What I wanted to do is just talk a little bit about where we are. And I know the theme of this talk is "Who is Next?" and so I'll just cut to the chase and say, You are next. You are now. Talks over! No, I'm just kidding [laughing].
To be serious, I really want to spend my time with you this evening setting some context for what I mean. And it is true that I am fresh from the State of the Union address, and I have some things to share with you about that and then…[to audience member] Huh? You want to hear it? That's what's up. OK, good [laughing]…and then I want to end by talking a little bit about what I think it's gonna take. That sound okay? Okay.
So just so y'all know my style, I'm not gonna do like a presentation or a lecture. We're gonna have a conversation, cool? Okay, good. Everybody loosen up a little bit [waving arms].
So, here's the context. For the last – well, what are we, 2016 now? – so for the last ten years there has been an uprising brewing. For the last ten years there's been an uprising brewing. And I always like to start contextually by saying two things.
One, this is not a new moment. It's a moment whose time has come. That's different from being a new moment. We are just part of a long trajectory of people who have been fighting for self-determination, for dignity, for our humanity ever since we were brought to these shores. Yeah? And so we are so grateful that we're alive in the moment. Because people are always fighting, right? It may or may not be as visible as it is today, but people are always fighting. But we are so blessed to be in a moment where there is a visible struggle for power that's happening in this country. Ya'll feel me on that? So that's the first thing.
And then the second thing is I like to contextualize the moment that we're in right now, not in 2013 when Trayvon Martin was murdered, but instead in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. And I start us there because for the period prior to 2005 there was our movement, I think was dormant, it was trying to figure out how to xxx3:13. But when photos and images of black people stranded on roofs, in boats, on bridges, in stadiums began to proliferate – not on social media, but on television, on the radio – people were first saying "there's a storm coming to the Gulf Coast" and then they said "the storm has hit" and then they said "the levees have broken" and then the images came, and we saw black people stranded and we saw our government give no response. In fact. George Bush knowing that there was a crisis that had hit the Gulf Coast, went and celebrated a birthday with Senator John McCain. He went to a Padres game while black people were dying.
And I think for me the first time that I became aware that this was a moment that we needed to be paying attention to was when Kanye West, unscripted – thank God for that brother; I know he all over the place and stuff, but that was a good moment for Kanye – so when Kanye said George Bush don't care about black people in an unscripted moment with – what's the brother's name? Mike Myers? And the look on his face [makes a shocked face] – "I can't believe you just said that!" Well, he told the truth. He told the truth. And thousands, hundreds of thousands of people resonated with that.
That became an iconic moment in our history, but it also became a moment when there was a clear rupture in the narrative that is America. What do I mean by that? What I mean is ever since the Rainbow Coalition, Black Power, Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s…. There were several, y'all know that, right? Just checking. You never know. But there had been this narrative, right? The black people had fought and died for certain rights and that we had gotten those rights and that now the period that we were in was really about people's individual will, people's individual choices. If you're not successful, you're not working hard enough. If you're not succeeding, you're not trying hard enough. Yeah, there was this myth of black progress, right?
So 2005 was really a rupture. It was a rupture that said, well we're still treating black people like second-class citizens. We're still corralling black people into stadiums with no food or water, not adequate supplies. We have a government in the richest country in the world that cannot provide for its citizens – or should I say chooses not to provide for some of its citizens?
You'll remember during Hurricane Katrina some people were bused, helicoptered, airplaned, and then there were black people who were shot for trying to get to higher ground. There were black people who were left to die in prisons and jails. And then of course the infamous pictures that showed black people wading through waist-high water, chest high water carrying food and they're called looters, but a white family wading through those same waters carrying those same items are considered to be surviving. That was a rupture moment in our country and that's where we root the context for this movement today.
Now I'll also say that we had several flash points before we got here – several. There was the Jena Six. Y'all know about that? For those who don't, this was a case where in Jena, Louisiana, a group of young people got into a fight and it happened to be a racially charged fight. There was one student who was known for stoking racial tensions in school. So like some people do, they started scrapping. This person was injured; he got beat up. But these young people – six young black boys – were charged as adults, charged with serious charges. And a movement erupted around the country to raise attention to their case. And the way that it was talked about was that there was uneven application of the law.
