By Contributing Author Mary Guthrie for Zaftyg Magazine.
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One of the most memorable photos of the journalism of Black Lives Matter is one you have probably seen. A young Black woman stands in the middle of a street. She has the poise and presence of a prima ballerina. Her left fist is slightly extended, while her right hand protects her waist. The skirt of her summer dress floats gently in the breeze. She wears glasses, earrings, a necklace, a bracelet. There are thin straps of fabric crisscrossing her back, and the design of her black ballet flats echoes with more XX’s. Everything about the woman portrayed in the photo is strong. She is gentle in her magnificence.
Two cops in riot gear approach her gingerly, as if she were made of dynamite. Behind the cops is a literal phalanx, a wide row of cops dressed for battle.
Her name is Iesha Evans. She was arrested, of course. Evans, the mother of a five-year-old boy who came from New York to Baton Rouge to protest the murder of Alton Sterling, survived the protest. She will live forever through her photograph as a symbol, the meaning of which keeps changing.
Colonizers of Pain
Race does not exist – that’s just genetics, a scientific, and irrefutable fact.
Race is an old idea that was created centuries ago that still holds immeasurable power across histories and continents. Even now, it is the organizing idea of the United States. Our police are here every day and every night to remind us who is in charge, whose property is protected, who can smoke pot and who will go to prison.
I was watching Oprah’s interview with Meghan Markle and we were talking about the British Royal Family. My daughter asked why people thought the Royals were racist, and I said “Colonialism.”
And somehow it had never occurred to me until slightly before that moment that of course colonialism, the driving force behind the idea that “the sun never sets on the British Empire” was about pushing whiteness into the world, plundering resources and people to amass land and wealth. It had nothing to do with exploration and everything to do with exploitation.
I think the slightly more naïve me had always thought well, yes, countries that colonized other places wanted resources but also wanted to learn. Weren’t those British explorers basically good? Didn’t the conquistadors want to find new landscapes? Didn’t the missionaries want to bring God’s word?
It is difficult to unseat the ideas we are taught as children.
Because what is colonialism but a system? A design to conquer a land and subjugate its inhabitants? You could argue that colonialism is the purest distillation of capitalism.
Colonialists did not see the people of the lands they invaded as people, but rather commodities, resources to be reorganized. They stole people and turned them into slaves.
Systemic racism is the dark matter that has held our world together, the gravity we cannot see. Undoing it, it seems, would shatter our reality. That is why police show up in riot gear, backed by tanks, freely firing rubber bullets and tear gas at unarmed, peaceful protesters.
The framework of colonialism still engirds this country. If you look at generational wealth, the disparity between black families and white is shocking. Once you understand redlining, the systematic denial of property rights to non-white people, you can never look at a city the same way. Wealth has never been about working hard.
Any aspect of society you look at will betray a racist underpinning. Incarceration? Unemployment? Government surveillance? Voting rights? Drug arrests? Traffic stops?
Even, and especially, health care. The briefest survey of African American infant and maternal mortality is shocking and horrifying. Is it fair? No, not one bit.
I think about Iesha Evans when I read those statistics. She gave birth to her son around nine years ago.
Sons of Hell
We had plenty of notice about what was going to happen January 6, 2021. The previous occupant of the White House had telegraphed it. It was all over the internet, and not just the underground websites. Our intelligence agencies knew.
After the desperate protests last summer, the tanks on the streets of Washington, D.C. were returned to their giant garages outside of the city. They did not return on January 6. Even though the National Guard could have been called up to prevent a mob from smashing windows that were installed when Lincoln still lived, they were not.
And the only conclusion we can draw is that law enforcement knew what was coming and decided not to act. At the highest levels, some of the people who had pledged a grave oath to protect our government — did not.
This moment, following Derek Chauvin’s convictions for the murder of George Floyd, as we anxiously wait for the pandemic to end, while we try to absorb the compounding horror of Daunte Wright’s murder and Ma’Khia Bryant’s murder in the hour while we awaited the verdict, there is a sense that so much change is still required. The judge’s confirmation that Chauvin was found guilty on all three accounts, while a positive indication of accountability, does not constitute justice. It does not bring back the life of George Floyd that we all saw wrongfully taken. It does not undo the years of systemic racism that have brought this country to its knees. And it does not prevent such horrific events from occurring again. The judge has set a date of eight weeks for his sentencing, and so we wait. For true justice for all, the wait is longer still.
A New Earth
We must end this system of injustice and brutality. But how? First take responsibility. Understand compassion and empathy for your fellow human.
I think the answer lies in economics. What is colonialism but the desire to get rich? How many of our systems of oppression are there to protect the wealth of certain people?
I think we can change. Many people are starting to see the changes that are needed. And it is everyone’s responsibility, including mine and yours to stand up for what is fair and morally right.
There is also video of Iesha Evans at the 2017 protest in Baton Rouge. You can see that as the police approached her, she was not standing peacefully. Her arms were folded defiantly across her chest. She was bracing herself and protecting herself. She was not an angel ready to float to heaven, but a fierce, grounded, unarmed warrior. She left her little boy at home to bravely speak out against everything that is wrong about our country.
“I think I will be remembered as a peaceful protester who saw injustice going on and took a stand,” Iesha Evans said. “I’d like to be remembered as a revolutionary.”
By Contributing Author Mary Guthrie for Zaftyg Magazine.
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