Be A Revolutionary Reader
The first month of 2017 is behind us, and oh what a month it was. It took me longer than I'd planned to read the first book for my Revolutionary Reading series. I found it especially hard to bring myself to read a book that would force me to face unpleasant realities and injustices, when I was already struggling to deal with what was happening in the news. But today is the beginning of Black History Month, and it seems like a good time to kick off the series with a book about the Movement for Black Lives.
I wanted to educate myself on this topic to be better equipped for conversations about race. I'd seen too many posts and memes online with the "cops kill more white people than black people" message. I wanted to engage in a conversation with the people who posted those things, but I didn't have the information to back up my argument.
What I liked most about the book is the fact that, even though Wesley Lowery is a journalist by profession, his narrative is not journalistic in style. He does so much more than just present the facts. Instead, Lowery tells the story of his personal experiences of the protests in Ferguson and the incidents that followed.
As a reporter for the Washington Post, Wesley Lowery went to Ferguson after the death of Michael Brown to cover the protests, and the beginning of what would become "Black Lives Matter," and later the Movement for Black Lives. After Ferguson, he went to Cleveland, North Charleston, Baltimore, and Charleston. In each city there was more anger, and another heartbroken family. Reading Lowery's accounts of each death and each assignment started to feel monotonous and tedious. Certainly, if just reading story after story about another black person killed by police feels tedious, it is far more so for the community that has to endure it over and over again.
Lowery received a Pulitzer Prize for his series on police shootings for the Washington Post. While he was traveling from city to city covering the shootings and the evolving Movement for Black Lives, Lowery discovered that there was no comprehensive database of police shootings in the United States, so he and his team decided to create one.
The database that the Washington Post created is available online for anyone to access. (Click here for the 2015 database. Click here for the 2016 database.) And here's where it gets tricky. Because I just know that someone's "I'm not racist, but..." cousin is immediately going to point out the fact that yes, police kill more white people than black people every year. That is a fact, but - there's a HUGE but here - that's not the most telling statistic. Whites make up about 64% of the population of the US. Only 13% of the US population are black. But 24% of the people killed by police in 2015 were black. So according to those numbers, black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers. For a more eloquent analysis of what these statistics mean, read Lowery's Washington Post piece: Aren’t more white people than black people killed by police? Yes, but no.
My main take-away from this book was an idea that I'd already understood before I read it. It is the concept that everyone who doesn't support the movement fails, or even refuses, to understand. The anger and frustration that led to the Ferguson riots, and ultimately the Black Lives Matter movement, did not stem from the death of one man, or even the many black lives lost to police shootings in the months and years that followed. The anger that erupted was a reaction to deep-rooted system of racism that black citizens experience every day in this country. I'm not talking about overt, burning crosses or muttered n-word racism. I'm talking about racism that is ingrained in every institution of our society, so subtle that some of us can't even see that it's there. It's the kind of racism that makes a white CEO pass over the resume of a black-sounding name without even realizing he's doing it. It's the kind of racism that makes news broadcasters talk about a black victim's criminal record but a white rapist's academic scholarship. And when white people respond with memes that say things like "This white guy was killed by cops but you don't see me looting because of it," or "All Lives Matter," it is because they could not begin to fathom a system that was built to keep them down, and live in constant denial that such a system exists.
That is precisely why I read this book. I wanted to be better-equipped to engage in conversations about the kind of racism and oppression that led to the Black Lives Matter movement. I want to be able to have an informed conversation with anyone who says "All Lives Matter," and I hope I will be able to make them understand why "Black Lives Matter" and "All Lives Matter" are not mutually exclusive ideas.
Who Should Read This Book:
- Anyone who wants to understand the motivation behind the Movement for Black Lives
- Anyone who has ever said "All Lives Matter"
- Anyone who has ever said "I'm not racist, but..."
- Anyone who has ever said "I can't be racist; I have a black friend."
- Anyone who does not, in fact, have a black friend
Next Month's Book
Our Revolution by Bernie Sanders. I already have this book on loan from my local library loaded on my e-reader!