President Jim Crow

by Gregg Ivers is Professor of Government at American University. He is currently working on a book, Swingin’ at Jim Crow: How Jazz Became a Civil Rights Movement.

In September 1962, Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett was looking for something – anything – that would boost his sagging political fortunes. Just three years before, Barnett had barely prevailed in a four-way contest for the Democratic Party’s nomination, winning just 35 percent of the vote, barely one percent more than his closest rival. While Barnett would win handily in the subsequent run-off and run unopposed in the 1959 general election, by mid-1961 his autocratic and less-than-honest governing style had rubbed many white Mississippians the wrong way. Sure, he was among the founders of the state’s first Citizens’ Council, an organization of suit-and-tie businessmen set up after the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education to maintain Mississippi’s unparalleled commitment to racial apartheid in every aspect of public and private life. And, yes, Barnett had shown the Freedom Riders who was boss the previous spring, when he sent the remainder of those who had survived their harrowing May 1961 ordeal in Birmingham and Montgomery to Parchman Farm, the state’s most notorious prison, after their arrival in Jackson for violating the state’s segregation laws.

But in 1960, Mississippi ranked last in per capita and family median income, and remained familiarly positioned at the bottom of every other measure of health, education and welfare. Barnett had pledged during his campaign to attract business to Mississippi by relaxing environmental regulation and promoted “right to work” laws to make union organization nearly impossible, the better to hold down labor costs in order to attract manufacturing jobs to the state. He also promised to improve Mississippi’s public schools and devote resources to improving the state’s infrastructure. These promises became very difficult for the new governor to fulfill because of the state’s limited public resources.

And there were other, not-so-secret reasons for Mississippi’s destitution. In 1960, almost all African Americans in the state worked for whites as menial laborers, on farms or, as was the case for women, in domestic service. They were paid, at best, subsistence wages or, in the case of farm workers, in trade as sharecroppers. And whatever money actually changed hands between white employers and black workers came not in the form of a check with deductions, but cash. Approximately 55 percent of Mississippi’s population lived in poverty; for blacks, the poverty rate was closer to 80 percent, both figures that far exceeded the national average. Not coincidentally, poverty rates in 1960 were highest in the Southern states where cotton had once been king and required a poor, unskilled and racially subservient black labor force to pick it.

Literacy and education attainment fared no better. About five percent of the state’s general population was illiterate, second only to South Carolina. Then, as now, Mississippi had the highest percentage of Africans Americans relative to the general population. In 1960, that percentage was 42 percent, down from approximately 53 percent in 1900, a loss attributable to the Great Migration of Southern blacks for Northern cities or anywhere else where the iron boot of Jim Crow was less severe.

In addition to economic and educational deprivation, Mississippi, like all the Southern states, had effectively disenfranchised its African American voting-age population after the collapse of Reconstruction by amending its state constitution by placing restrictions on the right to vote. In 1956, the Mississippi legislature went further than even states like Alabama and South Carolina by establishing the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission. At state expense, the Commission acted as a spy agency against its black population and any “outside agitators,” black or white, involved in the blossoming civil rights movement. Their pictures, names and addresses were published in local newspapers, passed along to employers, provided to banks that extended credit to blacks. This also gave terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan a marker on where to inflict their special brand of terror should black Mississippians forget their place in the Southern racial social structure.

Ross Barnett made clear during his 1959 campaign for governor that no one would have the upper hand on him when it came to enforcing the state’s meticulous regime of racial apartheid. Barnett, a former Sunday school teacher, assured white Mississippians that white children would never cede their place in the social order by attending school with black children no matter what the Supreme Court said. Ever. This was the will of God, who, as Barnett once said, “made the Negro different so he could punish him.”

