One year following momentous developments in the journey of the Black Lives Matter movement, Honeysuckle writers Maia McDonald and Kalyn Womack took to Instagram Live for a discussion on their impact and the issues now at the forefront for the Black community.
The conversation opened with McDonald and Womack recapping thoughts of how the movement rekindled and the difficulty of digesting the constant news stream of Black individuals murdered throughout the year. Before George Floyd’s death became sensationalized, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor were also killed by police in March of 2020. Their deaths — only days apart — left little to no room for the Black community to grieve by the time Floyd was murdered a few days following Taylor’s murder.
An overwhelming circulation of footage from each event swarmed social media, making it inescapable to watch the replaying of the killings. Black college students had difficulty not only transitioning to the COVID-19 quarantine but also communicating the need to step back from the curriculum under the intensity of the fight for Black lives.
“Faculty would try to address [the movement] in emails,” McDonald said, “but there was no tangible address of what was going on. Professors would say they understood and supported their Black students, but the movement didn’t end in the summer. There were more cases throughout the year, there were more conversations that continued to happen. There was really no mental rest as a student.”
The movement itself had its flaws that led to some misunderstandings about the origin of police brutality and how to understand the perspective of Black people during the moment. One example was #BlackoutTuesday on June 2, 2020, where hundreds of thousands of social media users stood in solidarity and support of Black lives by posting black squares on their feeds, often with the Black Lives Matter hashtag. Unfortunately, the collective action nudged away the crucial information activists and others were trying to spread to help people become knowledgeable on racism’s current state in America. Ways to become educated on racism, book lists, documentaries and ways to support grieving families were outshined by feeds full of black squares. Activist Brittany Packnett Cunningham was one who took initiative to explain what the “blackout” should have entailed.
According to Womack, Cunningham “gave an overview of [why] we were posting black squares. We are posting them because we need to create awareness and also promote education on what’s going on, why it’s been an issue, and why it’s been an ongoing issue. Putting #BlackLivesMatter in your Instagram bio isn’t enough. You need to find some hands-on ways that you can get involved to help.”
“So many [activists] were devastated that all of the work that they had been doing for the past few weeks at the time were covered because of those [incorrectly hashtagged] black squares,” said McDonald.
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Additionally, another issue that arose was the performativity of supporting Black lives without tangible ways of actually supporting the community and reform. Painting Black Lives Matter murals and dedicating street names to the deceased did not stop another slew of police officers from killing Elijah McClain, Ma’Khia Bryant and more over the next six months.
Within the Black community, there was a need for amplifying marginalized Black voices. Up to 30 Black trans women were murdered over the summer of 2020 and their stories got lost under the chants for George Floyd. This shone light on the way the movement began centralizing cis-gender heterosexual men as victims of police violence and negligence. Often, Black women and members of the LGBTQ+ community were and continue to be silenced. Oluwatoyin Salau, an emerging leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, was found dead on June 14, 2020 after disappearing on June 6. Prior to her disappearance, she had tweeted about being sexually assaulted by a Black man who had offered to give her a ride; that man, Aaron Glee Jr., would eventually be charged with Salau’s murder. Salau’s case is just one example of a Black woman who fought for the lives of Black men until onecut her life short.
“All of the people who are furthered marginalized [within their Blackness] by other identities — like being queer, like being trans, like being a woman — were completely ignored,” said McDonald. “You saw this with Breonna Taylor, you saw this with several Black trans women who lost their lives. I felt shame looking at my own community and seeing cisgendered Black people who were ignoring [Black victims] who weren’t cisgendered and heterosexual and ignoring their place in the movement. There is no way we can find liberation, freedom, or justice if our most vulnerable members are not also protected.”
“There’s hundreds of [young] Black girls missing right now,” said Womack. “Every time I log into Facebook there’s another flyer [about a missing Black girl] and it’s terrifying. It’s disheartening because even when Breonna died, there was no space between Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd to really process what just happened. After George died, it really did become a ‘protect Black men’ leaning movement. Of course we want to protect Black men, [but] we also have to protect Black women, Black trans individuals, Black people with disabilities, and all corners of the community.”
Black lives cannot matter if the phrase and the movement are selective on what type of Black person to protect. This also created conflict with other communities of color, such as the Asian community, as support for one another became transactional. Few Asian activists suggested they would support the Black Lives Matter movement in exchange for support behind #StopAsianHate.
Lastly, the conversation discussed the martyrdom thrown onto George Floyd, which can be recognized by the anniversary of his death. The White House and members of Congress honored Floyd as if his death was a voluntary sacrifice needed to awaken the country. Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the many others of Black people who were killed by the police did not choose to die in the name of activism. They were simply human beings.
“[George Floyd] didn’t go out one day and say, ‘I’m going to die for the Black community.’ It’s kind of unfair for us to hold his death up to that standard,” said Womack. “He didn’t ask for it. He’s not the symbol of the Black community, he’s an example of the flawed justice system. It’s about recognizing [the victims] as human beings and not celebritizing them, especially after they’ve passed.”
“People were deifying these [victims] in death in a way that was still dehumanizing,” said McDonald. “To deify someone, to make it seem like they were larger than life, to make it seem as if they made the ultimate sacrifice so we could all change is the most abhorrent thing that I can really think of. It is denying these people their humanity, it is denying that these people were normal people. They had their lives cut short with no say in what happened.”
On the other hand, the criminalization of these individuals caused many speculators to justify their death as a form of bad karma. America has a long history of deeming Black people as anything but worthy of life, liberty and happiness. Individuals in America are entitled to due process and a fair trial. Unfortunately, most Black people don’t even make it to the back of a cop car. “Criminal” or not, they are human beings deserving of life.
To help push the movement forward, you can participate in donating or giving mutual aid. There are a number of resources including books and documentaries to become educated on Black history and its effect on the current state of racism in the country. Also, getting involved with local organizers and councilmen will help bring reform at the grassroots level. There are plenty of ways to fight for Black lives, but there must also be determination to do it.
Watch the entire conversation on Honeysuckle Magazine’s Instagram here.