Woman as reason: Black women speak a new humanism

July 1, 2020

From the July-August 2020 issue of News & Letters

by Terry Moon

Since George Floyd’s murder, words come to life: “American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard.” The murders of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rekia Boyd, Nina Pop, of legions more, have, indeed, put American civilization on trial and again found it guilty of a deadly racism that has been fought for centuries.

YOUNG WOMEN IN THE LEAD

It is Black masses who are now leading this fight for full freedom, for a radically different world. It is they who first took to the streets and made it clear that this America, from this moment, will be different.

A demonstration in June 2020, one of many that took place in St.
Louis, Mo., after the murder of George Floyd by a white policeman. Photo by Hosea, St. Louis veteran.

Black women—many of them very young (see “Youth in Action,” July-August 2020 N&L)—have been at the heart of many of the rallies and marches, calling and planning them, leading them, speaking out at them, and treating those who have been injured by supposedly “non-lethal devices” that are in reality weapons wielded by many cops in a way to cause serious injuries and sometimes death. Women organized for food, water, masks and hand sanitizer to be handed out to protesters who needed them.

While the leadership of so many young women is new, women’s outsized participation has a revolutionary history, including the recent history of Lesbians, Trans Women, and others who started Black Lives Matter in 2013 and changed the world.

They, in turn, built on the shoulders of those in the Civil Rights Movement like Gloria Richardson and Ella Baker. The names, lives and struggles of Black women revolutionaries that go back to the time of slavery highlight what it means to struggle for freedom for over 400 years, over and over, setback after setback, and never, ever stop.

Even in Nashville, Tenn., which still protects its statue of Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest, six teenage girls as young as 14 organized a march of 15,000. Calling themselves Teens4Equality and using social media, they were helped by Black Lives Matter and others.

VOICES FROM THE MOVEMENT

Fifteen-year-old Zee Thomas told the crowd:

“As teens, we are tired of waking up and seeing another innocent person being slain in broad daylight. As teens, we are desensitized to death because we see videos of Black people being killed in broad daylight circulating on social media platforms. As teens, we feel like we cannot make a difference in this world, but we must.”

Seventeen-year-old Tiana Day, with help from her friends, organized and led thousands of people who marched across the greater San Francisco Bay Area to the Golden Gate Bridge. She said:

“It’s really important that the youth today reaches out because we know we are the generation that will bring change and we will be able to conquer racism….What is happening in society today is wrong. We know the justice system is flawed. We know racism still exists today after 400 years of oppression. And we know that this is the generation that will fix this together.”

‘THE RADICAL CHANGES I WANT…’

Georgetown University student Kayla Edwards Friedland, who has made it a point to demonstrate and to confront the police, said,

“The big, radical change that I want—the ruling class is not just going to hand it to us. The police state is not just going to hand it to us. It has to be taken. And this is about the basic right to live. But I believe what we’re doing is love.”

Nineteen-year-old Kayla Webb, writing of why she demonstrated in Louisville, Ky., wrote:

“It is the lack of job availability. It is the gentrification. It’s the cultural gaslighting of insisting we be peaceful and bite our tongues against monuments to community destruction in neighborhoods held financially hostage with rent hikes and foreclosures. It is the redlining, the history of blockbusting. It is the gerrymandering and disproportionate incarceration. It is the white men in nice suits with nice smiles like Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer who hold news conferences to apologize and kiss babies, but call the National Guard to silence civilians. It is the consequences paid for their roles in systemic oppression and violence. It’s the way nothing changes.”

A marcher in New York City, Peruvian-born 29-year-old Belinda Stahl, carrying a “THIS ENDS NOW” sign, explains how it is that people can continue to protest after being beaten by cops. She said,

“It’s even more unifying. You are all unarmed against people in riot gear. You’re just standing there and what do you have around you? You have people.”

Belinda Stahl’s answer to the question, “What do you have around you?” is profound: “You have people.” What is being expressed in these demonstrations that have been viciously attacked by police, Trump, and the Right in general, is not hatred but a humanism, all the more amazing because it is fighting the anti-humanism of racism and sexism.

This is not a movement that will be satisfied with Democratic electoral politics—which doesn’t mean that people won’t vote, since that’s been part of the freedom struggle too. It does mean that revolution is most certainly on the agenda, and the awareness of that—even when it is not articulated—is what scares the rulers and invigorates the rest of us who desire and fight for a new human society.

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