Despite promises that he would herald in a “new era” of prosperity, Barnett’s stock had fallen over the years for failing to improve the conditions of its white citizens. That autumn, Barnett was booed when he attended Old Miss football games in Oxford, especially after word broke that he had used $300,000 in state funds to install gold-plated faucets in the bathrooms of the governor’s mansion. For the poorest state in the country, Barnett’s commitment to self-dealing and personal vanity was not going over terribly well with a white population in which one in three lived at or below the poverty line.

Then, on September 3rd, 1962, a gift wrapped in electoral gold arrived on Barnett’s front door. A federal court ordered the University of Mississippi to admit James Meredith, a 29 year-old Air Force veteran, for the fall semester. Barnett wasted no time in seizing upon such a glorious opportunity to reestablish himself with white Mississippians who would resist, by any means necessary, the integration of their beloved Ole Miss. This was an institution, after all, that closed temporarily in September 1861 after all but four of its 135 students took up arms on behalf of the Confederate cause.

On September 13th, Barnett gave a statewide television and radio address in which he announced that the state faced its “gravest crisis since the War Between the States.” He spoke of an invisible “they” comprised of “professional agitators and the unfriendly liberal press and other trouble makers” who were “pouring across our borders intent upon instigating strife among our people.” He warned that “paid propagandists are continually hammering away at us in the hope that they can succeed in bringing about a division among us.” Barnett implored white Mississippians to stand up to “the moral degradation, to the shame and the ruin which have faced all others who have lacked the courage to defend their beliefs.” That line surely resonated with the descendants of their Confederate ancestors who had experienced the humiliation of defeat and occupation by the Union Army during the brief period of Reconstruction. Never again, was Barnett’s message.

On September 29th, Barnett made a dramatic appearance at the Ole Miss-Kentucky football game. At half time, Barnett walked to the middle of the field, took the microphone and, to the great delight of 41,000 all-white fans, now up on their feet and waving their Confederate flags, uttered the most memorable sixteen words of his political career:

“I love Mississippi,” Barnett thundered, dragging out the “love” for maximum effect. “I love her people, her customs! And I love and respect her heritage.” Between sentences, the crowd roared back. “Never, Never, Never, n-o-o-o Never.” “Never shall our emblem go, from Colonel Reb to Old Black Joe.” “Two-four-six-eight we don’t want to integrate.” Barnett soaked up the adulation he so desperately craved

Behind the scenes, Barnett had been negotiating with the Kennedy Administration to admit Meredith in a manner that would allow him to save face with the rank-and-file white Mississippians who were ready to bear arms in defense of their “customs” and their “heritage.” He understood, deep down, that the law was not on his side, not after watching how President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and dispatched the 101st Airborne Division to secure the admission of the Little Rock Nine to Central High School just five years before. Intoxicated by the crowd at the football game, Barnett reneged on his commitment to admit Meredith after Kennedy told him he would not allow him to stage a made-for-television event where federal troops “forcibly removed” him at gun point.

On the evening of September 30th, the Ole Miss campus staged an armed revolt against the 500 or so federal marshals and other law enforcement officials that Kennedy had dispatched to secure Meredith’s admission on Monday. The confrontation worsened, as hundreds of armed white resisters from surrounding states joined the Battle of Oxford. It was as if somehow, almost one hundred years after the end of the Civil War, this would offer a second chance for a new Confederate army to get it right.

By the time dawn broke that Monday morning, two people, a local resident and a French reporter, both of whom were white, had been killed. Almost two hundred federal marshals had been injured, with almost thirty suffering gunshot wounds. At 8 a.m., James Meredith registered for his fall classes. But Ross Barnett had endeared himself to the state’s most devoted adherents of Mississippi’s special brand of Jim Crow. He had resisted the federal government through armed force. Barnett emerged from his stand-off with the Kennedy Administration a hero, and would inspire a young governor next door, George Corley Wallace, Jr., to “stand in the schoolhouse door” a year later to prevent, unsuccessfully, the admission of Vivian Malone and James Hood as the first two black undergraduates to attend the University of Alabama.

