In a marvelous documentary on Netflix titled “13th”, the filmmaker and director Ava Duvernay perfectly depicts how, despite the thirteenth amendment of the American constitutional bill that officially abolished slavery in 1864, white supremacist groups heavily committed to perpetuate the African-American subjugation. Because they couldn’t purchase and own them anymore, they had to find a way to work around the constitution to keep repressing them. Segregation lasted for another century: blacks were ‘free’ but with no rights, without opportunity and ‘legally enslaved’ by a racist system that, even when it employed them professionally, would underpay them so as to prevent them from saving, accessing education and owning a piece of land or even a house, not to mention voting.
This continued until 1964, when finally the Civil Rights Act declared equal rights and the end of racial segregation. It took more adjustments in the following years to integrate the right to vote, housing, education and employment, but equity seemed to be ratified once and for all. It only seemed as such, because white supremacists actually weren’t ready to give up; they needed to find a way to continue their domination.
The system successfully kept defining them as criminals, rapists and a dangerous threat to white society, and through a media barrage, they kept imposing the idea that security had to be reinforced against the overflow of criminality brought about by the liberation and equalization of black slaves. From then on, the escalation of measures to strengthen police forces – supported, validated and fulfilled by governments and institutions – guaranteed the continuation of torture, humiliation, murder and discrimination towards African-Americans, who, from a socio-economic point of view, remain greatly disadvantaged in terms of opportunity. The American dream doesn’t really work; we can’t say that it is based on merit until it’s accessible to everybody.
The numbers of injustices are huge and shameful. George Floyd’s murder is only the latest case but apparently it was the last straw that opened up Pandora’s box (allow me to mix metaphors). The systemic racial discrimination behind the black persecutions has been uncovered, we hope with no going back, and the BLM movement poured into the streets of all 50 States (and around the world). Supported by all ethnicities (let’s stop talking about races) peaceful protesters have been crying out for more than two weeks against not only police brutality, but the whole corrupt system whose existence Trump and the Republicans keep denying, yet at the same time keep defending strongly. It’s time to say enough is enough.
It’s all happening during a pandemic, which could jeopardize the flow of the demonstration, but people are more present than ever; protests have reached massive numbers and they represent the biggest participation ever. What’s more, the social era–although strongly reprehensible on some levels–is actually allowing the spread of images, truth, opinions and contacts that could really make the change possible. Democracy is participation, and it is a fact that often ‘who says what’ is far more important than the content of the message itself. That’s why it has never been so essential that noted figures and celebrities overtly take the right side. And in fact, a lot of stars are showing their faces both on social media and with their presence on the streets.
A week ago, to celebrate the Commencement, Barack and Michelle Obama talked to the Class of 2020 through a video message of more than 4 hours aired on YouTube, in which they thanked the graduates for dealing with this important phase of their lives, shut up in their homes because of the pandemic – giving up their graduation ceremony and prom – and they also encouraged them to take advantage of this moment and citing George Floyd’s case, they stressed the importance of participating.
Former President Obama said:
“As scary and uncertain as these times may be, they are also a wake-up call and they’re an incredible opportunity for your generation because you don’t have to accept what was considered normal before. You don’t have to accept the world as it is. You can make it into the world as it should be and could be. You can create a new normal, one that is fairer and gives everybody opportunity and treats everyone equally and builds bridges between people instead of dividing them.”
The Obamas are the promoters of the message but many celebrities joined them and, with the pretext of soothing the disappointment of not being able to celebrate, they congratulated the graduates without forgetting to send a clear message to support BLM.
Alicia Keys opened the speeches:
“I know so many of you are not thinking about your time at school, you’re thinking about what’s happening right now in the present. You’re thinking about marching and protesting and making sure that your voices are heard in a time that we cannot be silent… You’re taking your heartbreak and your outrage and you’re putting into action and you are showing that your generation is the one that’s going to heal this… The pain we’re experiencing right now, it’s not new. But it feels different this time, right? I think for the first time, all of us, no matter what we look like or where we’re from, we can see so clearly what injustice looks like and now we all can choose how to respond…
But change only happens if all of us educate ourselves, if we hold each other accountable, when we register to vote in November, when all of us recognize our bias and we find ways to empathize with people that look different from us or seem different from us on the surface. That’s the key right there,” she said. “So, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for being the inspiration, for inspiring the world to see our collective humanity”.
