I think a good way of trying to get a better understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement is to locate it in a historical context and, in attempting to do so, I begin with the idea that human history has always been one of conquest and domination.
Charles Darwin in his “Origin of Species” would apply this idea to the animal kingdom seeing this never ending penchant to conquer and dominate as a matter of “survival of the fittest,” and without getting into the controversy of how “human” his theory is, what emerges from his theory is that innate, inherent desire to survive, to secure space and territory, neutralising all opposition that threatens that survival, which bears a remarkable resemblance to that human penchant for conquest and domination as recorded in our own history.
Out of this one can envisage the original caveman knocking out another who threatened his space, a behavioural pattern which would be repeated throughout history, as with the Incas and Aztecs in Meso-America who built huge empires by conquering , enslaving and brutalising their neighbours, or the warlike Caribs subjugating the reportedly peaceful Arawaks, and still in the Americas, as with white settlers decimating the American Indians as part of their celebrated pioneering effort.
The history of humankind has been one of conquest and domination with its inevitable corollary of the debasement, subjugation and even annihilation of the conquered, and it is in this historical context that the Black Lives Matter should be located, for whatever the achievements of black people in America, the knowledge we possess tells a story of a people from the inception, falling squarely within the second part of that equation, debased, subjugated and even annihilated for the most part of their history.
From the beginning Africa was conceived as an “Heart of Darkness” for the likes of David Livingstone to ravage and explore with the ultimate indignity of a white Tarzan being the Lord of the Black jungle, only to be sold into slavery by their very own and then to endure the horrors of “Amistad” across the Atlantic, as much as the Indians would do later across the Kala Pani, and then having reached the New World, for Sparrows “slave” to feel the whip of the white slave master in the Caribbean and “to work so hard each day,” with the American South becoming their virtual death knell at the hands of the plantation owner and the likes of Jim Crow and the Klu Klux Klan and so poignantly manifested in films like “Gone with the Wind” and “Django unchained” inter alia.
So black lives had mattered from the very beginning, but shifting the focus to America where this slogan took root, could they have made any headway against this institutionalised racism? The right to vote was a significant achievement but the assassination of men like Lincoln and Kennedy, and one of Africa’s own, Martin Luther King l in their fight against this evil, tells how deeply entrenched this racism is, and even as Floyd’s death has been a significant catalyst for change, one wonders at the difference it can make in a society where this evil is systemic. True there have been some important changes at the state level regarding the police, but these are essentially reactive and one wonders what long term and sustainable gains can be achieved by these protests in their present form.
What then is the alternative? Must African—Americans lay themselves down and die, or continue to protest and hope to get a sympathetic ear? Hardly. If you recognise that the system is stacked against you from the start, instead of being combative with only futility as the end result, why not assimilate, join the system and beat them at their own game, as perhaps Dr Benjamin Carson did, rising out of the ashes of poverty to become one of the greatest brain surgeons in the world or like Mae Jemison (MJ) to become the first African American woman astronaut!
The story of Ben Carson is truly inspirational for the average Black American, for living in a depressed community in a small apartment with other siblings and only a mother to father him, and being dubbed the “dumbest” boy in the class in the second rate school he attended, by his own confession, he was able to use the establishment to his advantage and reach the heights of excellence.
Not all can become brain surgeons or astronauts but rather than engaging in perennial combat with the establishment with only token gains or placing your destiny in the hands of liberal politicians who only use your vote and never deliver, you can climb the ladder of your own destiny, going to school no matter how second rate and “take learnin’” as we say in Trinidad, achieving the limits of your own potential, be it as a teacher or mid wife, bus driver or entertainer, accountant or lawyer, politician or even president, according to your merit, and the cumulative effect of this in time, can only be a people truly set free.