Now I just described to you what happens in high schools all over America. In fact, a couple of months ago I was having dinner with some folks and I was talking with a person who's a part of the Republican Party – there's the first time for everything – and they were telling me about how, you know, they're from the South and they were telling me – this is a white guy – telling me about how he met his best friend and they met because he was stabbed by this person during a race riot in their high school. I was like, where they do that at? But anyways, it struck me in telling that story, right, so he's a high-placed person in the Republican National Committee, free as a bird. He'd been in fights – racially-charged fights – where sometimes he was the aggressor and he is now a high-placed person in a powerful party in this country. But for these six black boys, their lives were forever changed by things that happen in high schools all over America all the time.
There was Troy Davis, who was executed for a crime that up until the minute he was killed he maintained he did not commit, and in fact, from what I remember, witnesses recounted testimony that they had given saying that they had seen him, yada da da – it's the same story.
Stan Tookie Williams, who was also executed in the state of California where I'm from, where people in the hip-hop community and artists and celebrities all came out in support of this man who had grown up in an environment and under conditions that created his life. He got involved with street organizations and he went to jail for it, and he changed his life. But even though he changed his life, he was still executed by the state.
Those instances tell us that our criminal justice system is not actually about redemption, rehabilitation, justice. It's solely rooted in punishment, yeah? We can keep going.
And then of course you have Oscar Grant who was murdered in my hometown, just three blocks away from where I live, Oakland, California, the Fruitvale BART station. He's murdered by a BART police officer who thought that he was reaching for his taser but instead shot and killed Oscar on New Year's Day. And not only did he shoot and kill this person who had a young child, Tatiana, but he did so in front of more than 200 people on a train.
And then you have Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Jordan Davis – so many names that I've stopped doing the litany because to be honest with you we'd be here for quite a long time. There was 300 black people murdered by the police last year – that we know of. And right now in this country, it's safe to say that being black is a crime. I'll say that again. In this country today, it's safe to say that being black here in the United States is a crime, meaning shoot first, ask questions later.
So when we talk about the setbacks of 2015, when we talk about the context in which this movement, this uprising has come to be, we'd be remiss if we didn't talk about Michael Brown and the brave young people in Ferguson who refused to go home even though they were being told by the black leadership in their community to leave it up to the justice system. If we had done that in Oakland, there would not have been a conviction, one of the only convictions in the history of California of a police officer for murder.
And then of course we have to situate this movement in the context of people like Cece McDonald, who spent lots of time in jail for defending herself against a racist and transphobic attacker and then to make matters worse, was misgendered in prison.
We'd be remiss talking about where this movement comes from if we didn't talk about Marissa Alexander, who fired a warning shot into the air after being in an argument with an abusive intimate partner.
This is the context in which we are sitting here today. And then when we talk about what were the setbacks again last year in 2015, we could talk about Sandra Bland. You should keep talking about Sandra Bland, to be honest, because as far as I know justice has not been served in that case. Why was Sandra Bland in jail in the first place for failing to use a turn signal?
We should talk about Tamir Rice, 12-year-old who was murdered in a park while he was playing.
We should talk about Penny Proud or India Clarke, trans women who were reported murdered, as so many are not.
So in 2015, the dynamics that we face are few. One, there's the overwhelming epidemic of extrajudicial violence that is being carried out by the very people who are supposed to protect and serve us.
Now when I say that, it makes people feel uncomfortable. Sometimes people say, "Well you hate cops," and I don't hate cops, I want to be really clear. But what I do hate is a system that allows for murder without cause. What I despise is the lie that you are innocent until proven guilty, because that's only applied to some people. What I despise is the lack of accountability, the lack of transparency, the lack of responsibility to the mothers that have lost their children.
