On November 3, Cornell’s Africana House hosted Black Lives Matter activist Autumn Marie. Joined by Russel Rickford, an assistant professor in Cornell’s history department, Marie was here to energize a younger generation into starting a global movement against racism.
This was my first BLM event and I was excited to come into contact with the cause which so many other Americans my age have become involved in. Entering the room and seeing faces of all colors and ages served to improve my spirits. After a few minutes, Rickford took the podium and began speaking. However, as the event continued and Rickford transitioned into Marie, I found myself recoiling from the subject matter.
Rickford began moderately enough, asking as to the crowd’s involvement in previous BLM events, etc. However, I was in for a rude awakening when he subsequently began a tirade against the American political system. In his words, the justice system is ‘corrupt’, police brutality is a grim reality, Donald Trump is a ‘menace’ and a symbol of the pervasiveness of white supremacy, and racial terrorism is infused into the life of American minorities.
It was a breath of fresh air when Autumn Marie took the stage to discuss the less polarizing topics of her childhood and background in social activism. Rickford’s segment was eloquent and his spiritedness moving, but his disillusionment in America was startling. He was convinced that ‘the American system’ was bent on suppressing its non-white members. However, the tranquility of Marie’s introduction was only a precursor for a continuation of these ideas.
The scope of Rickford’s grievances against the US was fleshed out and expanded by Marie over the next hour. She termed what happened in Ferguson a righteous uprising. She preached a restorative justice system in American courts. She told us that BLM was a continuation of black resistance going as far back as Jamestown, when the first Africans set foot on what would become American soil. Once more, I found the passion of her speech powerful, but the content off-putting.
A Google search of the negative aspects of any movement as controversial as BLM would turn up hundreds of pieces of anecdotal evidence. So, I resolved to listen to Marie and create my own opinion of BLM based on this personal experience. Throughout the nearly 2-hour program, I was unable to associate with any of the opinions being expressed by Rickford and Marie. Without delving into the philosophical aspects of what was discussed, I simply found Rickford and Marie to be far more radical than I expected for members of a group as popular as BLM. Topics like abolishing the prison system, replacing police with militia-like groups of enforcers, finding a solution to micro-aggressions, etc. all served to distance the movement from me.
Black Lives Matter, in the words of Autumn Marie, is a ‘leaderful’ organization. Its members all bear the responsibility of leadership, allowing the grass-roots movement to function without any central authority or leader. This allows most anyone to get involved and bring their ideas to public discussion. It may have been chance that both Rickford and Marie hold significantly more radical views than my own, however, the entire event has left a sour taste in my mouth; I respect those who have joined BLM, but do not see a place for myself within it.