Monday, January 12, 2015

Selma in Ferguson

Last evening my daughters and I went to see the movie, Selma.

They chose to sit in the very front of the theatre so the opening scene sent my youngest ducking under cover of our coats. The comfy sofas of The Moolah Theatre could not let her sink as far away as she wanted, the impact felt so real to her.

She and her sister were enraptured throughout the movie and kept asking me, "Was that real, did he really say that? Did that really happen like that? Why are they still doing this to people?"

I purposed it in my life to raise socially conscious children as well as children who are aware of the truth of their history. I love our West Indian and West African ancestry. It is that backdrop that centers my children with a sense of self and pride in being able to point on a map where their family originated. It is in that sense of self that I also do not sugarcoat the horrific things that have happened to black people in these United States. How can I? We live in a west St. Louis suburb, twenty miles south of ground zero of this new movement for freedom.

When the movie ended, the girls were full of questions, they knew that their mother's namesake was not rendered in the film (The Sisters of Selma) and that the speeches given by the likeness of Dr. King were not his actual speeches since the King children sold those rights some time ago.  They began to see clearly the brutality of the police in Selma that I never allowed their young eyes to see in Ferguson.  They winced at the wielding of the billy clubs and cried over the police murder of unarmed black men.

My youngest, sitting in the backseat of the car on the way home, declared she was going to do some research on Selma to find out what really happened. Both wanted me to schedule some coffee time with my living namesake, Sr. Antona Ebo, so they can just be with the ninety-year-old tiny activist who has been a lifelong fighter for freedom.

We were on our way home form the movie during the same time the Hollywood Prom, the Golden Globe, was handing out awards. I understand they purposely overlooked the brilliance of the directress and instead did what mainstream American tends to do - reward black people for our musical abilities. I like the acceptance speech of John Legend and Common, they connected back to the many chants of this current movement, the urging of the young, and the quest that continues.

I woke up this morning realizing that there is nothing new under the sun. The same tactics employed back then were in place today. There was a bit of respectability politics, the bit of non-violent protest groups aligning with "militant" and student groups, the jockeying for voice and vision in the midst of a landscape that hates all of them. It reminded me of the need and importance for unity and strategy, connection and tactics. There was a brief moment that I thought perhaps now would be different.

Then I realized that there were 12 murdered in Paris by a terrorists bullet and the mainstream world forgot to even mention the bombing of the NAACP office just days earlier. The 2000 souls slaughtered by the same type of terrorists were completely ignored by the mainstream media because Nigeria is just so black and African. This same realization hit me as white activists keep trying to turn the movement to them - communists, environmentalists, disabled, gay and lesbian groups - without accepting the fact that this movement started by elevating black lives, by focusing on police brutality of black lives. Yes, those groups and issues - abortion, women, fair pay, medicaid expansion - are all worthy, but forget that black people need to stay focused on staying alive in a system determined to end our lives.

Selma, the movie, did a good job of showing the white supporters and clergy doing what they can best do -  lend resources and assistance, but stay out of the limelight, it is about black lives. It also showed that the power of the press, when it is right, can make a difference in elevating the suffering, the way the citizen journalists, streamers, and twitters did in bringing Ferguson to the world.

The final thought on the movie and the current impact is that it is a must-see. The young activists will see that they are not the only ones who have faced down fear and stood toe-to-toe to racist law enforcement to demand their rights as humans. They will see the value in a both and approach to the movement and maybe this time, led by their courage, we will win.

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