Now I don't know about you, but I love my mother very much. She's my rock. She's my everything, and I know her life would be done if something were to happen to me. So every single time I see a mother on television begging to understand why her child was taken from her, I feel compelled – compelled – to say we have to change this culture where there are some who can act with impunity, legally, at the expense of all of us. We'll come back to that.
I think the other dynamic that we're facing in 2015 is a real crisis of leadership.
So I had the interesting opportunity to watch the State of the Union address from the Congressional chambers last night. And, you know, y'all, to be honest I was pretty conflicted. Now you know I love my congresswoman. Barbara Lee is the truth and I don't really mess with politicians like that because, you know, you can't [unintelligible] She's the truth and she was the only – only – vote against war, the only one. Not like one of five or one of twenty. She was the only one. That takes a lot of courage, especially in a context, right, where the drums were beating: Save America. We're under attack. Right? And she's saying, "Whoa whoa whoa, slow it down. This is not how we solve problems. This is gonna create more problems than it's gonna solve." A woman who was mentored by Shirley Chisholm. And if you don't know who Shirley Chisholm is, I need you to just break out your phone and go ahead and do that google thing, y'all, because you need to know about that powerful black woman. She's also a woman who has been a tireless advocate for workers, for poor people, people of color, immigrants, women.
So when she invited me, I was like nobody but you. And I was curious, to be honest, because in the last couple of years an uprising has taken hold in this country and it's powerful and scary to watch and to be a part of. And certainly I don't often get the opportunity – as many of us don't often get the opportunity – to actually understand how it is or how it isn't that we are impacting people with power to do the things that need to be done. Yeah? So I was curious. My mom says curiosity kills the cat. I was curious, so I went. One, because I said to myself if I get even ten seconds to say anything to our first and possibly last black president, I need to push him around black lives. So that was one.
Number two, it felt important to me to be able to communicate to people outside of the United States who are really waiting for us to get it together, y'all, like really really really really really waiting for us to get it together. They're like, can y'all take your foot off our neck, please, so we can get free? It felt important to communicate that not all of us – not all of us – believe in war, not all of us believe that we have to take the enemy out, not all of us believe that we can solve climate change by doing anything else than stopping corporate greed, that not all of us believe the rhetoric coming from Donald Trump, that not all of us – even though our president is black – agree with that agenda.
And so sitting there last night, y'all, I was conflicted, because on the one hand here I was watching the first black president give his last State of the Union address. Now I want us to sit with that for a minute. This is a country that was founded 1776 and it's the first time we had a black president. Sit with that. Okay. Then sit with the fact that that same president has only addressed race, racism, state violence about this many times [holds up four fingers] in his eight years as president. And every single time it was because he was forced to by you.
Now my reflections will also talk a little bit about the setbacks of 2015. So my reflections are, number one, what I heard last night. It's maybe different than what other people heard. I talked to people who said, "I felt so amazing. I was amazing. He was really giving it to the Republicans." I was like, man, something must be wrong with me. I don't like to waste time talking about things that are obvious, like science. Do you know what I mean? But I also became really clear from that conversation last night that we are going to continue as a nation to embark on violent missions throughout this world that will displace thousands and thousands of families, that will take thousands and thousands of lives, all for the sake of being the most powerful nation in the world. What I sat with yesterday was watching our country run towards fascism. The fact that we have to say in an address to the whole country that's watched by the entire world, "You all should be nice to each other. You shouldn't treat people any differently just because they're different from you," means that we're in a rough place.
No matter how much of a tone of hope there was, what I was sitting there thinking to myself was, Whoo, we got work to do, because all of that language was really coded, right? It was coded. It was like, "Yo, pull the dogs back." That's what the homie Obama would have said: "Bring the dogs back, y'all." But in not as nice language, what they're saying is we have violent, racist rhetoric that is taking hold in this country and it impacts all of us. First it's directed towards Muslims, then it's directed towards black people, then it's directed towards immigrants, and then who's next? That's what I was thinking as I was listening to the first black president in his last State of the Union address.
