“Black Power” is a bi-weekly editorial series that explores how the Black community can use their collective power to design a new America.
Standing as a unified front against racial injustice, inequality and systematic oppression, Black Lives Matter has emerged as one of the most powerful social movements in American history.
Transforming a seemingly fundamental phrase into a progressive symbol of solidarity, millions across the country have rallied around a cause rooted in the shared pursuit of protecting, preserving and enhancing the quality of Black life.
For years, Black people have been disproportionately murdered, incarcerated and marginalized as byproducts of a system designed to uphold a presumed racial hierarchy anchored in the core belief that they are lesser beings.
Seeing this framework of racial superiority perpetuated through the inner workings of education, economics, politics and the criminal justice system, no level of perceived progress has proven capable of reversing the mechanics of this ideology or shifting the paradigm of separation established by centuries of intentional enforcement.
Despite the evidence of individual exceptions, often taking the form of inspiring success stories attached to athletes and entertainers, Black people have been undoubtedly forced to overcome an overwhelming lack of access and opportunity. Consequently, this condition has restricted the ability to create wealth or acquire prominent positions, crippling the ability to account for basic human needs such as food, housing and stable employment. As a result, Black communities often reflect unkept environments plagued by poverty, violence and crime, collectively feeding a false image of perceived inadequacy commonly referenced to condemn the Black experience.
As the necessary fight for freedom and equality continues, it’s important to understand what makes this mission so important and why asserting that Black lives have value is such a revolutionary statement.
When the founding documents of this country were written into law, such as the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence, stating the rights and protections assigned to all citizens of this country, Black people were never intended to enjoy the freedoms of America. This is because, plainly, they were then considered property, not people. More specifically, the industrialization of Black bodies began actively forming one of the most profitable platforms for building America’s economic infrastructure, creating the staggering disparity of wealth that still exists today.
Black bodies were acquired — and in most cases stolen — from their homeland and transported to America as products; goods capable of being purchased, sold, traded or destroyed at the discretion of the property owner. Those who owned the property owned the profit with minimal to none of the earnings distributed to the enslaved.
As such, slavery reduced the function of Black life to a utility, providing manual labor and being subjected to other inhumane forms of physical exploitation. Being born into slavery meant entering the world without ownership of your own body or the liberty to freely pursue prosperity, erasing every element of your individual existence — from being stripped of your namesake to being detached from your family, and eliminating your basic human rights.
This system of subjugation persisted for centuries, as generations of fearless Black leaders emerged carrying the burden of diligently engaging in violent and nonviolent resistance movements to courageously advocate for the value of Black lives to be acknowledged, respected and systematically counted. The works of storied rebels, activists, intellectuals and political figures laid the groundwork for designing a new America, one that made room for Black people to tangibly transcend the role of commodity and be treated as equal human beings empowered to co-exist with the same freedoms, rights and protections afforded to all.
The significant strides made through these revolutionary movements has created a current racial climate that appears several steps closer to the ultimate goal. With the recent passing of distinguished civil rights heroes Rep. John Lewis and C.T. Vivian — amidst a historic and unprecedented moment in American history — the endless sacrifices made for the advancement of Black life are being honored with a reverence that commends the selfless commitment made by countless men and women across generations. Yet, while we immortalize the legacies of service that have contributed to a shared sense of pride and hope, the nation faces a sobering point of conflict that brings their agenda full circle.
In 2020, as unarmed Black men continue being executed on camera, the killers of Breonna Taylor evade prosecution, politicians remain emboldened to perpetuate division, and the outcry for justice falls faintly on deaf ears; it may be safe to suggest that America still suffers with deciphering the distinction between the value of Black bodies and Black lives.
When a Black body is born, it enters the world as a product of its environment, bearing the burden of what it means to be Black in America. Before being judged by the scope of their potential, it will be marked by the threat of its image. Before uttering a first word or taking a first step, each Black body is thrust into a system that makes it inherently harder to receive a quality education and earn a living wage, but more likely to die prematurely or be imprisoned.
Black life personifies a spectrum of possibility with each Black child born representing a seed planted into the soul of America. When given the natural resources and nourishment needed to grow, it can evolve to produce fruit that feeds the whole — adding new beauty, texture and complexity to the collective.
Even in the face of neglect, deprived of proper care and consideration, Black lives have repeatedly broken through, triumphantly turning scarcity into abundance.
The essence of this is found in the resilient spirit and profound power of Black culture. Birthed from oppression, Black lives endured to engineer a shared language, lifestyle and belief system responsible for shaping the global economy and rewriting the rules of pop culture.
Seeing the breadth of what Black lives have created, embodied and contributed as an oppressed people — historically considered unequal — the case can be made that desiring racial equality is not about being seen as white people, desiring an equal comparison, or searching for acceptance into a historically private club reserved exclusively for whites only. Instead, achieving racial equality is grounded in obtaining the unequivocal right to be unapologetically Black, free to exist in this identity without persecution, operating within structural systems that support and empower Black lives to fulfill their potential without limitation.
At the core of this transformative change is accountability. To dispel the myth of white superiority and dismantle the longstanding pillars of systematic injustice, the white community must first accept collective responsibility for engineering and enforcing this malicious lie that has defined America’s history. They must also assume accountability for their role in the ongoing attacks on Black bodies.
By avoiding accountability, the real problems remain unchecked and unresolved, leaving us to witness the white community converge around a narrative that attributes the condemnable faults of America to a skewed perception of the Black experience.
For the Black community to manifest the equality we seek requires the efforts of every individual — across spaces and categories — to intentionally focus our efforts toward elevating the value of the collective. We can’t demand change if we aren’t actively committed to creating the change ourselves.
As we challenge the masses to declare with conviction that Black lives matter and fairly acknowledge us as whole human beings embraced in the fullness of our power, it’s important that we are proactively working to control our own narrative, take ownership of our imperfections and elevate the Black experience to a standard beyond reproach.