Getting "The Point" of the Movement

It has been a tumultuous time on college campuses nationwide when it comes to issues of race and diversity. Students in my "Race in America" class have been blogging all semester about their experiences and perspectives. As part of the "Blog Blog Project," I'm posting blogs voted as best among the student peers in the class. What follows is a reflection from UD Communication and Political Science double major, Tia Hill.

Once upon a time, there was the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks sat down on a bus and refused to give up, Martin Luther King stood up and said that he had a dream, and black people all over the country marched so they could drink at the same water fountains as white people and we could all be friends. Then we won and all lived happily ever after. The end.

As far as I was concerned, as a child in the small, diverse suburb of Columbia, Maryland, this was black history. My parents went to great lengths to take me to black history museums, to show me movies like "Roots," to make me understand the horrors and triumphs of black history in the United States, and I was pretty sure I got the point by the end of it. If the point was: "Things aren't perfect, but overall they're getting better," then I was pretty sure that I got it.

In elementary school, I had been surrounded by all black people. But when I was put in a private middle school with all white kids, who were spewing out the same ignorance their parents had put into their heads, I still thought I got the point of it. If the point was: "Things aren't perfect, a lot of white people are racist, but that's okay, most people aren't like this," then I was pretty sure that I got it.

At my local public high school of Wilde Lake High, I was surrounded by a student body whose motto (which quickly became my own) was "Where Diversity Excels." There I was plunged into a world of young, interracial couples and social naïveté that crossed the traditional societal boundaries surrounding race. I had nearly forgotten my middle school experience and I was almost confident that I got the point. If the point was: "See, things are totally fine, we live in a progressive age, and in the end everyone can always be friends," then I was pretty sure that I got it.

But despite all of this, I don't think I got it.

The day Trayvon Martin was killed was the first moment that I became "woke," as they say. Until this point, though I was not oblivious to racism, I lived in what was referred to by locals of our comfortable suburb, "The Columbia Bubble." I lived in a town so diverse it seemed to be a fantasy, with a low crime rate, in a nice area, and was rarely exposed to anything ever going wrong.

But Trayvon Martin bothered me. It nagged at me inside, because I knew this was troublesome and wrong, but I didn't quite understand why. I spoke with my parents about it, I went to rallies at local churches and community centers, and then I lived my life. Upon entering college I lived my life for the next year or so like I normally did. Sure, I suffered microaggressions, all sorts of subtle forms of racism from ignorant classmates that plague so many students of color, but this was something that I expected, and had braced myself for. My point, however, is that I do not think that I truly understood myself as a young black person until the events and Ferguson and Michael Brown occurred. I found myself following these events every day, with baited breath, reading every police report, every legal document, and every account I could get my hands on. All of a sudden, I cared.

And I think I cared because in the moment that Ferguson happened, it felt like the Civil Rights Movement again. It felt like all of the stories I had heard my grandparents tell about how they suddenly realized something needed to be done. And they are right, something does need to be done.

Recently, many journalists have been discussing the idea of a re-emerging Civil Rights Movement of today. At the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, many often compared the tactics, photos, and issues of today to those of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and discussed how things are similar or different.

But I don't think that is what we should be doing. We cannot compare two periods of time as if the 1960s was one self-contained movement and today is one self-contained movement. We must approach these issues holistically. The Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s was the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement of today's time. They are not the parent or child of one another, they are one fluid concept, one fluid discussion and attempt at freedom and liberation of black people and black bodies.

That is why people mustn't be surprised that they have to stand up and fight, or be surprised that these issues are still going on, because they did not just stop and randomly start up again, they have always been issues, and what we do today is mirroring and continuing the issues and the efforts of the past.

When I was younger I was so sure that I "got the point" of the stories of the Civil Rights Movement, but I don't think I ever truly got the point until today. And the point is that the fight has been going on for much longer than I have ever thought it has, but now is just my time to get involved.

-- Tia Hill, Junior at the University of Delaware