I also thought it was fascinating that there was no mention of the hundreds of murders that have occurred and have thrown this nation into a tailspin. I thought it was fascinating that there was no mention of the 13 women who were sexually assaulted by a police officer in Oklahoma. No mention of Laquan McDonald, who was shot more than 16 times as he was running away in Chicago. No mention of Dajerria Becton, who was thrown around at a pool party by a police officer like a rag doll. No mention of Jamar Clark, who was killed while handcuffed in Minneapolis. And not even a mention of five members of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis who was shot by white supremacists. And this is the state of our union.
No mention of the racists who are now occupying federal land in Oregon. It's really indigenous land. Y'll knew that. Speaking of which, I want to give honor to the indigenous nations whose home this is, and thank you for allowing us to be here and taking care of this land.
This year was the lead-up to an election year, and now we're in an election year. But last year nobody was talking about – no presidential candidate, no presidential hopeful – was talking about what's happening in our communities until we made them do that. Y'all remember that. You do? I'm just checking, y'all. We made them do that. We made them do that, not by sitting politely, not by lobbying. You understand what I'm saying? Thank you for feeling me, though.
Because like really, though, we get told to just do things the right way and expect a particular outcome. And I think if anything, 2015 and 2014 and 2013 taught us that we make the right way. We make the right way. That the channels that we're told to go through are so severely damaged that it's making people tone-deaf. That the channels that we're taught to use are channels that were not built for us. Nowadays you can't really get a response from a person that you elect unless you have a lot of money. Anybody in here got a lot of money? [responding to comment from audience] Powerball, hey! [laughing] Powerball was good. Dang, I should have gotten my ticket. Maybe we could get a little power that way.
But I think what we've seen in 2015 is that the only thing that we can count on is stopping business as usual. That the only thing that we can put our faith in is putting our bodies on the line. That the only thing that will send a clear message is by disobeying what must be disobeyed. And certainly in 2015 and in 2014 there were and still are consequences for those of us who take that kind of action.
I know I was a part of a group of 14 people who stopped a BART train on Black Friday in solidarity with the protesters in Ferguson but also in commemoration of the long history of political struggle that Oakland has, including being the birthplace of the Black Panther Party for self-defense. And for a year, we had charges hanging over our heads – trespassing on a railway – and then they wanted seventy thousand dollars in restitution because you know it was Black Friday and stuff, like the biggest shopping day of the year, and they were like, "Y'all just stopped commerce from moving and so you have to pay." And then we got into this whole joke, right, because, you know, people were like, "Well, would you have charged Martin Luther King for doing sit…?" I don't know, people be mixing up all this stuff, right? And then one of our commissioner said, "Well, Rosa Parks didn't stop a train for four hours." Should tell you something about the state of public education in this country. We're like, "You're right. She didn't do that. It was actually 384 days." [applause]
So how we got candidates to even barely – and I do mean barely, we'll come back to that – barely address the crises that are impacting our communities was by interrupting the nonsense of this process. Here you are at one of the largest progressive gatherings just days after a black woman is found dead in a jail cell she didn't belong in, and you're coming to talk about what? Tax credits? And when you ask the simple question – and it's really a simple question – as to whether or not black lives matter and it's actually a hard question for people to answer, it tells you something about where we're at.
So you had one candidate saying, "Well, white lives matter." We were like, "Yeah, blood, but check it out. That's been true. That's never been in dispute – actually in the history of this nation, never been in dispute – but could you answer the question, though, about black lives? Yet another candidate talked about marching with Dr. King – which is good, lots of people marched with Dr. King – it's good, it's important – it doesn't answer the question. And then you had another candidate saying that yes, black lives matter but certainly under the watch of their husband who is the former president they helped to ensure that more black people than ever in the history of this nation were imprisoned and incarcerated. Y'all know about that? 1994 crime bill? You know I'm gonna get a bunch of trolls on Twitter like, you don't know what you're talking about! So I try to give you some stats. And by the way, I don't look at Twitter so you could tweet me but I don't do that. So if you're gonna tweet me, hate me on stuff, you know, I don't know, get creative.