Less than one year into his term, Donald Trump is a historically unpopular president. Since taking office his approval ratings have consistently hovered somewhere between 35 and 40 percent. His behavior as president is no different than his behavior as a candidate – crude, disrespectful of the office he holds, disdainful of the rule of law, and ignorant of the true consequences of the policies he promised “his people.” Above all, he is a racial demagogue whose public commentary is steeped in hateful rhetoric towards those who have dared to criticize him. Like Ross Barnett, Donald Trump promised his “populist” base that he would look out for them, not the “elites.” Like Ross Barnett, Donald Trump openly ridicules anyone and anything that threatens his narrow view of how the world should work, and routinely suggests that conspiratorial forces are at work to deny him the greatness so obvious to those that, come hell or high water, will support him no matter what. Like Ross Barnett, Donald Trump takes great pride in the unapologetic stream of bigotry, stench, corruption, and sheer cruelty that flows from his administration almost every second of every hour of every day.

Where Donald Trump has succeeded like no modern president before him is in fanning the flames of racial and cultural resentment in a manner so obvious and so flagrant that somewhere in Jim Crow Governor Heaven Ross Barnett, George Wallace and Orval Faubus are beaming with pride. At every point in his presidency where Trump has felt cornered and maligned he has turned to Chapter One, Page One, in the Jim Crow Governor’s Manual – find the “other” of the moment and place the weight of the world’s problem on the shoulders of his enemies, all of whom he defines by skin color, religion and, to update the Jim Crow model, gender and sexual orientation. Unable to make good on your promises to revive outdated industries, provide “beautiful” healthcare for all by stripping 25 million or so Americans of their health insurance or develop a meaningful infrastructure program? Ban transgender soldiers from the military. Deport the DACA beneficiaries. Lash out against Gold Star families for suggesting that he is insensitive to their plight and their needs – and make sure they are persons of color. Encourage violence against your opponents, especially if they are women or minorities – or preferably both. Label women who claim you sexually assaulted or harassed them as liars and “wackos.” Pick fights with African American members of Congress. Tell gay men and women that they don’t deserve protection from workplace discrimination. Threaten to revoke broadcast rights from the broadcast media or order them to fire their African American commentators who criticize you. Label black professional athletes “sons of bitches” for peacefully protesting police brutality. Pardon law enforcement officials for engaging in racist policing. Stay silent when white Americans commit acts of terrorism against other Americans; but attempt to ban Mexicans and Muslims, all of whom are either “rapists” or “terrorists,” from entering the United States. Label the news media that you cannot control or manipulate the “the enemies of the people.”

And lie. All the time.

In late August, President Trump, having reached another low after reassuring the white Christian supremacists who marched in Charlottesville less than two weeks before that there were actually some “very fine people” among them, traveled to Phoenix for one of his Nuremberg-style rallies. He decided it was time to take a public stance in defense of Confederate memorials, whipping up the cheering crowd by telling them that an omnipotent, invisible “they” were trying to take away “our culture” and “our history” by calling for the removal of statues paying tribute to Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and other Confederate defenders of slavery and white supremacy. Forget, for a moment, whether it even makes sense for this insular New Yorker to come to the defense of the Lost Cause in a state that did not exist until 1912. A month later, Trump visited Huntsville, Alabama, where he entertained another arena full of his supporters by coming to the defense of “our history and our heritage,” and reminded the crowd that “they” had total disrespect of our heritage, a total disrespect of everything “we” stand for.” We? Really?

But perhaps Trump knew that Alabama gave him the fifth largest margin of victory in the 2016 election, all the more impressive when you consider that 28 percent of Alabama’s population is African American, and none of the other states in front of Alabama had a black population of more than 3.5 percent. Perhaps Trump even knew that Alabama is one of only three states to celebrate Robert E. Lee’s birthday on the same day as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s. Or that Arizona repealed Martin Luther King, Jr. day in 1987, only to reinstate it in 1992 after the National Football League, ironically enough, suggested it might find another place to hold the Super Bowl.

