
Rabat — On Wednesday, June 10, Morocco World News hosted a panel discussion with three special guests to discuss the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the United States. As the United States remains gripped by protests and in the midst of a revolution, aimed at transforming the systemic racism that has plagued the country since its founding, I would like to recap the panel discussion for further reference on the topic.
As the moderator and host of the discussion, I had the privilege of gathering insight and opinions from Greg Hill, human and world geography teacher in Texas, Mohamed Brahimi, humanities professor in Boston at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and discrimination and employment, civil rights lawyer, Bill Day.
We began our talk by addressing the underlying causes of the protests, sparked by the murder of George Floyd in the custody of police on May 25, and how the Black Lives Matter movement has spread worldwide.
Hill recounted the stories of Black people in the US who have died at the hands of police and noted that, on top of the killings, “in the United States you have a lot of displacement, you have a lot of gentrification that is affecting African Americans and Latinos.” He added a quote by Will Smith, saying “Racism has not changed, it’s being filmed.”
How has the Black Lives Matter movement translated across cultures and around the world?
Over the past week, people around the world have begun calling out their countries and cultures for their roles in propagating racism and turning a blind eye to the systemic biases rooted in colonial histories.
“I think personally, you know, what’s happening in America should serve as an impetus for other countries to take a look at themselves in the mirror and try to do an honest assessment of how they are treating their own minorities,” Brahimi stressed, “And I mean every single country. No country is exempt.” Professor Brahimi describes the protests as having an “oil-stain effect” in the sense that the movement has raised global awareness.
He then referenced the ways that Sub-Saharan Africans are described and treated in countries like Morocco, and the platforms given to comedians and the entertainment industry to use these communities as centerpieces for their performances. Additionally, Brahimi notes the ways that interracial marriages have been discouraged across the MENA region and the abuse inflected upon Southeast Asian people in Gulf countries. “Racism is definitely the elephant in the room that nobody is willing to talk about.”
Is history repeating itself? Understanding the impact of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on today’s system
Drawing on Day’s law expertise, we addressed the historical legislature that was intended to protect and serve the Black population in the US. Day walked us through a number of laws passed since the 1950s that have banned discrimination under state laws.
In addition to Day detailing the rights that people have and which should be exercised in the presence of police, he quoted Martin Luther King Jr. from 1964 in order to shed light on the limits and powers of the law.
“It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that’s pretty important, also.”
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned discrimination in employment, housing, and public spaces on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, and religion. While Day applauded the Act and called it a “landmark, historic, amazing piece of legislation,” he noted the ways that discrimination continues to plague the United States.
“It’s kind of two steps forward, one step back. Maybe two steps back, one step forward,” Day said. “Sadly, I think that the courts, in particular, have really failed remarkably in living up to congress in passing the civil rights laws.”
Hill contributed by citing the injustices occurring throughout history and the systemic ways that racism has played out through the War on Drugs, the militarization of police, and “segregation by design.”
“I don’t think that this is a different time. This is like ‘68, where you had a multi-racial, multi-generational throwback against the injustices that are occurring against African Americans. And that’s being led – if you watch the videos, if you watch the photos – it’s being led by young people,” Hill explains. All around the world, youth are rising together and “standing up for injustice.”
US President Donald Trump’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement
Trump has not expressed his support for the Black Lives Matter movement and repeatedly side-stepped conversations about how to move forward and address the problem of racism within the US.
According to recent statistics, only 30% of Black Americans say that they trust the police, compared to 70% of White Americans. Rather than acknowledging this problem, the US President has controversially claimed to have done more for the African American community than any other president in history.
“Trump is a certified demagogue,” said Brahimi. “Trump’s sense of reality is seriously warped. He actually does believe in his heart of hearts that he’s a great leader and he’s also a genius.”
“Trump is not just inflating the truth, he is actually a pathological liar,” Brahimi referenced professionals trained in the field of psychoanalysis who have written about Trump.
Brahimi went on to criticize Trump’s lack of a healing or unifying response during the day ofGeorge Floyd’s funeral and the way that Trump has “weaponized” Twitter.
The US President is well-known for his cyber bullying tactics and long rants over social media. Twitter recently flagged some of Trump’s content for inciting violence, and Facebook has received harsh criticism for permitting Trump’s posts without similar acts of censorship. In one of Trump’s most recent Twitter attacks, he claimed without evidence, that a 75 year old peaceful protester who police pushed to the ground and left bleeding on the sidewalk, was part of the ANTIFA movement and staged the police’s brutality against him.
“For anyone to expect Trump to actually say something that’s soothing, that’s healing, that is going to bring reconciliation in this time of revision and fragmentation, I would say don’t hold your breath. Just hope that there’s somebody else that’s going to come and replace him,” said Brahimi.
