On Bernie Sanders and Who Gets a Voice

While many are reflecting and debating the interruption of Bernie Sanders by Black Lives Matter, black men were shot in Ferguson, Missouri, marking the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown.

I find the discussion around Sanders fascinating – a microcosm of tensions involving race, class, gender, and age.

And while supporters of the protesters claim victory in Sander’s release of a statement on racial justice and detractors of the protesters point to Sanders’ long history organizing with SNCC and marching with Dr. Martin Luther King – all I can think is that black people will continue to die unless we can find some way to put an end to it. To radically reshape our society.

All I can think about is Christian Taylor, the 19-year-old football player who was shot and killed by a police trainee Friday morning.

The nerdy activist in me would love to have long debates about what strategies and tactics are most appropriate and effective, but at the same time…I hardly care. I just want to live in a world where black people aren’t dying at a disproportional rate.

And honestly, I don’t know how to get there.

It’s a fine academic exercise to study and evaluate the action, but as an ally in the movement towards racial justice – my role is to support not to evaluate.

It’s not my life on the line. It’s not my heart and soul that’s at risk. Who am I to tell a person of color what they should settle for?

With disruptive actions more common, there are some good questions being raised about bringing people into a movement versus potentially alienating them.

These are good questions, but – at least within the realm of racial justice – I’m not sure they are my questions to answer.

Activists of color are debating these questions as well. They are, and should be, the leaders of this work – it is their right to choose what strategies and tactics to employ. As an ally, I then have a simple choice – I can choose to support them or not.

There may be times when I’m welcomed to provide constructive criticism or strategic feedback, as a partner working towards the same goal. If not, that’s okay – there are other times in my life when my voice can be heard.

Because after all, really, this is not about me and its not about my agency.

It’s about black people dying and about black voices being oppressed.

And its about working together to change that, in the best ways we know how.


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