In 2013, George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of an unarmed 17-year-old boy.
A heartbroken Alicia Garza took to Facebook to write a love letter to her dismayed friends reading “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter. Black lives matter.”
Her words resonated with other activists, who contacted her and organized a social media platform to spread #blacklivesmatter to a disenfranchised community. Alice Garza is a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Personally, I am tickled that BLM was born in the same place as the Grumpy Cat, Jobie the Dawg, and Kermit memes. Wild!
A lot of people are made uncomfortable by the #blacklivesmatter movement. Often, it is because they do not understand its purpose. Put simply, it is a distress call.
This is a group of people that are experiencing real hardship because of the color of their skin and the ongoing oppression of their community. Some say that it should be “all lives matter.”
But "all lives matter" is not a movement. It's a response to negate the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“All lives matter,” though well intentioned by some, effectively negates the voice of ANY subjugated group that asks for equality, be they Black Lives, Native American lives, Muslim lives, or the lives of brown folks in general.
But why is Black Lives Matter relevant to North Dakota? Despite its self-described “North Dakota Nice” demeanor, a population that boasts a 97% white citizenry, low crime rates, and bitter winters keeping the “riff-raff” out (exclaimed in an Ole voice, naturally), North Dakota has been publicized worldwide for its civil dissent in the Standing Rock protest, and the attempted takeover of Leith by white supremacists.
To say that North Dakota is a neutral land of Norwegian stoicism and cannot play host to any civil rights or geopolitical protesting is patently false. We currently rank #2 in the nation in the rate of hate crimes, and made national news for the arson of a Somali family’s café in Grand Forks.
The current political and social climate of North Dakota is not unlike that of the rest of the United States. We are at a crossroads, both as a state and as a country, and people are self-galvanizing to raise awareness of what is broken and who is suffering. Social media is an unprecedented valuable tool, getting this movement traction.
Certain areas across the country are becoming focal points for change. Fargo is undisputedly the center for culture and progress in North Dakota. We have a revitalized Downtown that plays host to world-class entertainment, dining and art and a quirky culture all our own.
All of these wonderful things are created by friendly, warm, and plucky folks who get things done. We hardly resemble the stereotype of a certain movie painting us as lowbrow cretins. We are a rare collective of self-aware, educated, humble and grateful people. Why should we not be North Dakota’s focal point of change?
The truth is that the #BlackLivesMatter movement makes people uncomfortable in a state where 1% of the population identifies as Black. It's easy for us North Dakotans to ignore race and therefore ignore racism if we never socially interact with black people. That makes it easier to say "all lives matter.”
The phrase “all lives matter” is nice sentiment, but it does not acknowledge that it was born of something scary and real that America is faced with today. It is easier to avoid the tough realization that racism exists all around us in ways that we might unknowingly contribute to. This is called systemic racism and it is insidious.
Racism and discrimination exist partly because of complacency, and serve to maintain the comfort of inherent privilege and power. As a predominantly white township, WE are the ones with the obligation to make a difference. It is WE who propel awareness and force change. We can educate our children and friends, and be allies of those who suffer prejudice in silence. WE will not turn away from our fellow Americans who suffer systemic oppression.
What does this #BlackLivesMatter billboard do for Fargo?
It isn’t going to magically change the minds of people that don’t want to listen to the message, but it WILL contribute to the glacial shift in how we recognize the struggles of others, how we treat our fellow humans.
The billboard is starting conversations, educating, triggering compassion. The momentum is going to shift prejudice in our community so we can become the loving, embracing city that we know we are.
Fargo must stand with the rest of America and say #BLACKLIVESMATTER!
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