Category: Civil Rights (page 1 of 12)

Obama’s Legacy

When my parents first moved from South Africa to the United States, they told me they had now opened up “a world of opportunities” for my brother and I. A phrase that just sounded like sweet nothings until November 4th, 2008 when for the first time, a man whose skin tone resembled my own, was elected to the highest office in the United States of America. I took for granted back then how impactful growing up in an America that was governed by the first black president would be, but now as his days are winding down, I am realizing just how much the legacy of Barack Obama and his beautiful family has inspired me to know the world of opportunities that my parents opened for me when they hauled us from South Africa to the United States.

Tears rolled down my eyes as I listened to our First Lady, Michelle Obama, condemn Donald Trump’s campaign slogan. “America is already great!!” she exclaimed, “In what other country could a man born to a Kenyan immigrant work his way to Harvard and then to Senate and now to the presidency!” Those words hit me like a train. As a child born to an immigrant family, I realized the doors that the Obama family had shown me were possible for me. Doors that my parents knew were there for me but were visualized in seeing President Obama sit at that oval office for 8 years.

The most formative years of my life were spent watching a family that looked like mine living in the White House. I saw the President of the United States, arguably the most powerful man in the world, STILL have to combat racism at every corner, a struggle that the black man knows all too well; but yet he still persevered and succeeded. Through the years, I’ve realized that if the President of the United States still has to fight racism, then I definitely will too. But just like President Obama, I will not let it stop me from my dream; and once I reach my dream, I will not let racism define the position that I’m in. I will do what I’m called to do in the best way that I can – just as President Obama has.

President Obama is not just inspiring to me because he is black. He is also the epitome of grace and elegance. As FLOTUS always says “when they go high, we go low” and they have embodied this through every racial slur thrown at them, every lie uttered about their family, every time their ability to lead is undermined, President Obama and his family respond with class and respect. I look up to both the POTUS and the FLOTUS so much, not only in giving me hopes about my career prospect, but also in the type of person I desire to be: A person of grace and elegance, just like the first family.

3 Reasons MLK Wasn’t Who You Think

With MLK Day last week, my Instagram and Twitter were filled with quotes from MLK and posts about how his peaceful legacy is the only right way to fight for our rights in this country. This is the same routine that we go through every year. Martin Luther King Jr. is often painted as the ideal activist, the peaceful contrast to the more radical Malcolm X. However, while MLK did give his “I Have a Dream Speech,” lead a March on Washington, and win a Nobel Peace Prize, here are three ways we are often wrong about Dr. King.

1. He was considered dangerous by the FBI.

Even though hailed as the example all protesters and those seeking change should look to today, Dr. King was considered dangerous by the FBI while leading marches, sit-ins, and boycotts in the U.S. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, MLK encourages tension, because it brings issues to the forefront, no longer allowing them to be ignored. In the book, The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., he says, “If peace means accepting second-class citizenship, I don’t want it. If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I don’t want it. If peace means being complacently adjusted to a deadening status quo, I don’t want peace. If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated and segregated, I don’t want peace.” Because of his stance, the organization called King “the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country,” validating their illegal surveillance of King as an issue of national security. Under FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI even went so far as sending a threatening letter to MLK, telling him, “you are done.” This letter, encouraging MLK to commit suicide, was also intended to discredit his work for racial equality.

2. He wasn’t actually against disobeying the law.

For those who say that protesters should follow the example of Dr. King, obeying the law so that the police will respect them, so that they won’t be attacked: you are wrong. Some of the demonstrations, like sit-ins, were against the law. The police showed up for them, just like they do today. Black people protesting has always been viewed as a threat, whether it’s peaceful or not. In fact, MLK was arrested 30 times over the course of his activism. His plan was to peacefully protest, which meant he did not attack those he was protesting against. However, that doesn’t mean he advocated always following the law. He is quoted as saying, “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

3. He didn’t only fight against segregation.

Although segregation and voting rights were often the focus of MLK’s activism, he did not ignore the cries for equality in other sectors. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized that the structural inequalities were not only for black people, but also other people of color and those of lower class status. He saw flaws in the capitalistic and materialistic system of the U.S. and worked closely with labor movements across the country to refocus on the rights of workers as human beings. We shouldn’t forget, when delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech, it was a part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Without an economic restructuring, he knew progress would be hard to achieve and maintain. Police brutality was also on King’s mind, when he was arrested on September 3, 1958. In an article from the New York Times, King’s is quoted, after being released on bond, saying that police tried to break his arm, choked him, and kicked him into a cell. In addition, he publicly spoke against the Vietnam War, knowing it would sever his relationship with President Johnson. In his speech entitled Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, MLK realized that it wasn’t just the United States’ injustices on its own soil that must be addressed, but also those overseas.

It is true that MLK championed a nonviolent approach to change, but activism has never been viewed as acceptable when coming from people of color. He was radical in his time, and we should never try to whitewash history to make Martin Luther King, Jr. palatable to the masses today. The pedestal that King is often placed on was constructed on what is considered safe for history. But that is not the end of his narrative. Standing up for rights of black people even if it meant breaking the law, contesting the economic system of the United States, and breaking ties with a president over a war are not the actions of someone considered a “safe” example. They are the actions of someone who actively believes in change and realizes that radical activism may be required to get there.

For further reading:

What an Uncensored Letter to MLK Reveals

The King Center

The Papers of Martin Luther King Jr.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Beyond Vietnam—A Time to Break Silence

The MLK History Forgot

Dr. King Jailed; Charges Beating

This article was edited for clarity at 12:37 p.m. on 1/30/17.

Know Your Rights: Dos and Don’ts

Last Thursday, The Black Student Movement and the Campus Y co-hosted an event offering non-official advice for what students should and should not do when interacting with the police.

The event featured a panel consisted of Ada Wilson-Suitt, who currently serves as Director of Inclusive Student Excellence at UNC and previously was a practicing attorney.  The panel also featured Michael Jones and Ariel Smallwood, both second year law students at the UNC School of Law and President and Vice President of Black Law Student Association respectively.

The panelists wanted to make it clear they are not experts, but still gave excellent advice. Here are some of their tips:

1) Download the ACLU app. The app has a built in recording device that records both visual and audio. The app also has a tab titled “Know Your Rights” which details essential rights one should know. Essentially this app is very resourceful/useful and you should definitely get it!

2) Warrants are important. A warrant is absolutely necessary to search anything, your residence or your house. Courts don’t like when police officers search without warrants and anything they find without a warrant isn’t admissible in court, aka it’s a waste of everyone’s time. Take time to read over the warrant and make sure that it has your address on it, not just a general location.

3) Keep communication short and simple. Keep the conversations with law enforcement brief, direct, and only answer questions asked of you. If you are in a situation in which you are  read your rights, the only words you should be saying are “I want to speak to my attorney”.  You don’t have to speak but you should comply.

4) Keep calm and know your rights.  If you are being pulled over and you feel it is unsafe to do so, it is in your rights to put on your hazards and call 911 to notify them that you are pulling over to a protected area. If you’re ever accused of being under the influence you can request a witness be present.

In most situations law enforcement will treat you right, but it is important to know your rights!

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