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Why Protest? Deciphering the Language of the Unheard.

Updated: May 8, 2023

Hello readers,

In Lake County, Illinois, and places beyond, there has been a lot of noise made in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake and the riots that followed in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

While it led many people to pick sides and point fingers (again), the causes and effects of our society’s collective grief and anger over systemic racism seems cyclical and never-ending.

However, that is neither here nor there at this point. After all, it is the most contentious and worst of times in America right now. It is an election year. So, reader, please allow me to play devil’s advocate for a minute and ask some of the questions of the opposition.

Why do we protest?

It is 2020, not 1820. A lot of us know who we are and none of the POC I know (including myself) have ever been a slave. Why are people protesting, rioting and looting? Why are we so upset? Can’t we just forget the past? Can’t we all just get along?

Reader, this article, these protest marches, and riots were never about slavery.

There is a bigger game afoot. The incorrigibly naïve questioning of progressive liberals and hard lined conservative White Americans leads us all in circles to no where and right back to where we began, with another dead Black man, boy, girl or woman at the hands of the police. These were people; they were not just another hashtag or name to chant. They had lives and though it may seem almost trite and cliché to say them over and over and over again, they mattered to someone. This is the main point of contention that gets on my nerves when trying to discuss race with non-POC, the replays of our collective griefs.

Reader, there is nothing new under the sun in the land of opportunity. It was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said in a televised CBS interview in 1966 that a riot is the language of the unheard. He also said in the same interview that black power is at bottom a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro (WHAT MARTIN LUTHER KING REALLY THOUGHT ABOUT RIOTS, Lily Rothman, Again, these words were stated in 1966. It is now 2020.

And people are tired of living in a rerun. Black Power and Black Lives Matter are the same statement. In the 1960s, we stood up for ourselves and demanded respect and equal standing from a country whose law once said we were three-fifths human. We stood up and found pride within ourselves. Today, we want our humanity to be recognized, not just when we die. And more than that, we want accountability for the coverups, wrongful convictions, and all the police involved killings.

Black Lives Matter started seven years ago as a response to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his murderer George Zimmerman during a period that some in our media erroneously called post-racial America. We marched, we screamed, wrote poems, sang songs, emblazoned T-shirts and carried signs with that poor boy’s name. And even still, young POC continue to die. In Lake County, it was Darren Hanna and then it was Justice Howell. In Kentucky, it was Breonna Taylor. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, it was almost Jacob Blake (thank God he yet lives).

We live in terror!

We see ourselves in the masses of dead both spoken and unspoken. Reader, that is psychologically scarring the collective psyche of this entire nation, but it is especially wounding to Black and Brown people. We are tired of living in two different America’s.

We need for the idea of justice for all to match the dream. We do not need to walk around with blind faith in a system that was built on our backs; we need to do the work and make that system work for us. Everyone matters, if only to themselves. However, we POC need to matter to each other.

The past is the past, but the cycle of ennui and apathy inherent in our culture is a direct result of systemic racism, its effect on our lives, how we view each other, and ultimately how we view ourselves in American society. That is why we protest, that is why we can’t stop and that is why we won’t stop.

Jacqueline Nicole Harris


North Chicago Think Tank

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