Whatever Donald Trump lacks in intellectual acumen there is no doubt that he understands the central place of racial resentment in the hearts and minds of the white working and underclasses that form so much of the base of his core support. Trump knew exactly what he was doing when, for five years, he relentlessly pushed the racist lie that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. As recently as August 2016, 72 percent of registered Republicans believed it. Who knows if Trump even believed his own lie? He knew that there were millions of people out there who would because they wanted to, not because it was true.

Trump did not so much create the racism now on open display in our politics and culture as he did liberate sleeper cells of millions of angry whites emboldened by his authoritarian embrace of white identity politics. All that matters for Donald Trump is the message at the core of his campaign – you are white, you have been ignored, you deserve better and that I will restore your rightful place in the social order. Just like Ross Barnett, Donald Trump understands the power that hate and fear filtered through a skewed racial prism have among disaffected whites while rewarding the donor classes of Republican politics with plutocratic policies. Donald Trump is not some unorthodox free thinker bringing fresh energy to a stale and tired office. No, he is just a conventional Southern politician, albeit one with a New York accent, from a past that too many Americans believed was dead and buried. Donald Trump is President Jim Crow.


The Dilemma of the Black Athlete as Activist

by Gregg Ivers, Professor of Government, American University

In early September 1957, Central High School in Little Rock became the focus of world-wide attention when Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus decided to deploy the National Guard to prevent the nine African American students who had applied and been chosen to integrate the school from entering the building. For a three week period, the Central High grounds resembled the set of a science fiction film of the era – upright American soldiers with bayonet-tipped rifles protecting innocent children from an alien force in their midst. Finally, on September 25th, the Little Rock Nine, now with the support of a federalized Arkansas National Guard and the 101st Airborne Division – activated and sent to Little Rock by President Dwight D. Eisenhower – were escorted into Central High to begin a school year that they and everyone else in Little Rock would never forget.

The Little Rock crisis did not escape the attention of former Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson. Just over nine years before, Robinson entered, almost overnight, into the lives of white America when he became the first African American to penetrate one of the most sacrosanct citadels of white supremacy – professional baseball. On April 15th, 1947, when Robinson jogged to first base on Opening Day at Ebbets Field, he did more than just break the color barrier in what was then America’s most popular sport. He destroyed it.

Largely forgotten in the retelling of the Jackie Robinson story is that of the 26,623 fans that attended Robinson’s first game, about 5,000 short of a sell-out, an estimated 14,000 were black. In one day, more black fans attended a Brooklyn Dodgers game than in the franchise’s entire existence. That year, the Dodgers set an attendance record at home, as their fans embraced their new hero. They also became the sport’s leading draw on the road. This was hardly a coincidence.

By the end of his first season, only the most hard-core segregationists failed to embrace Robinson’s remarkable combination of determination, courage, intelligence and athleticism. He was named Rookie of the Year, the first year the award was given out, and was feted with gifts in an end of the year ceremony at Ebbets Field. As Jules Tygiel wrote in Baseball’s Great Experiment, “For blacks, Robinson became a symbol of pride and dignity; to whites, he represented a type of black man far removed from the prevailing stereotypes, whom they could not help but respect.”

But then something happened along the way that changed the public’s perception of Robinson as a grateful black man just happy to have the opportunity to play baseball with whites – the real Jackie Robinson emerged. The Jackie Robinson that baseball fans and sportswriters thought they knew was not the man that Branch Rickey selected to break the color barrier. Robinson never accepted Jim Crow, whether in his occasional run-ins with white authorities while growing up in Pasadena and attending college at UCLA over the restrictions placed on blacks. Most famously, in 1944, Robinson was court-martialed at Fort Hood, Texas, when he refused to sit in the back of a military bus. He was later acquitted.

