By Reverend Kobi Little, NAACP president, Baltimore chapter
Black people have been subjected to the genocidal impulses of this country in ways that most communities have not experienced. Black people in this county, African people in this country, and indigenous people, the people of the First Nations, have been subjected to genocidal impulses for years.
The struggle for freedom and justice and democracy in the United States has been the struggle of Black people from day one. How that struggle manifests, changes from generation to generation from decade to decade.
Looking back at Black history through the lens of what we are experiencing today in terms of hate and anti-democratic impulses and the insurrection at the Capitol, it is important to recognize that the history of Black people in the United States is about more than just Black people.
It is about the hope for democracy and the threat to democracy. It is about the promise of human rights and the violation of human rights.
Our history is a window that reveals a powerful and awful anti-democratic stain in this country from its very start. From the founding of the United States the right of agency was denied to people of African descent through slavery. Our history bears witness to the formidable anti-democratic American spirit as demonstrated by the denial of our right to fair wages or any just compensation for our labor.
This anti-democratic spirit is seen in the history of human trafficking, sexual exploitation, torture, mutilation and violation of Black bodies.
It is seen in the extrajudicial killings.
Black history includes Supreme Court rulings that said Black people don’t have rights that white people are bound to respect. This is also the history of anti-democracy in America.
From the very beginning of this country up until now we’ve seen very anti-democratic impulses -- and usually they have been at the expense of Black people.
Despite these very harsh realities it has been Black Americans who have consistently been at the forefront on the ground in everyday struggles and also at the forefront of mass movements to advance democracy in the United States, to uphold the solemnity and sacredness of human rights and to create space for us to realize the promise of democracy in the United States.
The promise of democracy, of course, is contained in voting rights and elected representation. But democracy is more than voting. It’s also all of the freedoms from unreasonable search and seizure, the freedom of expression, the freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, freedom to pursue happiness, and the freedom to self actualize, just to name a few. Democracy is also defined in part by the protection of these rights.
In the course of being confronted with very hateful, violent and anti-democratic realities that suppressed our rights, Black people have found the courage, the inspiration, and the motivation to stay on the front lines waging these fights and expanding the spaces that we are able to occupy and to thrive in today.
Whether it was Trayvon Martin or Ferguson or Baltimore, the powerful cry that Black Lives Matter had been made before last summer, but it was met with a lot of resistance. The events of the last year, however, focused the majority of society on understanding the statement and why it’s valid, producing a mass embrace of the movement for Black lives. People of all backgrounds have shed fear and stood up for Black lives and for justice, for an end to police terror and police violence. That has been tremendously encouraging.
That coming together is something we must reflect on as a source of strength and encouragement in the face of what we saw on January 6. The movement for Black lives is a reminder that there are more of us from more diverse backgrounds, who love freedom and justice and democracy, than those who hate it. Those of us who came together as the beloved community, as a witness in the mass demonstrations across the United States and around the world, far outnumber those who sought to destroy democracy and spread hate on January 6.
January 6 was a very clear reminder that we must fight white supremacy, we must fight overpolicing, we might fight the police state, we must fight fascism and we must fight to uphold democratic values. This includes fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power and respect for the decision of the electorate. But this also includes protecting basic rights: the right not to be killed by police officers, the right not to be subjected to violent terrorism from white supremacists.
Franz Fanon said that each generation must identify its destiny, its obligation, and either fulfill that destiny or betray it.
Whether it is the abolitionist movement or it is the civil rights movement or the Black Power movement or Black Lives Matter, all of these are manifestations of the same struggle. To miss that point is to fall into the hands of those who would like to see us divided and conquered. Each generation of activists stands on platforms that were built by preceding generations.
Black history in the United States serves as an example for the world. The history of African Americans has always been about our fight here but also has been about the fight for justice and democracy around the world. Our history is a significant contribution towards the thought, the concept and idea of global citizenship. The reality of global citizenship is that wherever we are we must fight for human rights. We must not only offer our history as an example, but also lend our support to human rights struggles around the world.