Black people in Baton Rouge have been on the racial battlefield for a long time. They resisted and revolted on sugar plantations. They fought in segregated military units. They joined forces to integrate everything from pools to schools to buses. More recently, Black people in Baton Rouge mobilized others to tackle the tough challenge that is the disproportionate use of excessive force against Black bodies after the July 2016 killing of Alton Sterling and live without the constant great of anti-Black violence in all forms.
Four years later, Black people in Baton Rouge have answered the call for solidarity with the family of beloved, father, brother, uncle, and friend, Mr. George Floyd, and with individuals and organizations that have finally come to the realization that enough is enough.
Enough is enough of blaming individuals for their own deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers or ordinary white citizens. It wasn’t what they were wearing or whether complied with commands in the long and growing lists of unnatural Black deaths and Black suffering. As was the case in the past and is still the case today, their greatest offense was being born in or moving to a nation that has historically and in contemporary times refused to see their humanity.
As horrifying and traumatic as it is to watch the killing of George Floyd and witness the paralysis of the bystanders who likely felt too powerless to intervene, what Black Baton Rouge saw was not beyond their comprehension. Black deaths and Black suffering have a long history in the city, parish, state, and nation. While Louisiana ranks at the bottom of many indicators of overall well being relative to other states and the District of Columbia, the situation is often far worse for Black people. It is not surprising that Black people are over-represented among Covid-19 related deaths. It is imperative that fight includes justice for George Floyd and others and relief from the daily Black misery that accompanies persistent racial inequities.
It is both great so many non-Black people are joining the most recent public struggle for racial justice in America but it is also sad because their presence often reflects an unwillingness to believe the testimony and lived experiences of Black people based on their own merits. As a society, we must believe Black people.
It is frustrating for many Black people who have been trying for years to draw attention to America’s racialized social structure and its impacts on Black and white people alike to finally see more of a focus placed on race. It is also hard to come to the realization that most changes will be largely symbolic and short-lived.
There will be time for asking all the tough questions like Why now? We have been trying to tell you. Why wouldn’t you listen? How could you do what you have done? Why should we trust you now?
What we can do is what Black people in Baton Rouge and the nation have always done. We never given up or given in. We make something out of nothing. We embrace the participation from other groups understanding that their involvement and attention to Black life matters might not belong.
We continue to live at a time when perceived gains for Black people are framed as losses for white people. The task before us is to move the arc a bit more toward justice. Our charge is to continue to disrupt systems until such a time that we can dismantle them.
Engagement in social justice issues takes many forms. It is hard work and comes with many risks but our children, neighbors, family members, colleagues, and friends are worth fighting for.