After his second year with the Dodgers, Robinson began fighting back, in accord with the terms that Rickey had established when he signed with the Dodgers in 1945. On the field, he challenged umpires, confronted opponents who played dirty against him and began to make public statements about the difficulties that blacks faced in baseball and in American society. Had he been white, Robinson would have been lauded as a gamer and a competitor.

Instead, the press began to turn on him, suggesting that he wasn’t grateful for the opportunities he had been “given.” Outside of Brooklyn, Robinson’s popularity steadily diminished. White America embraced black players like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Larry Doby, none of whom ever, at that point, publicly discussed race. By the time he retired in 1956, Robinson was perhaps the most unpopular man in baseball.

After almost six weeks of unprecedented drama at Central High, Robinson had seen enough. Having become the NAACP’s most prominent fund-raiser and public spokesman shortly after his retirement in 1956, Robinson worked with Arkansas NAACP officer Daisy Bates to arrange a phone call to the students. On October 17th – 59 years ago – Robinson spoke to seven of the Little Rock Nine and a few of their parents. A transcript of this conversation, which I recently read in his papers held at the Library of Congress, make clear Robinson’s stature among African Americans. One of the black students, Terrence Roberts, told Robinson, “I would like to say that what we are doing is only following the example you gave us, which is a very fine one, and we are trying to follow in your footsteps.

By the early 1960s, shortly after he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, Robinson turned his back on the game he revolutionized, claiming there was no place for him in baseball anymore. He had long become a fixture in the civil rights movement, raising money, participating in the March on Washington and supporting desegregation and voting rights efforts in the Deep South. His papers contain some of the many letters Robinson would write every living president of his post-baseball lifetime, imploring them in frank terms to take action on the various civil rights causes.

Robinson was, in many ways, a broken man when he died in 1972, remembered as the man who integrated white professional baseball, not as a civil rights activist who used baseball to pursue racial justice.

Today, however, Robinson is universally revered, admired as much for his courage as for the excitement he brought to the game. In 1997, Major League Baseball announced that Robinson’s number, 42, would be retired throughout the sport, an honor no other player has ever received.  Recent books and documentaries delve much deeper into Robinson’s civil rights activism the courageous civil rights advocate and praise him for his example and his willingness to use his celebrity to advance racial fairness.

African American Athletes who followed in Robinson’s wake, such as Muhammad Ali, experienced as similar demise in their popularity when they began to speak out on civil rights matters. Claiming conscientious objector status after he was drafted to serve in Vietnam, Ali was banished from boxing for almost four years and widely condemned by sportswriters and a public who loved the young, playful Cassius Clay. Yet, upon his death in 2016, Ali somehow was only remembered as a courageous, principled humanitarian whose position was borne out by a Supreme Court decision exonerating his position.

Twenty years from now, Colin Kaepernick may or may not be remembered for the protest he started when he refused to stand for the national anthem during an NFL pre-season game last year. But people will remember how Kaepernick’s protest slowly took on a life of its own, spreading to other sports and down the chain to colleges, high schools and youth programs. Obviously, Kaepernick’s message has resonated with minority athletes. A growing number of white athletes have supported their non-white teammates, having a better view of a black athlete’s life than many of those who have criticized Kaepernick’s position as selfish. This includes, not surprisingly, the current president, who believes that the First Amendment protects the rights of white Christian supremacists, unrepentant Confederate sympathizers and neo-Nazis, but not those who speak out against them in peaceful fashion.

Jackie Robinson was not just the first African American to integrate white professional baseball. He was the first athlete, regardless of race, to use his status and celebrity to engage the political world and speak out against racism in sports and society. For the black athlete, speaking out has been both a burden and a necessity – something they’re expected to do because they’re black, and yet something they need to do because they’re black. White America has no problem accepting the black athlete and hasn’t for some time, as long as they put the ball in the hoop, the end zone or in the stands. Extending that respect to black athletes as men is the next step.

