“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.” -Assata Shakur.
While I am certainly not qualified to compose a proper tribute to Sandra Bland, I am qualified as a social psychologist to analyze some elements of #BlackLivesMatter in relation to Individual Evolution1. In order for either to impact societal change, it will be necessary for both to be revolutionary. In this case, revolution implies change. Whether it is gradual or immediate depends upon the need and the circumstances. Political minorities have been programmed into subservience for centuries via a political majority fueled by institutionalized racism utilizing propaganda promoting the idea that if they do what they are taught, what they are told, and what is demanded of them, they will receive fair treatment, equality, and integration with that political majority. In other words, if they play nice, institutionalized racism will eventually disappear. That has not happened, and it will never happen unless it is demanded as forcefully as possible and racism is deinstitutionalized. For most people, recent events contradict the myth of a peaceful transition. For some, Individual Evolution does not need to proceed according to a formula that progresses from a bureaucratic vision to an evolutionary power (the Head of logical thought through the Heart of desire to the Hand of action). And while individual evolution continues to evolve through a series of conference call classes anyone interested is welcome to attend, I will argue that it doesn’t necessarily need to follow this method to be successful.
A friend asked me to write this, even after I explained that I am not worthy to write a tribute to Sandra Bland, the woman who was recently murdered by a Texas police officer and made to appear as though she hanged herself in her jail cell. I know I am not worthy because Sandra Bland should not have been murdered. I know I am not worthy because the families of every person of colour, men and women that have left us too, too soon, before and after Michael Brown in recent months and, frankly, in the last few hundred years of murder in the employ of institutionalized slavery and racism, understand what is at stake better than I do. People of colour have died and continue to die needlessly, sacrificed to the bloodlust of a white patriarchy that doesn’t care, a white patriarchy that lashes out in fear and hatred with the knowledge that their control, their enslavement of everyone not like them, their reign, will end soon. Those that have been awake for centuries are still awake, and they have awakened the rest of us, though frankly we all should have been wide awake and alert for decades if not centuries, leaving institutionalized slavery, with all its permutations, in a weakened blob at the bottom of the dustbin of history.
In a Facebook response to a video of Bernie Sanders in Seattle where #BlackLivesMatter activists were accused of being rude for interrupting Sanders, I read a snarky response that indicated that their city is “much more civilized”. Frankly, if survival in spite of institutionalized racism and economic apartheid are perceived as rude and uncivilized behavior to a white political majority and to the people who posted to the above thread, #BlackLivesMatter needs to increase the dosage of incivility so that people of colour will be able to eventually reach a point where survival evolves into an ability to thrive just as well as the political majority. Fighting for the basic human right to thrive and fighting to individually and collectively evolve as they see fit is their right, their “inconsiderate” behavior towards the white political majority, notwithstanding. Positive and evolutionary change is not going to happen pacifically while white patriarchal state violence in the hands of a militarized police force continues to brutalize peaceful protesters. #BlackLivesMatter interrupted Bernie Sanders because he was not acknowledging the institutional racism in all of the economic inequality among many other facets of institutional racism inherent in the system. While Sanders is openly and honestly discussing these issues, now, no other candidate is.
Before I continue, and before someone interjects with the inane and seemingly ever-present, #AllLivesMatter, as a close friend recently did, let me quote briefly from a recent Reddit post that explains #BlackLivesMatter better than I have been able to (Please see the link in the references below to read the complete discussion).
Imagine that you’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don’t get any. So you say “I should get my fair share.” And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, “everyone should get their fair share.” Now, that’s a wonderful sentiment — indeed, everyone should, and that was kinda your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad’s smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn’t solve the problem that you still haven’t gotten any!
That’s the situation of the “black lives matter” movement. Culture, laws, the arts, religion, and everyone else repeatedly suggest that all lives should matter. Clearly, that message already abounds in our society. The problem is that, in practice, the world doesn’t work the (sic) way.2
Further, when you demand that marginalized groups adhere to the same laws without receiving the same treatment, that is bureaucratic. When you expect them not to be upset by that unfair treatment, that is bureaucratic injustice. When you expect them not to protest that unfair treatment, that is also bureaucratic injustice. When they finally protest and revolt after years, decades, and centuries of injustice, that is not rioting, that is protesting and righteous indignation. Notice the words above: rioting and protesting. The propaganda of institutional racism and sexism is embedded in the language, subtly, if you cannot see it and overtly, if you can see it. This must be acknowledged, rather than dismissed, in the same way that institutional racism must be acknowledged and not dismissed as an “overactive imagination” by the political majority. It must be changed as a part of an individual and collective evolution where one begins to structure a bureaucratic way of life into an evolutionary way of life, either as an individual or as a societal collective unit.