It wasn't until black people said, "We're not using your channels. We're building our own," that the conversation started to change in this country. That didn't start with Black Lives Matter. You can tweet that, too. Didn't start with Trayvon, didn't start with Mike Brown. It's a long history. This is an ongoing contribution that black folks have made to this country, restoring the humanity and the soul to a nation that claims to value freedom, justice and equality for all.
But I want to talk a little bit…. I mean I feel like we know the issues and if you don't know, like, ask somebody, because it feels real tangible to me everywhere I go. But I also want to spend some time talking about where I think we go from here, because this question of who is next is very important.
So we understand that the key concerns of our time – what's happening to the planet, which is disproportionately impacting poor people, indigenous communities and communities of color, basic; migration and immigration; and in particular, the criminalization of movement based on our own policies – is a critical, critical issue for all of us to face. What does it mean that we start off 2016 with homes being raided at 5 o'clock in the morning, not because you've committed any sort of crime – and I don't really love this "felons not families" nonsense because the reality is, as a part of the process of making ourselves the most powerful nation in the world we have created conditions where people can no longer live, period. Creates the conditions where people go here to seek survival and yet we criminalize that process for some – not for everybody. It's not equal. Not all migrants are treated the same, trust me. You have some migrants who are courted to come and build our economy, and you have others who are pushed here and then treated like garbage. That's the reality. The question of race and racism – it's not about people being mean to each other, y'all. And I'm gonna get a million tweets from people "You're the racist!" from people that don't understand racism. I'm just gonna say it. I just feel like if Barack didn't do it last night, somebody got to do it. Tell the damn truth.
So look – and I'm not trying to be harsh on him – he, you know, whatever, he seems like a cool guy, you know what I'm saying? – but he's doing things that will impact us for generations to come, we just have to be real about it. And we can still be proud that we have a black president, but I'd be even prouder if that black president could bring themselves to just acknowledge that black people are having a real hard time surviving. I digress.
Race and racism. So racism is not what happens when you talk about race – surprise! It's really not. That doesn't make you a racist. It's not about being mean to other people – although that sucks and you should stop that, if you can. Give love, you know, or glitter not shade – all that stuff. But racism instead is a series of practices and policies, systems and structures that provide for some at the expense of others. Pretty simple thing. Meaning when you have a dynamic – for those of you who love the Constitution – where black people are considered in our constitution to be three-fifths of a human being – three-fifths, so that's less than a full person – for the purposes of apportioning votes and that's how we start off, something's wrong, y'all. When 1.5 of the 2.2 million people who are behind bars are black; when black people are at the bottom of the wage scale, are more likely to be suspended than to graduate, get a diploma, then something's going on.
And guess what. We could spend a lot of time talking about individual achievement and people not achieving the dream. But I'd rather talk about all of the ways in which our communities have been robbed of the opportunity to live a full life. We could go on and on. Fascism and its approach is also a major issue that our generation is facing right now. Crisis in democracy that is unfolding right now should be very scary for all of us. And then we should understand then, that that fear should not paralyze us but instead should make us very clear about what we need to do in order to turn the tide.
And the only thing that we can do, as my sister Charlene Carruthers says from Black Youth Project 100 – y'all know Black Youth Project? Yeah. Dope. Super dope. And Charlene is a brilliant, fierce, courageous, fabulous leader and she was popping off on Facebook today. She was like, "You know what? We just have to build a stronger movement that fights for the dignity and humanity in all of us. We have to build a stronger movement that creates an economy where everybody has and there are no have-nots. We just have to build a stronger movement where the way that we govern is through cooperation and interdependence rather than war and violence, domination. We just have to build a stronger movement where profits don't drive everything that we do. That's easy enough, right? We're like almost there – is that right? Are we almost there? Cuz I'm tired. I was kidding. That was a joke, y'all. We're not almost there, but we're getting closer.
And I get so heartened by this question of who's next, because I remember asking that question ten years ago as I was watching black people on roofs. I was saying, who's gonna do something? And today what I'm seeing are people doing something, and that lifts my spirits. It makes my heart soar, because I know we don't have it all figured out but what I also know is that in motion, we're gonna get there.