Professor Ivers is currently working on a book, "Swingin' at Jim Crow: How Jazz Became a Civil Rights Movement". 

On the #BlackLivesMatter Question

by Gregg Ivers, Professor of Government, American University @Givers1023

For much of white America, the phrase Black Lives Matter elicits thoughts of confusion, anger and resentment. Confusion, anger and resentment over the perception that the phrase, Black Lives Matter, somehow suggests that Black Lives Matter more than All Other Lives – meaning White Lives. All Lives Matter, so goes the rebuttal of some white folks, and Black Lives do not Matter any more or less than the lives of any other American citizen. Another demand for special treatment. Another demand that black folks get their own house in order rather than drawing attention to police brutality directed against unarmed black men, much of which, after we “place things in context,” somehow, after “careful review,” is almost always “justified.”

Among the many problems with this line of reasoning, there is one that stands out:

White America, you’re right . . . Black Lives have always Mattered. For almost four centuries, Black Lives have Mattered a great, great deal to white Americans. We would be a very different country without them. But just not in the way you would like to acknowledge.

Black Lives Mattered so much to the British that colonized North America that they brought their first black slaves to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, just a dozen years after they arrived. By 1860, shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War, there were approximately 4 million African slaves in the United States. Black Lives Mattered when white America needed black men to do the brute physical work one would associate with animals and later machines. Black Lives Mattered so much to Southern planters that, after tobacco reached its peak as a cash crop in the Upper South, about a million slaves were sold to the owners of cotton plantations in the Deep South, and forced to migrate to Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, where the hell that awaited them was even more unimaginable than it had been in the tobacco producing states. The Lives of Black Women Mattered even more than black men. Black women gave birth to even more slaves, whether they wanted to or not, and functioned as sexual slaves to white men who, for reasons that only Sigmund Freud might understand, degraded their existence and yet had no problem raping and pillaging them as they pleased. A young male black slave was valued for the physical labor he could provide and nothing more. A young female black slave, especially a pretty one, was doomed to an existence that no civilized person would want to think about. And so we didn’t.

After the Civil War, Black Lives Mattered so much that the South, after the federal government reached an agreement with the Southern states to abandon Reconstruction and return the region to white rule, reinstituted a system of Neo-Slavery called Jim Crow. So valuable was the labor of black men and women that Southern planters, industrialists, politicians, law enforcement and para-military terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan conspired to create a system of peonage and convict labor to dredge the swamps, pick the cotton, split the sugar cane, take care of the children, cook and clean for white folks, make the turpentine, crack the rocks, build the roads to take them to the glorious buildings that neo-slave labor largely built that rose up by the early 20th century and do anything else respectable white people believed was beneath them – and at the lowest possible cost. This system, in which blacks had no say, did not fall apart until the 1960s.

Black Lives Mattered in other ways, too. By the early 20th century, the art and music that emerged from black communities throughout the Southern United States expressing everything from despair to hope to joy to redemption soon became so popular among white Americans that record companies figured out a way to profit from it without really having to pay the artists that created it. Black music became the first genuinely indigenous form of American music, providing the foundation for the blues, jazz, gospel, the popular song, rhythm and blues and rock and roll and changed the way that music was understood and appreciated throughout the world. Yes, indeed, Black Lives Mattered to record and entertainment executives a great deal.

Black Lives soon began to Matter to lovers of collegiate and professional sports, so much so that, beginning in the late 1940s, the white guardians of professional baseball agreed to let one black man play with 149 other white men. Over the next several decades, black men rose to prominence in baseball, soon dominated football and, of course, almost completely took over the court in basketball. By the early 1960s, Black Lives Mattered so much to the NCAA that it began to permit black athletes to play football and basketball, the two highest revenue producing sports in collegiate athletics, with white athletes. The same Southern schools that took such great pride in preventing academically qualified black men and women from attending their whites-only universities decided that they were not going to tolerate a losing sports program, especially football. It became high time, as the phrase then went, “to get some niggers of our own.” There wasn’t a whole of lot of concern about actually providing these athletes with a proper college education – and there still isn’t. But allowing black athletes into historically whites-only institutions of higher education fattened the wallets of a great many people and continues to do so. By any measure, Blacks Lives Matter a great deal to our collegiate and professional sports complexes.

