Black-only meetings about self-determination

3 x 2 black lives matter
A protester in Washington, D.C.

RECENTLY, Black Lives Matter Philly (BLM Philly) and our members were attacked online and the subject of various right-wing media articles about our black-centered meetings. Divisive news outlets such as Breitbart have become infamous for sensational articles that are often inaccurate and racist, such as the one they wrote about us. However, it's a dangerous time when credible news organizations, begin to follow suit. Let us be clear now about our stance, and why we will continue to uphold the importance of black-centered spaces in the fight for justice and the safety of those organizing for black liberation.

Black people have the right to self-determination. This philosophy is often associated with the teachings of Marcus Garvey, Kwame Ture (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael) and Malcolm X. Self-determination says that we don't need others to define what it means for us to be liberated. Historically, black people have organized in black-only spaces while also working alongside other organizations of different ethnic and racial backgrounds. For instance, the Rainbow Coalition, founded in 1968 by Black Panther Fred Hampton, brought together groups that organized among various ethnic and racial identities, including the Young Patriots and the Young Lords, who mobilized poor white people and Puerto Ricans, while working toward the shared goal of liberation for all people.

The truth is, many of the people who participated in the chaos regarding our meetings never had any intention of coming to a meeting in the first place, whether the option was open or not. They are not allies. They are mainly individuals who feel entitled to any and every space that exists because history has told them they have a right to go wherever they see fit. There is a huge difference between a systematic denial of a person's access to public spaces such as schools, hospitals and restaurants, and conducting a meeting as a black-centered space. Trying to compare not being able to attend a meeting to legal segregation and structural racism is a false dichotomy and the epitome of privilege. Invoking the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man who had conflicting feelings about integration in his own life, to condemn an organization for wanting to meet in peace is dishonest.

While some believe our society is post-racial, Donald Trump's ascension to power as president of the United States has shown that white supremacy is alive and well and that racists are more emboldened to commit violent crimes against black people. A few weeks ago, a white man drove from Baltimore to New York City and killed Timothy Caughman, saying he was on a mission to kill black men. Similarly, Dylann Roof was welcomed into a historically black church in South Carolina and, after praying with the congregants, proceeded to murder them without remorse.

This is, in part, why we are unapologetically black and believe that black-only spaces - where black people can come together to strategize, organize and heal without threat of violence and co-optation - is an integral part of black liberation.

Supporting black liberation doesn't start and end at one's ability to gain access to a certain space. It means working against systemic racism and injustice in your own workplaces, faith spaces and communities. Not being able to attend a BLM Philly meeting does not preclude anyone from supporting BLM Philly. No white person is "banned" from doing this work. We invite people from all races and backgrounds to join in the movement for black lives. Currently, we have hundreds of supporters, of all races, who help us in this mission by helping promote programs, provide financial support, attend actions and lend time and talent to support us. We also connect them with other organizing spaces that need and welcome their energies.

BLM Philly has always been, and will continue to be an organization that centers on black femme and queer people. We value the lives of all black bodies/people and will continue to engage in this work - unbothered, unashamed and unapologetic about how we choose to value our lives.

Maya James and C. McKinley are members of Black Lives Matter Philly. blacklivesmatterphilly@gmail.com.

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