Let me say one last thing, because I had wanted to talk about this before but didn't get a chance to do it. so I just want to say this. You know, my partner and I have this joke, right? His grandmother gets real upset when she watches the TV. She's 92, Grandma Betty, she's the business. And she's on Facebook and stuff, and she'll be posting stuff in all caps cuz the thing gets locked, you know what I mean? She's the truth. She gets really upset cuz she's like watching TV and she's like, "Everything matters! Driving matters! Health care matters! Water matters! Don't they understand?" And I go, oh yeah, that's deep. We are in that kind of society where even our movements get commodified. I got my groceries and on the bag it said "Values matter" and I was like I was like [makes confused face]. I said, "Y'all stop, though." You know Verizon be like "Better matters." I mean everything matters.
So what ends up happening then is I get these questions about how do I make a hashtag that can start a movement, because I'm seeing it everywhere, right? And then I get the great joy and pleasure of being like "Hashtags don't start movements. People do." And I'm saying that with a lot of love, but I want to make sure it's really clear, my opinion, what I understand about hashtags, which is not that much for real. Patrice was the one who put the thing in the front of the thing. I was like, "Girl what is this? What you doing?" No, I don't understand those kinds of things. But apparently a hashtag is a way to continue a conversation, yeah? Something like that. So that's a good thing. I'm glad she did it because it means that thousands of people have access to this very important conversation that our nation has been needing to engage in for a long time.
But whatever takes hashtags offline, into our homes, into our schools, into our neighborhoods, into our workplaces, into our Congress, it's not Facebook, y'all. It's people. Hashtags don't start movements. Hashtags are ways to continue a conversation, but movements are comprised of people who share a vision, who share a set of values, who take action together in order to bring about some kind of change. And without the work that it takes to make that happen, we would just be talking on Facebook.
Let me say that again. It takes work to get people to care. It takes work to get people to do something different than they've been doing. It takes work to help people move through the fear of what does it mean if I take action. It takes work. It's a wade through all of the ways that we've been taught that we're at fault. It takes work. It takes work to have conversations with people that you don't agree with and try to still come out whole on the other side. It takes work to build relationships with other movements. Hashtags don't do that. People do. Organizers do. That's the tradition that we come from – Opal, Patrice, myself.
And maybe some people would disagree with that. There are some people who really feel like the online space is transformative, and I'm not gonna take anything away from Facebook or Twitter. I mean, I'm on Facebook all the time. It's the way that I get my news. It's how I know what's going on in my friends' lives. It's how I know what's happening in the world. It's also where I'm a little ratchet sometimes, you know what I mean? It's fine. Some people believe that that space is transformative. I believe that it's a world that we create but don't actually have to be accountable in. That's me personally. [applause]
So the online space is a vehicle. It's a tool – one tool – in a toolbox of many tools that we use in the pursuit of freedom and justice. It's a way that we're able to communicate in an open-source way across borders, across limitations. But it's also a site of surveillance, monitoring. It's also a site where we're sometimes not really good to each other, where we don't actually reflect the values that we would if we were sitting face-to-face and trying to work it out.
So I want us to rethink how we use those tools, how much emphasis we place on them. It's very beneficial for the owners of Twitter to say "We start movements," you know what I'm saying? You following me? Really beneficial for the owners of Facebook to be like "We start movements." You know, they do that, they reach out: "We want to feature you." No thank you. Right?
Because it's really about how we activate and motivate our communities. How do we motivate the grandma who doesn't get on Facebook or if she does, it's really only to look at the pictures, you know what I mean? How do we activate the families on our block? Those are the questions that we grapple with. That's what movements are made of – people, everyday people, like you and me.
So really in closing – I've been doing the preacher closing, I'm gonna do the real closing [laughing], just want to make sure you got your time's worth – no, but I was actually really excited about being here, had all these things to say, I hope I made it through all of them. But for real I'm closing. So this is the kickoff to a series of events commemorating Martin Luther King and his life and his legacy, and I think that's amazing and I want to offer up some things to remember.