Lady Gaga recorded her message before Floyd’s murder and the subsequent activist movement so she decided to re-record it:
“You are watching what is a pivotal moment in this [country’s] evolution… change will happen and it will be for the better…We are being invited to challenge that system… I believe in my heart that the people who are going to make this change happen are listening to this speech right now. You are the seeds that will grow into a new and different forest that is far more beautiful”.
The web is full of artists engaged in social criticism.
Director Spike Lee (Do The Right Thing, Malcom X), always a supporter of BLM, just released a short movie, Three Brothers, in which he edited scenes from Do The Right Thing with original footage of the arrest of George Floyd and Eric Garner – victim in 2014 – to underline that nothing has changed since his 1989 movie.
“How can people not understand why people are acting the way they are? … This is not new, we saw with the riots in the 60’s, the assassination of Dr. King, every time something jumps off and we don’t get our justice, people are reacting the way they do to be heard … We are seeing this again and again and again … This is the thing: the killing of black bodies, that is what this country is built upon.”
Tom Morello, guitarist of Rage Against The Machine and a graduate in Political Science at Harvard (a hilarious old exchange, brought back on Twitter in these days, between him and a heckler who didn’t consider Morello able to talk about politics because he is just a musician) tweets comments, information and statements every day and started a program titled One Man Revolution on Sirius XM Lithium radio station in which he talks, often with his 90 year- old-plus activist mom, about politics, plays rebel music and invites people to write revolutionary songs and poems to be transmitted on air.
Jane Fonda looks like she never stopped protesting since the ’70’s. It doesn’t matter if they keep arresting her, she still goes out in the streets and protests against war, global warming and now, she couldn’t miss police brutality and racism:
“Because we’re white, we have had privilege… Even the poorest of us have had privilege. And we need to recognize that, and we have to understand what it is that keeps racism in place — the policies, redlining, banking policies, mortgage policies. All of the things that are really making it very, very difficult for black people to lift themselves up. The policies have to be changed, and then white people have to understand the history that has led to this and we have to try to change within ourselves… When Donald Trump was elected the Band-aid was torn off and people could see very blatantly the racism in the country that’s always been there, but it was revealed in a new and more robust way to us and was encouraged by this administration… I realized I didn’t’t understand enough about the history of racism, about slavery and reconstruction, Jim Crow and the New Jim Crow, so for the last three years I’ve very intentionally begun studying.”
The list of celebrities is very long: Bansky, Emma Watson, Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr.’s son Mark, Pink, Ben Affleck, Jamie Foxx, Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Nick Cannon, John Cusack, Fiona Apple, Camila Cabello, Paris Jackson, John Legend, Ellen DeGeneres, Michael Jordan, Michael Moore and many others.
An endless lineup of Very Important People adds up to the thousands and thousands of voices on the streets that scream No Justice No Peace, I Can’t Breathe, Hands Up Don’t Shoot. They are participating in every possible way: with videos, messages on social media, interviews, donations and literally on the streets with signs, microphones, megaphones and crutches in Madonna’s case, who protested in London with the BLM movement and who posted on Instagram:
“Watching this Cop suffocate George Floyd with his knee on his neck, handcuffed and helpless, crying for his life with his face in the street is the most sickening, heartbreaking thing I’ve seen in a long time. This Officer knew he was being filmed and murdered him with arrogance and pride. This has to stop!! Until we can overcome racism in America— no one should be allowed to carry a gun. Most of all cops. God Bless you George Floyd, I’m so sorry for you and your family. And all the senseless killings that have gone before you”.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Revolution has started. And forgive me if I am being unpopular for not relying on hope, which by definition is ‘a confident wait usually delusive’: instead of hoping that it will last and win… LET’S MAKE IT LAST! LET’S MAKE IT WIN! It’s on us.