The Oakland-based organizer and activist Alicia Garza, who is also the originator of the Black Lives Matter rallying cry and one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter Network, thinks Black people have a lot to talk about outside of police violence. In this interview, we discussed with Garza what she believed is missing from the movement, how it is portrayed in the media, and the various points of entry for activism–from politics to protest.
BYP: What is the role of Black feminism in the Black Lives Matter movement? The Black Lives Matter Website highlights the role of Black women, including yourself, in creating BLM, and so I would like to know how this informs BLM as a network?
Garza: To me, the role of black feminism in the BLM Network…it’s one of our central principles. I wrote a piece in the feminist wire 2014, that was called “A Herstory of Black Lives Matter.” The original title was “Erasing the Black from Black Lives Matter.” What we were finding is that when Black Lives Matter was catching some kind of currency, people were substituting “Black” for all kinds of stuff. What does it mean when you take “Black” out, and insert something else? Is that a replication of colonialism? I think the thing that was really poignant to us was that this was our baby.
Garza: It was fascinating to see how men, in particular, would shift the conversation. I think it was an opportunity for us, to clarify what the politics were behind that statement. What we talked about and rooted it in was that, as Black women in this movement, our experiences have been varied. While we’re fighting for liberation, the role of Black women, cis and trans, certainly was not valued. Patrisse [Cullors] and I have lots of stories about being in meetings, in a room full of men, even if there is other women in the room, the voices of women were not centralized, they weren’t even considered.
Garza: This is historical. All of the great movements that we lift up, we lift up men. Even when people in the mainstream media talk about Black Lives Matter, they talk about it as trying to solve problem of the police killings of Black men, and we never said that. So for me, I think the role of Black feminism in this network, and in Black Lives Matter as we conceptualized it, was about what I would call holistic liberation. We’re not here just fighting for Black men. We acknowledge for us to get free as Black people, we can’t leave anybody behind and that has to be the innovation in terms of this generation’s movement. We have to learn from movements prior to us that, quite frankly, could not be sustained because of the question of the disenfranchisement of women, because of the question of patriarchy. So the role here is very much about complicating about how we understand liberation.
BYP: How do you feel when the movement is painted as primarily organizing around black males?
Garza: That’s bullshit! So, part of what I feel like we need to get better at is getting very precise about the ways state sanctioned violence impacts black communities. Black men, cis and trans, and black women, cis and trans, can have different experiences tied to the same thing under the same system. So Black men are disproportionately killed by police. That’s true. But Black men are not the only ones who experience state violence, it just means that that’s the specific manifestation about how state violence impacts Black men.
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