One key focus of Black History month is the success that resulted from the Civil Rights Movement and specifically the role of protest in achieving those successes.
Recently, there have been protests after the incidents involving Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Eric Garner in New York City and Trayvon Martin in Florida. Unfortunately, in these cases it is hard to find any successes. The police officers in Ferguson and New York have not been charged. Just yesterday, the DOJ (Department of Justice) declined to charge Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin. Given these failures, it is time to ask the following questions. Are the current protests effective? If these protests are not effective, then why do we keep doing them?
It should be noted that I am not the only one asking these questions. Apparently, Reverend Al Sharpton has many of these same questions. On February 7, 2015 the Washington Post published a very interesting article entitled, “The public life and private doubts of Al Sharpton” by Eli Saslow. This article shows how long Reverend Sharpton has been using protest and activism to advance the cause of the black community. During the article Reverend Sharpton makes some pointed observations and asks some very relevant questions. Here is a quote:
“We come after a generation that was movement motivated,” Sharpton said. “They started with nothing and took down apartheid, and what have we done so far that compares to that? That bothers me. That haunts me.”
“I got a radio show, a TV show, a direct line to the president, and what good is all that if I still can’t get something done when they choke a guy out on tape?”
Whether you like or dislike Reverend Sharpton, the questions that he asks are very relevant. It often seems that we continue to pursue a protest strategy because that strategy was so effective in the past. However, it should be obvious to everyone in the black community that we are no longer seeing the same level of progress.
Moreover, I believe that we are not going to have the same gains because the situation in America has changed dramatically. We now have large numbers of black elected officials including a Black President. We have more successful black entertainers, athletes and business people than ever. In spite of this progress, I know that there will be immediate responses from those who are invested in the protest approach. They will point out that there have been attacks on black voting rights. They will correctly note that bad policing and educational achievement disparities still plague our community. I agree wholeheartedly that these problems still exist in the black community. I just don’t think that protesting is going to lead to solutions.
In fact, over the past 20-30 years, the effort put into protesting has had diminishing returns. Yet many in our community refuse to confront this reality. Black History Month is an excellent time for us to finally confront this reality. We should note that Black History television programs and movies are limited and only can only show an oversimplification of history. They don’t show the goal setting and planning that occurred before the protests. We do not get any analysis of failures. We seldom see the decisions to “not protest”. I wonder if people are attempting to emulate previous Civil Rights protests without actually thinking about whether or not they will be effective.
I believe that today’s protestors are sincere and are working hard to bring change to their communities. However, sincerity is not enough. Given recent setbacks it may be time to rethink our strategy.
Finally, a lack of success can lead people to become very frustrated. This frustration causes people to make sweeping statements such as, “Things for blacks have not really improved” or “We are just as bad off as we were before”. These are not only untrue but they discredit the achievements made by those who came before us.
The best way to address this frustration is to realize that today’s protests are not going to yield the same level of results that we saw in the 1950’s and 60’s. Let’s use Black History Month as a time to not only celebrate past success but to also look beyond those successes to new and better strategies.
Kevin Martin is an Executive Recruiter and former technology entrepreneur. He can be reached at By1989@pacificnet.net