Now like it or not, as a leader Martin Luther King was not always sure of himself. He didn't have always a well-thought-out plan. He had a lot of smart people around him that helped him build his vision. Yeah? Okay? Just checking. Lots of times people say to us, "Well, why can't you just be nonviolent like Martin Luther King?" I'm like, "Where does, where's the violence coming from? Where is the violence coming from? Telling the truth? That's not how I think about violence. Disrupting a freeway? That's not how I think about violence. And for those who worked closely with Dr. King, studied his life very closely, you'll understand that non-violence as a tool was a part of a larger strategy that made sense in a very particular context. It gets misused and misapplied. And now that legacy gets turned around, right, to say, well, back in the day we knew how to do it, and what y'all are doing now is one, somehow violent – which again I just have a lot of issues with that – and two, I think it's nefarious. That's a big funny word for "I'm calling your bluff." I was gonna say something different, but you know what I mean. I'm trying to be good, you know. [to audience member] Thank you.
And I'm raising that y'all, because this season where we commemorate Martin Luther King, we're going to be hearing a lot of that, a lot of that – ways to distort, confuse, twist what we need to be doing. People will tell you, people died for your right to vote. Now, people died in the process of trying to win that right, let's be clear, but that's not all the movement was fighting for. The movement was fighting for self-determination, for dignity, for equality, for our very humanity, and the vote was a way to be able to make decisions over your own life – a way, not the only way.
In this moment, Martin Luther King's legacy will get lifted up and people will say Martin Luther King was about ending segregation. Brother was more radical than that, child. Martin Luther King was about ending a system where we value profits over people. Martin Luther King was about ending a pattern of violence and aggression that we carry out all around the world. Martin Luther King was about abolishing poverty. Martin Luther King was about gender equity. Did you all know that? Did you know that? Did you know that he fought for reproductive rights and all that? Just in the cut, because you know he's part of the church and all that. Serious. No shade. There are some very liberatory faith traditions, but certainly, right, there's a battle.
And Martin Luther King, I think, gets framed as the pinnacle of respectability politics. But you know, I'm gonna challenge that. Martin Luther King was a product of his time, for sure. Martin Luther King and his team, they were strategists and they were trying to understand, how do we appeal to the moral center of people who are expressing the most banal immorality there is. When you hang people from trees, y'all, there's something going on, something ain't right. So strategically, what they were thinking about was how do we appeal to the moral center and how do we do that in a way where you don't look at me and say, I'm different than you and therefore worth less than you. They were trying to figure out a way to humanize black people.
Now we can all look back in hindsight and say, oh I wouldn't have done that and wouldn't…right? That's cool. But there's something brilliant about changing the way we see ourselves, changing the way we value ourselves, so that we can change the world that we live in.
Now I don't think we need to be like white people to do that. And I say that when jovialness, right? But what I'm trying to say is there was a way in which if you could make black folks palatable to white society, it was thought that more ruptures would occur. If we think they're just like us, then why are we treating them so badly? Okay, so that didn't work we learned. But we did take a little nugget from there, which is this notion of unconditional love – love for ourselves, love for our people, love for our struggle, love for our resilience. It's something powerful. It has the ability to change the world, this notion that our lives are worth value. And not like value in the buy-it-at-the-store sense, but like value in the sense of like we can't survive without it.
What if we all walked out of here today deeply believing that we cannot have a functional society without a healthy black community? Sit with that for a second. What if when we walked out this door tonight in the snow and it's cold outside, we walked out of here and practiced the notion that we cannot have a functional healthy society without black people being healthy and well taken care of. What would shift? What would shift in the books that you read? What would shift in your classrooms? What would shift when you go to the store? What would shift when you go to the airport? What would shift in your home? What would shift in your family? What would shift between you and other people if you fundamentally carried that belief?
That's the world that we're trying to get to, a world where we see the inherent value in every human being and in particular in those human beings who have been treated and counted as less than human. That's the world that we want to see. Thank you.