Here, Individual Evolution deserves a further explanation and breakdown as it relates to #BlackLivesMatter, at least in brief. With Head there is a reflection upon the view of bureaucracy and its elements towards an evolutionary vision of a way of life for the individual and society, essentially a sense of problem (the heart of the scientific method) about the world. For a civil rights movement, the first one and the current one, this is just as obvious as the current economic inequality that has existed and worsened for decades (and is as tied to institutional racism as mother to child). Transitioning from a scientistic method (the belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach) towards a belief in the importance of the scientific method has no use within #BlackLivesMatter while this step remains philosophical in nature and while more than 400 years has been given over to philosophical reflection on institutional racism, and such thought has not actively moved society towards necessary change. Moving from a dichotomous towards dichotomous-gradational-metaphorical life in language and moving from a bureaucratic towards an evolutionary way of life with a focus on the importance of language for solving problems are all vital in the ways that I have touched on, briefly above where propaganda influences the conscious and subconscious ways that we think and speak and the words we use to negatively refer to others who are different from us. This won’t change society over night; given the time it takes for languages to evolve. Each step of individual evolutionary process is important, though there are some elements that are not necessary for every individual or every group.
Heart begins by emphasizing negative emotions toward emphasizing positive emotions, moving from bureaucratic values toward democratic values, and a wide toward a narrow aspirations-fulfillment gap. Heart is the desire to change, and here it is a truly evolutionary process, a moving towards where an individual or a society wants or needs to be. This is vital for the United States to thrive. That has always been the hope and desire of the civil rights movement and of #BlackLivesMatter, but it has not been the reality because institutional racism and because the political majority has never listened. However, the fact remains that if honest and true equality is not established, this democratic experiment called the United States of America will end because of the selfishness and iniquity of this same political majority. So, analyzing these negative emotions and gradually moving from bureaucratic values towards democratic values is not necessarily vital for #BlackLivesMatter because this is what civil rights movements have fought for each time without complete success, but this step IS necessary for the larger society of the political majority that suppresses them to survive and thrive. Without de facto democracy and democratic values, the value of the hemp those democratic rights are written on is as worthless as the rights written into the constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the United States might as well dissolve in the same fashion and quit pretending.
As I have emphasized above, Head, Heart, and Hand are all necessary to individual and collective evolution, but not all elements of each step are vital for each individual, society, or movement. Each should take what is necessary and utilize the elements most necessary to evolve. Sometimes they act in such rapid succession to each other that it is difficult to determine where one ends and the other begins. Admittedly, with institutionalized racism and a resistant political majority, the evolution from Head through Heart to Hand to a just and equal society will take time. How to force the hand of the political majority to adapt what it should have adapted centuries ago, is open for discussion and a question for my strategist colleagues, but without action, the evolution will not even lay dormant. It will die. When the evolution does happen, because I am a stubborn but realistic optimist, Hand will help society, via #BlackLivesMatter and it’s associated allies, move from the addiction of institutional racism towards strategic inward-outward problem solving. It will transition from aggression toward egalitarian interaction and from bureaucratic toward evolutionary power.
Certainly, the first Civil Rights movement did not follow this formula to achieve the success it did, but they followed a plan that was nevertheless necessary to its success. If any civil rights movement (historically or currently) argued for and relied upon a codified individual evolution that depended upon waiting for each and every member of society to wake up and change, society would not have evolved, even as little as it has, and political minorities would still be writhing in even more violence and oppression than they do now. Instead, they didn’t wait. They acted because they understood instinctively that action is necessary for change, and change will never be initiated or accepted by any dominant power without a fight. Every successful revolution provides testimonial evidence to this fact.
