At the end of the day [if you’re black], no one will ask which university you’re going to. The same bullet is going through your head.
— Agang Tema
Over the past week, I’ve tried to educate myself regarding the #BlackLivesMatter movement that has rightfully taken our world by storm. Through my research, I’ve realized how ignorant I have been on this matter because the conversation is always centred around those who are privileged. Today, I am writing Part 1 to shine more light on the stories and lessons that I have learned so far about the broken systems that prevail. In Part 2, I will discuss the negative implications of declaring #AllLivesMatter in response to this movement.
On June 3rd alongside hundreds of others, I attended The Lunch Break: Share Black Voices where I simply shut up and listened to the raw, unfiltered, and vulnerable thoughts of six brave people who’ve been broken and battered as a result of their skin colour. It was an hour of heartbreak and helplessness as Akosua, Alexis, Ayobami, Charles, Eleisse, and Agang recounted their personal traumas of growing up black.
You have to work twice as hard to be just as good.
— Alexis Harmon
Inherently, the school system is broken and biased. As an honours student, Alexis was in 1 of 2 academic groups that consisted of higher-performing students. Despite what the school said about “not seeing colour”, the first group was majority white and got primary treatment and access to benefits, such as private tutoring. The other group was majority black and essentially got “second dibs” on the same benefits. Despite having the grades to be part of the first group and get primary treatment, Alexis purposefully did worse in her classes so that she would be reassigned to the second group. These attempts were all because she didn’t feel safe in the environment that her peers and teachers created. It’s despicable to see that black youth have to make these detrimental decisions and self-sacrifices for the sake of their personal safety. Charles also elaborates upon his high school experience and how the prison term “Gen Pop” was commonly used to refer to non-IB black students. As an IB student, there were so many times that he had been offended by hearing “you’re not like those other black people” because it alluded to the stereotypes that stemmed from decades of politics and Corporate America greed (more on this below).
You don’t realize what “being black” means until you come to America.
— Ayobami Balogun
Ironically, we see North America as the land of the free, but many people are suppressed and imprisoned by their own identities. Born and raised in Nigeria, Ayobami never realized what it meant to “be black” until she moved to America in Grade 9 and soon realized that she would face a lot of obstacles in her lifetime. It was sad to hear that she was bullied for her appearance and that she didn’t learn to love her skin colour and embrace her blackness until she was in college. Yet, Eleisse makes it clear that feeling different never really leaves you. Even in the workplace, she has always been aware that not a lot of people looked like her and she always felt the need to assimilate.
The binary between the “good black” and “bad black” is so dangerous.
— Agang Tema
Black children are raised to be the “good blacks” that don’t offend white people and end up in jail. They are taught not to make mistakes because even the slightest mistakes could get them into the most trouble. Essentially, black people aren’t allowed to live as their true selves because they are busy trying to be the “good blacks” that societies want them to be… and the moment they divert from this persona, people can’t get over it.
After watching the Netflix documentary 13TH, I am appalled by the irony of this discriminatory debacle. In reality, society dictates the idealistic “good black” persona but has never made it possible to embody. The 13th amendment made slavery illegal except as a punishment for crime, in which black people were eventually transfigured from slaves to criminals. To sustain the greed for free labour, black people were prosecuted for the pettiest of crimes to take advantage of the 13th amendment loophole — all while the media sensationalized an image of the “bad black” across the nation. This overexposure ultimately brainwashed the public by superimposing a negative stereotype that was already embedded in a foundation of prejudice.
Add in the element of corrupt politics and propaganda, and we have ourselves a toxic system that propagates covert racism. I won’t go too much into the so-called “war on drugs” that has institutionalized the American criminal system that is in place today (watch the documentary), but I will surface the fact that Corporate America runs the prison system and grossly profits from it. You’d be surprised to hear that beloved brands — like Victoria Secret or J.C. Penney — take advantage of inmate mass production. Ultimately for Corporate America, the more prisoners the merrier because these companies are paid for each headcount and every day that they are imprisoned.
By the end of Part 1, I hope that you have become more aware of how broken the system is… and why it is so broken (business, media, and politics). You have read some stories and examples that people have faced as a result of their skin colour — and hopefully — you recognize how wrong this is especially in 2020. In Part 2, I will build on what I took away from The Lunch Break: Share Black Voices and the degradation of saying “I don’t see colour” or #AllLivesMatter.
3 Things You Can Do Right Now
- Realize how ill-informed the general public — including yourself — is when it comes to understanding the history behind #BlackLivesMatter
- Educate yourself through research and awareness (check out linktr.ee/sgdmstt for resources) and watch documentaries like 13TH
- Provide your support while being safe, smart, and sensible to everything that is going on right now (donate, post on social media, protest, #BuyBlack, etc…)
Acknowledging that I am in the privileged position of being employed right now, I plan to donate to this cause at the end of the month. Instead of matching other donations, I will donate $5 on behalf of each person who shares this blog post up to $100 (for those who may not have the means to donate right now, but still want to do something). If you want to take part in this, please send a screenshot of your shared post to firstname.lastname@example.org by June 28, 2020 (I will be making the donation on June 29, 2020).