Protesters call for longer, tougher, and more thoughtful conversations. Where do we begin?
Beyond the political sphere (although, what isn’t political?), advocates for racial justice are seeking more profound and sustainable changes that require addressing our own ways of thinking and reversing the histories that have embedded systemic racism into our thought processes.
“A lot of people are too afraid to have these conversations. They want to be comfortable. It wasn’t comfortable for Tamir Rice. It wasn’t comfortable for George Floyd. So, the first thing people have to realize is they have to have the courage to ask the questions first,” said Hill, encouraging people to listen and not be afraid to ask questions about how they can do better.
“We have to move to a growth mindset as a country, in the sense that we all have to grow – whether it be African Americans, Latinos, or cuacaisons.” He added, “At the same time, those on the other end of the conversation, in my view, can’t be adversarial 100% of the time.”
Hill says that we can “move the needle forward in this country” by having these tough conversations.
Day contributed his personal perspective, admitting that he is the “ultimately privileged white person” and that by the virtue of who he is, he “has his blind spots,” but tries his best to approach these conversations with humility and openness.
“To my fellow white people, I’d say, look, it’s not all about you. It’s about our society and our culture at large,” Day encouraged people to “think large” and consider this time as an opportunity for us all to learn.
Brahimi made the point that, “Neutrality is not an option.” He recognized the need to call out people who have taken a stand of silence and say that this is everyone’s place to say something. He quoted Martin Luther King Jr, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”
Moving beyond empathy
Chicago teacher Dwayne Reed said, “White supremacy won’t die until people see it as a White issue that they need to solve rather than a Black issue that they need to empathize with.”
Hill agreed that the issue is deeply rooted in US history and that, as a teacher, he sees the unconscious bias in schools.
“One of the things I am an advocate of is for students to see themselves, for them to show up in the curriculum,” he said. “We don’t see enough African American characters. We don’t see enough African American examples that show up in our curriculums. So I totally agree that this needs to be deconstructed in some manner.”
Brahimi chimed in, acknowledging the sense of bewilderment that people are expressing around police brutality. Impassioned, he called on people to start imagining that these injustices are “happening to you, to your family, to your children.”
Both Brahimi and Day echoed Hill and encouraged people to avoid turning away from these uncomfortable issues moving in the direction of learning and discussing history and present time in order to make a difference. Day recommended Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” and James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son.”
Police defunding and reform
Trump spoke with police union and law enforcement officials at the White House on Monday and vowed that there would be no dismantling of the police, no defunding, and despite countless videos capturing brutal images of police attacking peaceful protesters, Trump said that the police have been “letting us live in peace.”
The panel came to a consensus that there are issues with using the word “defund” to describe the police reform needed in the United States, and that the volume should be raised on addressing the defunding in education and other social services that has been happening for years.
All three panelists made mention of the need for rethinking public safety and abolishing the unnecessary militarization of police forces in exchange for new paradigms where violence and enforcement are left behind for education and empowerment.
“What defunding the police means, is not abolishing the police, it means taking some of those roles that they’ve already done such as checking on mental health issues, […] catching stray dogs, they should be focused more on community policing rather verses being [in] all of these 100 different jobs that they do.” Hill says that the only way to go forward is to reallocate police funds to areas such as mental health services, domestic violence issues, and education.”
For those wondering, ‘where do we go from here?’
In the course of wrapping up the conversation, I asked each panelist to leave us with some advice moving forward.
Hill stressed the need for a growth mindset and the need for people to learn and accept this as an “American issue.”
“Unfortunately, too many people see this as a ‘them’ issue rather than an ‘us’ issue.”
Brahimi encouraged the protests to go on and said that the end result will take years. “Protesting, and awareness raising and mobilizing, have the potential to undo the wrongs and to redress the ills of the system that is biased and is skewed and that’s just completely lopsided. Seasoned activists will tell you not to look for instant gratification.” He concluded by saying, “It’s a long road and it’s going to be a long hard fought battle, so expect that.”
Day, meanwhile, left us with the empowering message to know and assert our rights under the law and to get out there and vote. “Whoever you are in America, you are somebody and you have legal and constitutional rights.”
Moving beyond the panel
The discussion concluded with questions from the audience and engaging with our panelists to better understand Trump’s prospects for re-election and the response of the international community.
The audience also questioned the problem with using the phrase “All Lives Matter,” to which Hill confirmed that all lives do matter. However, by saying “All Lives Matter” we avoid addressing the issue that right now, Black lives are in danger. “We need to be seen,” he said as he referenced American mainstream media’s common narrative around Black people in the US.
Day agreed and highlighted a need for people to get past the idea that “equality and inclusion is not a threat, it’s a benefit.” He said that “inclusion makes us stronger.”
For the full discussion and to better understand the perspectives from our panelists, please visit the recorded video of the live stream here.