Although it may not seem like it, Blacks Lives have always Mattered in politics, especially in the South. That is why, until 1965, when the moral force of the civil rights movement forced the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Southern states did not let black people vote. In states like South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, that would have doomed white supremacy because of the large – and in the case of South Carolina and Mississippi – majority black populations. So the powers-that-were either threatened, arrested, intimidated, raped and sometimes killed black men and women who registered to vote until the federal government made them stop. Of course, Black Lives Mattered in the Old South. Especially when it came to how white people could acquire and exercise political power.

Black Lives still Matter in politics, which is why the modern Republican Party has spent so much time and effort attempting to disenfranchise black voters, especially black men. Photo ID laws to combat a “voter fraud” problem that doesn’t exist. Making registration more and more complicated. Spurious messaging that preys on poor, semi-literate rural black voters by announcing false election times, closing traditional voting centers or anything else that will suppress the black vote. Yes, Black Lives Matter to the Republican Party, which is the reason it doesn’t want blacks to vote. Let's take a moment to remember that blacks have only been second-class citizens for 51 years. Before then, they were subjects. When you cannot vote, you are not a citizen. Period.

Black Lives Matter to the “get tough on crime crowd” in Congress and state legislatures, and our penal system at all levels. The United States has created a mindless system of mass incarceration, taking black men and placing them and their most productive years behind bars. Mass incarceration also means that black men are politically the most impotent voting bloc in the country. Approximately one-third of black men are under the supervision of the criminal justice system, making them largely ineligible to vote. One-third. Combine the fact that voting eligible citizens are far less likely to vote when they feel the system does not serve them, and you magnify the problem to even higher degree. So not only does mass incarceration disproportionately destroy the lives of black men and black families, its sabotages the ability of black men to influence a political system that has demeaned and brutalized them – and for longer – like no other subset of American people. To our criminal justice system, yes, Black Lives Matter. A lot.

There are many more examples of how Black Lives have Mattered over the course of American history. But how Blacks Lives have Mattered to white America is very different than how black Americans believe that Black Lives Matter. And, if you listen very carefully, white America, you will hear that is what this movement is about. Black people want to show white America what it’s like to be black from their side of the camera. Black people want white people to see what happens to young, unarmed black men like Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice. Black people really want to know – and are willing to listen – why some white people really think George Zimmerman was justified in murdering Trayvon Martin. Black people really want to know if you think Philando Castille would have been killed in front of his family if he was white. Black people want to know why some white people believe that if I teach three black students in a class of 30 rather than just one or two that will somehow threaten your child’s ability to attend college and build a life. Black people really want to know why some white people are so afraid of them that, eight years ago, they invented a right that did not exist for the previous 209 years under the Constitution to own guns designed to do nothing more to kill other people, including school children, and, ironically, pierce the vests that police officers wear to protect themselves from you. Because you do know that white people are far more likely to kill a police officer than a black person? Right?

Black Lives Matter is not something to fear. Black Lives Matter is not an indictment of every single non-black person in the United States. Black Lives Matter is not demanding a revolution through armed force. Black Lives Matter is mad – this is not the Civil Rights Movement of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis – and wants white America to know why. Black Lives Matter is asking you to realize that even white people of goodwill continue to benefit from a system that white people created and have maintained for almost 400 years.

Black Lives Matter wants white people to know that Black Lives Matter just as much as White Lives Matter. And when that happens – when Black and White Lives Matter equally, then we will have reached the point where All Lives Matter. Until then, keep expecting to hear, whether white folks like it or not, why Black Lives Matter.

And don’t be afraid. Just listen.