Oprah is wrong. I respect the hell out her, her business and her desire to connect the world to their best lives—but she’s wrong. Her recent statements regarding Ferguson protestors and their “lack of leadership” disappointed me and set Twitter ablaze.
While promoting the critically acclaimed film ‘Selma’, which she is a producer and costar, she offered her critique on the current #BlackLivesMatter protestors:
“What I’m looking for is some kind of leadership to come out of this [Ferguson] to say, ‘This is what we want. This is what has to change, and these are the steps that we need to take to make these changes, and this is what we’re willing to do to get it.’ “
To this point, Oprah wants today’s protestors to follow the blueprint laid out in the film ‘Selma’ and seek out a “leader” and legislation. She and many like her, who were reared in the 1965 Civil Rights era, don’t see the value in what the millennial protestors have been able to accomplish—namely bringing national attention to the criminalization of blackness.
What’s funny is that there are more similarities between these two groups than differences. Both utilized the tools they had at their disposal—Selma used TV, newspapers and marches while #BlackLivesMatter uses Twitter, die-ins and blogs.
If it wasn’t for the ferocity of Black Twitter the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown wouldn’t have made the cable news cycle, trended in social media and become a cover story—which is exactly what Dr. King and his strategic team worked to do—make headlines.
What Oprah is asking for is “what comes next?” Well, that’s a bit more complicated than what we saw in Selma fifty years ago.
21st Century racism has gone underground. It’s no longer fashionable and legal (thanks to hate crime legislation) to be an overt ‘practicing’ racist. Consequently, just because we’re not drinking out of separate water fountains; poll tests are (somewhat) a thing of the past; and black people can own homes (well, except those that fell prey to credit lenders) doesn’t mean racism isn’t a problem. In fact, today’s forms of implicit “dog whistle” racism is just as dangerous, because of America’s desire to be a Raven Symone-esque “colorless society”.
What the #BlackLivesMatter protestors are wondering is how can we be a “colorless society” when all that connects the past and present victims of police and/or vigilante brutality are their blackness?
Through her film Selma, Director Ava Duvernay, presented us with a not-to- distant American history lesson. Reminding us what a committed mass can do to create change. Which is exactly what #BlackLivesMatter is doing—making America see black people as just that—people. As a man, a woman and as a child first, before they shoot.
As I watched ‘Selma’ last weekend I was in awe not only of Dr. King but also of the strategic tactics instituted by the various organizers and protestors that helped to make Selma “ground zero” for voting rights. I was inspired by their brilliance in using the media as a tool to showcase the brutality that African Americans faced as they tried to secure their basic civil rights and self determine their personhood.
#BlackLivesMatter is also looking for legislation around body cameras, special prosecutors etc. but unlike the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration, President Barack Obama no longer has a majority in congress. And as Jenee Desmond Harris wrote at Vox: “Today, Republicans hold Congress. So even if protestors did what Oprah is “looking for” and oriented the movement entirely toward legislative deliverables — even if they came together and focused on, say, an Erasing Implicit Bias Act, it might satisfy Winfrey’s civil rights nostalgia, but it would never make it to President Obama’s desk”.
#BlackLivesMatter protestors don’t have time to be nostalgic—because they are too busy hosting die-ins, Twitter rallies, marches, media campaigns and more to raise America’s consciousness around the reality that the election of a Black President didn’t absolve America from its dirty little secret—that racism is alive and well.
We can only lead our “best lives” when we recognize that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, Black Twitter is well aware of this fact. And Oprah, who for decades has challenged us all to listen to the “whispers of our sub-conscious” before it hits us like a brick, should know that waiting to be saved is no longer an option—our best option is ourselves.