‘Motion and Area’: Civil Rights Memorial Heart releases new group information to assist combat racism in America

The predominantly white neighborhood I live in is lined with tall, moss-covered trees that began their rise to heaven before the Montgomery bus boycott kicked off the civil rights movement before it was legal for blacks like me to live there .

I spent a year in this quiet area until my sense of security was shouted down by a voice speaking to me from a short distance. Four days before the murder of George Floyd, while driving to my house, a white man I had never seen blurted out as I got out of my vehicle: “Do you live here?”

I replied, “The more relevant question is do you live here?”

Then I turned around and went on about my day. He blushed which I can only assume was showing his sense of authority to evacuate his body like an unexpected cough.

It took a few days for my turmoil over this incident to subside. I had a bittersweet ending to this brief encounter with myself that could have ended in exactly the same way as Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin or Rekia Boyd – blacks killed in chance encounters with the police or self-proclaimed “law enforcement agencies” exercising their right to be themselves move and occupy space.

Photo by AP Images / Julie Fletcher

The ongoing crisis of racism in America is why the Civil Rights Memorial Center (CRMC), where I work as Operations Coordinator, recently published the Community Guide Movement and Space: CRMC. The Guide is a public educational resource on current and historical restrictions on blacks’ right to move and occupy space. It is designed to motivate community groups, museum educators, high school students, and individuals committed to the journey of anti-racism.

The guide contains numerous tools to assist community members interested in having tough conversations about race and understanding the link between the repression of the Jim Crow era and the recent extrajudicial killings of blacks. It is also designed to help people fighting racism find out where they are on their personal anti-racist journey.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. – Photo by AP Images

The CRMC is an interpretive center operated by the Southern Poverty Law Center that contains interactive exhibits about civil rights martyrs, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was murdered 53 years ago that Sunday April 4th, I give tours and moderate difficult conversations about race, racism, social justice and of course the civil rights movement.

Visitors of all ages come to CRMC with urgent concerns and difficult questions about why injustices have happened and continue to happen in our country. Many feel overwhelmed when they begin to discover the depths of our nation’s imperfection, especially in the context of racial justice.

Some are firmly gripped by the feeling of having witnessed or lived through racial injustices; I have the same feeling when something I say during a tour or discussion resonates with an experience I would rather forget.

Life while black

The truth of being black and living in America is that once I have experienced this four word attack, I am not alone: ​​”Do you live here?” Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., a respected Harvard professor, was arrested for expressing outrage at having to identify himself as the owner of his own home. Amanda Gorman, celebrated graduate of the National Youth Poet Laureate and Harvard, was approached by a security officer and asked to demonstrate that she lived in the building she was approaching. Anita Williams-Wright, a black mother traveling on business, had to prove that she rented a room in a hotel because her children were swimming in a pool, while white people were swimming in the same pool without questioning.

Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman, the country’s first youth poet, read one of her poems during President Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021. Photo by AP Images / Kevin Dietsch

All of these events occurred in the 21st century, although they date back to the era of the Jim Crow restrictions on the black movement.

“Do you live here?” is a question – a simple one at that. Depending on the identity of the questioner and the identity of the person subject to the Inquisition, it could be a genuine expression of interest or a four-syllable indictment. As a black gay man who lives in the south, I am getting this question in a way that has the potential to destroy the surface tension of my quiet existence by pulling me deep into the murky waters of the American psyche that is full of ideas of Black crime, inferiority and unworthiness – in a word, anti-blackness.

James Baldwin

James Baldwin – Photo by AP Images / Julie Fletcher

James Baldwin once wrote that “people are trapped in history and history is trapped in them”. History, as taught, gives us a sense of who we are; it gives us a sense of purpose and perspective. The right to move freely and to occupy space with complete physical autonomy has been denied to people of color, especially black people, in the past.

While the highly competitive advances of the civil rights movement have given blacks legal authority and freedom to move around today, a brief moment of injustice can tear our joy, inner peace, physical autonomy, and our last breath away.

While anti-blackness isn’t unique to America, being black in America is part of the endemic reality – regardless of gender, gender, citizenship status, skin color, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, class, skill level, or formality education.

It is our duty as Americans to base our understanding of our nation’s history on the truth. The truth of our story undermines the principles of the American State of Emergency. In telling ourselves the truth, we are forced to deal with our imperfections. The double pandemics of COVID-19 and racism have made it nearly impossible to turn away from our collective truth as racist events and circumstances have replayed repeatedly on our televisions, computer screens, and social media accounts. The American gaze – when focused on black bodies – shows us the unjust reality of our Orwellian existence: all people are equal, but some people are treated as if they were more equal than others.

‘What do we do now?’

On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his assassination, King made the following statement regarding the intention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to “save the soul of America”:[We] reaffirmed the belief that America would never be free or saved from itself until the descendants of its slaves were completely freed from the shackles they still wear. “

Voter suppression, however, continues to shackle the potential of American democracy. Educational differences continue to affect the potential of American children. Mass incarceration continues to tie up 2.3 million Americans on any given day, and blacks and browns are over-represented in that population. Racism, white supremacy, prejudice, and surveillance continue to rivet the free and autonomous movement of blacks.

As we near the anniversary of the king’s assassination, we remember the paradoxes he portrayed: he was both an ombudsman for racial and economic justice and an enemy of the state; He was both monitored by the FBI and perceived worldwide as a harbinger of a better, fairer America. He has been viewed as both an object of contempt and the embodiment of all the good things America aspires to be. In America, people – regardless of race – should be able to move about and occupy space free from containment, restriction, or reprisals.

The question King asked in his last book still remains: where do we go from here: chaos or community? I would argue that we should read up on blacks’ historical and current relationship with movement and space.

The CRMC Community Guide is a resource for those of us who are committed to shifting the masterclass narratives of racial justice to focus on the perspectives and experiences of black and brown people. We believe that this type of change takes place for one person, group or community at a time.

Becoming a better, more inclusive America means understanding and moving away from our nation’s history.

Photo illustration from above from the SPLC

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