In the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement was accomplished as collective evolution, with Head, Heart, and Hand acting in rapid succession or simultaneously. Within #BlackLivesMatter, if individual evolution and revolution are to immediately impact long-overdue progressive social change, collective evolution and revolution must be promoted and encouraged to thrive. The movement does not need self-reflective work to evolve from Head through Heart to Hand, and they don’t need me or anyone else to tell them how, where, or why to do it. Everyone is able to evolve individually, collectively, and evolutionarily in their own way. But if there is only one way, by its very nature, that one way will become bureaucratic and oppressive. Indeed, after more than four centuries of institutionalized racism, to transition from that to an individual evolution of head through heart to hand and hope that the political majority will evolve to accept everyone as an equal in deed, and without a struggle, is madness. Collective physical protest work (what the political majority’s news propaganda refers to as riots3 whenever the “news” media includes people of colour) is needed more than self-reflective work. For the oppressed, heart, in the form of hope that compliance with the political majority will engender understanding that people of colour and the political majority are in this together and should share equality and power as one human race, was always present, though the political majority still doesn’t believe this. But to believe that without Head and Hand, the first civil rights movement would not have succeeded, is absurd as it is to believe that #BlackLivesMatter has to follow the same pattern.
If the current civil rights movement is to succeed, it must transition from a collective and individual internal-external process to a collective revolutionary movement in the physical space, more than the first civil rights movement employed. As I emphasized earlier, it is not right for me to lead this movement because I am not a person of colour. This isn’t my space. However, I can assist as an intersectional feminist ally4 and an advisor if I am so welcomed or invited. Logically, it is in the best interest of everyone, no matter what their colour happens to be, to work together as equals in this human race where we all win, where everyone, no matter what their appearance or how they define themselves, works together as equals, rather than separating into superiors and inferiors because that has never benefited the human race, and it never will.
Reflection, naturally embedded within Individual Evolution, is necessary just as it is in every other aspect of our individual lives, but reflection alone will not result in progress unless it is united with collective reflection and action. #BlackLivesMatter is doing this via physical and virtual actions through social networks, coordinated by various individuals and connected branches of #BlackLivesMatter, and mutually publicized by various associated groups, but these actions are not enough to effect change beyond isolated bureaucratic disciplining, additional rules of law, and lawsuits that should not be necessary. These are helpful, but minimal, band-aids. While this deserves further discussion and analysis beyond this space, I will note here that collective reflection and analysis could center upon the successes of the first civil rights movement and the recent Occupy movement, not for leadership, not for guidance, but for ideas and yes, for failures, to study and determine what went right and what went wrong, including the employment of the general strike, used with mild success during the height of Occupy in Oakland and Los Angeles a few years ago.
Not everyone undergoes individual evolution in the same manner or at the same time. However when conditions rise to a level where necessity forces a group of people to act, they will sometimes join forces, and they will begin a collective (and individual) evolution that will engender an awareness for some in that group. Not everyone may define the elements of individual evolution or utilize the steps in exactly the same way, either. Again, the first civil rights movement did not adhere to a plan of collective evolution that found it necessary to transition from Head through Heart to Hand to achieve their success. Some of those steps occurred simultaneously and some occurred over four centuries that resulted in the rising protests of a group of people that realized “overnight” they would no longer tolerate institutionalized racism anymore. However, institutionalized racism continued to utilize the centuries-old state and media propaganda within everyone’s life and language and programmed people of colour to believe that if they followed the rules, the rulers, the political majority, would transform and accept them as equals. That propaganda machine is still in place, but because the state-sanctioned murders of young people of colour are increasingly obvious, #BlackLIvesMatter and other organizations have arisen to awaken people of colour to become observant and fight for their right to live and to thrive as human beings as they see fit. While reflection, analysis, and elements of Occupy and Individual Evolution may not offer the keys to success for this latest civil rights movement, they may provide a few touch points that could be utilized.
- individualevolution.org or contact Bernie Phillips at email@example.com or Andy Plotkin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- ELI5: Why is it so controversial when someone says “All Lives Matter” instead of “Black Lives Matter”? (2015, July 19). Retrieved September 13, 2015, from https://www.reddit.com/r/explainlikeimfive/comments/3du1qm/eli5_why_is_it_so_controversial_when_someone_says/
- Discussed in further detail at http://mikeperazzetti.com/2014/04/unintentional-sexism-the-influence-of-language-upon-media-propaganda-individuals-and-small-groups/
- Uwujaren, J., & Utt, J. (2015, January 11). Why Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional (And 3 Ways to Practice It). Retrieved September 20, 2015, from http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/why-our-feminism-must-be-intersectional/