An Eye for an Eye: The Danger in Comparing Civil Rights Struggles

Please don’t you compare me. I’m not none of them.
— David Darnell Brown/Young Buck

I remember learning much more about the Holocaust than I had ever learned about slavery. Throughout my academic matriculation, I found that The Holocaust was written into every social studies/history book I had ever used.


And, often times those same texts attempted to tidy slavery up into a few brief sentences, if they even bothered to go into it at all. I didn't read a slave narrative until I majored in African-American History at Spelman, but I had been assigned to read the Diary of Anne Frank numerous times. 


I remember discussions between Blacks and Jews about it. 


Some argued that blacks are still discriminated, others contested with proof of anti-semitism groups. Some argued that centuries of slavery put blacks at serious disadvantages in society, others contested that Jews were slaves too. 


I have realized taking an eye for an eye in the cases of weighing injustices never works. No good or solidarity would ever come through comparing these stains on human history. What good is it really to compare two evil systems for the sake of labeling one crueler than the other? The point is nobody should have to choose which history should be taught, but that means that all history should be in the curriculum (I digress). 


I got this feeling that some people thought they had to choose between the current Black Lives Matter Movement/black civil rights and gay rights when the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage this summer. People felt as though this legislation to protect gays' marriage rights threatened the Black Lives Matter Movement and progress toward fairer policing in our neighborhoods. I think the memes below put things into context. 


I found memes such as the one of above to be catchy rhetoric, but not very thoughtful. When you think about it, there are many lesbian and gay black people who were positively impacted by gaining the right to marry, and still feel the ramifications of being black in America.


I don't think that the work to "legalize blackness in America," is done. But does work in other movements take away from those efforts?


Just because gays receive the right to marry, does not necessarily mean that they're subsequently protected from bullying, violence, and police brutality. I truly believed that this decision was their moment to celebrate years of activism work for this outcome, and that their progress did not detract from any other moment.


This was my stance incontestably until I saw the the social media trend #GayistheNewBlack and the meme below particularly contributed to my affliction. 



The photograph on the left is from the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, where two African-American athletes raised their gloved hands in Black Power fists during the National Anthem. Tommie Smith and John Carlos received their medals wearing only black socks on their feet to silently protest and acknowledge black poverty. The two faced a lot of criticism for their political stance, and were booed by the crowd after the National Anthem ended. Smith and Carlos were making a stand during the Civil Rights movement for human rights. 


The drawing on the right is a depiction of something that has no historical basis. The narration above it criticizes the drawing for whitening a moment in history. It's interesting to take consideration who this meme accuses of "whiting out history." Is it whomever made the drawing? Or, is it those affected by the gay marriage decision? The image below suggests that some blame the latter for "whitening" civil rights issues. 



I was saddened that people felt they had to make a choice between civil rights demands--between "that gay marriage" and black civil rights issues. In this instance, the Charleston 9 shooting had just happened, and this meme suggests that America had been distracted by the Supreme Court ruling. It addressed this feeling that gay marriage rights jeopardized the urgency of achieving justice for some of the resurfacing issues in the black community. 


Maybe some of the pushback stemmed from homophobia. But maybe, at the core, some black people were frustrated to witness the Supreme Court deliberate and decide on gay marriage rights in our lifetime. Meanwhile, millennials have yet to witness any national legislation further protect black people from hatefulness. 


I was also saddened that #GayistheNewBlack and the hypothetical drawing of the gay men at the Olympics, trivialized blackness. 


Each movement and each narrative has its place. But when one gets more press and perhaps more precedence judicially, then things can get sticky. But, when everyone has a fair share of pie, there is no need to take an eye for an eye. 


ATTN: History lesson. This situation as a whole reminded me a lot of how Frederick Douglass, a supporter of the women's suffrage movement, argued that voting rights for black men should come first because of mass prejudice and violence against them. Really, efforts for both causes could've happened simultaneously, but Douglass felt that his cause took precedence and could be jeopardized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony's mission to get women's right to vote. 



Keepin' it kolloquial, one post at a time.