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Est. April 5, 2002
July 21, 2016 - Issue 663

Jackie Robinson
Black Lives

"Suffer the whips of oppression in silence
and everyone loves you. Dare to struggle;
dare to reject victimhood, and we become
the object of fear and, from the
political Right, overt hatred."

When the oppressed are silent and accept their oppression, the mainstream of the oppressor group views them as noble, and sometimes saintly. When they are victimized, robbed of their land, sent to concentration camps, or shot and killed but appear to accept their lot in life, the oppressed are treated as sympathetic creatures worthy of support.

Yet, when the oppressed dare to resist and reject their “victimhood” they take on a different character as far as the mainstream of the oppressor group is concerned. The oppressed become scary, uppity, ungrateful, vengeful, unruly, unpatriotic, etc., all because they have chosen to resist the instruments of their oppression.

As we have watched events unfold ever since the murder of Trayvon Martin, and the subsequent killings of Black people by the police, we have also witnessed the rise of a resistance movement. It is critical to understand that this is a movement rather than the rise of only one organization. Though recognized by the hashtag “#BlackLivesMatter,” this is both an organization as well as a much larger movement that correctly argues that we—as Black people—live in a society that devalues Black lives and has since we were first brought to these shores in chains in 1619. This is a movement that does not assert the superiority of Black lives, but instead asserts our humanity and that our humanity and human rights must be respected. In that regard the movement for Black Lives is well within the tradition of those like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and so many others who raised the clarion call of human rights.

On July 12th, as I sat awaiting the playing of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game I found myself thinking about the current situation but I also found myself thinking about the iconic player, Jackie Robinson, and the profound lessons that one can learn from his experience relevant to this moment. It was, in 1947, that Jackie Robinson entered the Major Leagues, brought up to the Brooklyn Dodgers. For that first year Jackie Robinson, as per his arrangement with team owner Branch Rickey, suffered in silence in the face of racist taunts and attacks. During that period Robinson gained great note and much of mainstream white America came to feel fondly of him. He was a noble creature.

Yet in subsequent years, when he was no longer bound by that original agreement, Robinson openly resisted racist taunts and attacks. He spoke up and challenged those who wanted him to act like a “boy.” As he spoke up, his “poll numbers” dropped, at least in mainstream white America. He no longer appeared submissive but, instead, was outspoken, if not audacious.

And, thus, the pattern reappeared; and it continues to do so. Suffer the whips of oppression in silence and everyone loves you. Dare to struggle; dare to reject victimhood, and we become the object of fear and, from the political Right, overt hatred.

Just like Jackie Robinson during his baseball career, we do not have the option of silence. Editorial Board member and Columnist, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of  TransAfricaForum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” - And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. He is also the co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Mr. Fletcher is also Co-editor of "Claim No Easy VictoriesThe Legacy of Amilcar Cabral".Other Bill Fletcher, Jr. writing can be found at Contact Mr. Fletcher and BC.




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Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
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Peter Gamble