Alicia Garza wants Americans to understand that racism is about much more than people being mean to each other.
The following is a condensed and edited interview with Alicia Garza, co-founder, Black Lives Matter.
People often trace Black Lives Matter to three years ago. The night George Zimmerman was acquitted after killing Trayvon Martin, you went on Facebook and wrote …
A rant is what I called it, but it ended up being a love letter to black people. There was so much being said either about “we already knew that was going to happen,” or about what black folks need to do to prevent ourselves from being murdered—“just vote,” “just get a better education. …” None of that deals with how vigilantes are grown and supported by laws, or how to eradicate systemic racism.
So I wrote a love letter, ending with, “Black people, I love you. I love us. We matter. Our lives matter.” Patrisse Cullors put a hashtag in front of it. And we started talking about building and organizing to really be a magnet for people who wanted to figure out how to fight back. And our sister Opal Tometi helped us build the platforms online to connect people. All three of us were organizers. So part of what we asked our network to do was to use “Black Lives Matter” in their work if it was helpful. Folks did.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about Black Lives Matter?
That we only care about black people. We are clear that all lives matter, but we live in a world where that’s not actually happening in practice. So if we want to get to the place where all lives matter, then we have to make sure that black lives matter, too.
In conversations about racism in American culture or politics, the focus is often on racism as a personal defect or an attitude. Does that make it harder to take on systemic racism?
It’s terrible. The way that people understand racism in this country is about interpersonal dynamics, like racism is people being mean to each other. That sucks, but if that’s all it was, let’s just sing Kumbayatogether.
But racism is a set of interlocking dynamics: One in three black men can expect to spend some time incarcerated; women are the fastest-growing population in prisons and jails—and 30 percent are black; black folks are on the low-earning end of the economy. Lots of people who are great people are implementing and protecting systems, practices, structures that fundamentally exclude, disenfranchise, marginalize black people.
Has Hillary Clinton done or said anything as a presidential candidate that’s surprised you?
Early on, she would say, “Yes, black lives matter,” but she wouldn’t acknowledge her role in processes that fundamentally showed black lives did not matter. She says that she is for economic justice, but she doesn’t support $15 an hour as the minimum wage.
After Bill Clinton told black protesters, “You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter,” you wrote, “My back is tired of being the path to the White House.”
I was angry about that for about a month—seriously, like every single day. It’s reprehensible for him to defend the impacts his policies have had on our communities. The Clintons use black people for votes, but then don’t do anything for black communities after they’re elected. They use us for photo ops.
So where does that leave you on a Clinton-Trump election?
I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that we are not led by Donald Trump. That being said, there’s lots to be engaged in at the state level, the local level. We’re going to continue to push. We’re not indebted to or endeared to the Democratic Party.
SOURCE: Interview by Josh Eidelson