At Least One Leader Won't Be at Obama's Black Activist Meeting
When Kendrick Lamar took the stage at the Grammy’s on Monday for his Black Lives Matter-themed performance, he set the show on fire. The image of Kendrick in shackles joined Beyoncé’s fiercely unapologetic call to arms for black female empowerment in “Formation,” and Taina Asili’s BLM and prison justice anthem “Freedom,” providing the soundtrack for a movement that has become entrenched in the political sphere. It seems like pop culture is becoming increasingly reflective of Black Lives Matter; it may seem more trivial than protest or legal action, but it shows how major the movement has become. In such a colossally important election year, civil rights issues have gone from the streets to the ballot boxes as activists within the movement emerge to take on the status quo. Now, some of those leaders are taking their struggles straight to the White House.
President Obama plans to hold an unprecedented intergenerational meeting today with young and old faces of black rights activism in honor of Black History Month. More than a dozen leaders have been invited, including National Action Network’s Al Sharpton; NAACP President Cornell Brooks; National Urban League President Marc Morial; DeRay McKesson, a co-founder of We the Protesters; and Deshaunya Ware, of the University of Missouri protest group Concerned Student 1950. The meeting is being hyped as a first-of-its-kind gathering. However, at least one of the leaders invited by Obama will not be there. Aislinn Pulley, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Chicago, released an open letter stating her refusal to come and even went as far as to call the meeting a sham.
“What was arranged was basically a photo opportunity and a 90-second sound bite for the president. I could not, with any integrity, participate in such a sham that would only serve to legitimize the false narrative that the government is working to end police brutality and the institutional racism that fuels it.”
As presidential hopefuls struggle to engage with communities of color (and win their vote) and black artists raise their voices in solidarity, Aislinn’s words add a new level of criticism to the relationship between politics and civil rights activism. It isn’t enough to make broad statements and give out empty promises anymore. As Bernie Sanders falls under criticism for years of “benign neglect” to communities of color in Vermont and Bill Clinton tells a crowd in Memphis that “we are all mixed race,” it’s clear that there is a lot of work to do. The conversation on black lives cannot remain just that—a conversation. If Beyoncé, Kendrick, and Aislinn have taught us anything, it’s that actions speak louder than words.
Stay tuned to Milk for more political activism.
Image via LA Times.