March For Our Lives and the gun control debate are leaving Black children behind
Non-Black activists are not listening to Black voices and it is killing us.
by Jamila Mitchell
If Black voices in a “movement” are auxiliary to everything, then it is not a “movement” that
intends to end anti-Blackness, and is certainly not meant for Black people.
Politics in America have proven that issues which affect predominantly Black people are not a priority, even in liberal social movements like March for Our Lives, because the solutions to the issues primarily impacting the lives and experiences of Black people are inherently offensive to the comfort of white people because they require us to address the violence of white supremacy.
Often, the solutions declared are replaced with more “pragmatic” (see: Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign or President Obama’s entire presidency) politics that give us things like police body cams instead of restorative justice. Body cams is the answer we get when the country ignores Black voices on police brutality–more recordings of murders that they are not held accountable for.
David Hogg is a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and one of the faces of the March For Our Lives campaign for better gun control to address the prevalence of school shootings in this country. He recently tweeted, “There is a lot of racial disparity in the way that this [shooting] is covered.”
He’s right. However, even he and his fellow activist peers of Parkland students are not listening or creating space for Black voices in their own work. Feeling underrepresented and overlooked by the coverage of the Parkland shooting and March for Our Lives, the Black students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas held their own press conference this week to combat that lack of visibility and address their concerns.
This came not long after the far more visible and celebrated Parkland students released their official manifesto which includes an egregious offense to restorative justice, especially for non-white students in public schools: Increase school security and provide “sufficient funds” for even more school resource officers.
Armed “security” personnel have been in public schools for nearly two decades at this point. As reported in a 2017 ACLU report, “Bullies In Blue: The Origins and Consequences of School Policing”, President Bill Clinton released COPS grants that provided funding to allow police departments and schools to have dedicated police officers policing students. Today, 24% of elementary schools and 42% of high schools have police officers according to the report. Within the population of schools with law enforcement, as of 2013, 51% of majority Black and Latinx schools had police officers monitoring students.
And, that’s a big problem.
It is no secret that Black students, whether in preschool, high school, or even college receive harsher punishment than non-Black students for the same violation by authorities and administration. It would probably be difficult to find any Black person who attended a public or PWI academic institution in this nation, including myself, who does not have an upsetting story of unjust and/or excessive discriminatory treatment.
We’ve routinely witnessed instances like the 2014 state murder of unarmed teenager Mike Brown. Darren Wilson, the officer who murdered Brown, described the boy’s face as looking like “a demon”. This kind of sentiment about Black boys and men is not an anomaly. In a 2009 study, 40% of white respondents said that they think “almost all” Black men are violent.
Black people do not want more police officers watching their children.
Yet, within this gun control movement, privileged non-Black influencers are ignoring the wisdom of Black influencers while also asking us to fill seats for their show. Black voices are often commoditized when non-Black people want numbers and to give the appearance of diversity, and that seems to be the case in this instance.
This isn’t new politics. Both the Democratic and Republican parties often hire Black professionals to attract Black voters, while white wealthy shareholders lead the agenda. In 2016, the Democratic Party added Black Lives Matter-inspired themes to their platform such as “criminal justice reform”. Simultaneously, they led a national “Center-Right” presidential campaign attempting to appeal to white voters. It’s a racist and insincere “diversity” tactic that intentionally squelches the full agenda of Black politics in favor of status quo establishment politics that is more palatable for white people, and thus maintains white supremacy.
Non-Black activists are not listening to Black voices and it is killing us. Diversity is not justice.
In the March For Our Lives, we are seeing Black bodies and even a few Black speakers among the numbers of those participating in the rallies for gun regulation across the country. Still, the narrative, the coverage, the social responses, and the policies throughout the liberal March For Our Lives politic is absent of the restorative solutions for which Black people have been advocating to create a better country for everyone.
This politic, and any politic, where Black people do not have needed and deserved visibility is a politic that will ultimately serve to maintain white supremacy and state violence.
Jamila Mitchell is a writer that comes from across the disciplines of business management, non-profit development, and community organizing. Educated in economics and business management at the Milwaukee School of Engineering Rader School of Business, Jamila has used her knowledge assets on neoclassical economics as an advocate and grant writer for various causes such as mental health treatment. She has worked on numerous political campaigns including the Fight For $15 pro-union national campaign, voter rights, and various President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.