Black people could lose control of the Black Lives Matter movement. Whites have suddenly embraced the mantra and launched initiatives aimed at Black people. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said “Black Lives Matter,” on Friday. “Black Lives Matter” was painted on the streets leading to the White House and California state house. Uber announced an initiative to support Black owned restaurants. The danger is that Black people may interpret these things as triumph or “they” will begin agenda setting for “us.” Just as President Lyndon Johnson gentrified the freedom movement in the 1960s, The Black Lives Matter movement is in danger of being gentrified today.
On Sunday March 7, 1965, demonstrators in Selma, AL were brutalized by police as they marched for voting rights. The event was coined “Bloody Sunday.” One week later, President Lyndon Johnson gave an address to Congress in support of voting rights. In that speech, Johnson repeated the mantra of the movement, “We shall overcome.” By saying it, Johnson signaled to all of white America that it was time to shift. While President Kennedy was hesitant on civil rights, Johnson and others would now dive in; they would do so, however, on terms that wouldn’t threaten the structural dominance of whites. President Johnson supported the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, granting Black people the “freedom” to spend money in white establishments and rent apartments from white landlords. But when Dr. King and other leaders pressed him on structural inequality and poverty, even as the nation spent billions on war (or police in 2020), Johnson called King a “goddamn nigger preacher.”
Today Black people are rebelling against a system of white dominance, the catalyst being egregious instances of police violence. In response, the city of Minneapolis just banned the use of chokeholds by police. Chokeholds were already banned in New York but that did little to stop the murder of Eric Garner, nor did that fact result in a conviction of his killer. Further, banning chokeholds will not solve the ultimate issue: Blacks exist as a permanent underclass in America, always vulnerable to white power. Painting “Black Lives Matter” near the White House means little, when Black people increasingly cannot live in DC. It’s fine for Roger Goodell to say “Black Lives Matter” but his Black players are still subject to the whims of white owners: remember Colin Kaepernick. Uber is spotlighting Black restaurants but if people complain, Uber may stop promoting them next week. Depending on the benevolence of a white corporation like Uber isn’t equal to supporting the development of a Black owned delivery service, like Black and Mobile.
White people are not only protesting in the streets and saying “Black Lives Matter,” they are beginning to form responses to protest demands. While the “help” of allies is fine, their help will never address the core issue of power. The “solutions” they propose, much like in the 1960s, will ensure white power is never threatened. Black people must not accept the gestures of other communities and forget the need for Black power. It simply isn’t in the interest of whites to undo the structural inequities Black people face, for they largely benefit from them. That doesn’t mean they are bad or ill-intended, it simply means they are rational and pursuing their interests: losing power isn’t one of them. Black people must not wait for the responses of white people or corporations, Black people must say a hearty thank you to the crumbs and continue the long, difficult work of building Black institutions and ultimately, Black power.