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By Vanessa Lopez-Littleton
March 11, 2016
Discussions about race in America are often difficult—not because of the historic insult, the lasting legacy or continuing oppression—but because many question whether any or all of these exist. Acknowledging that slavery happened is easy. However, some find the notion that 151 years later the residual effects still linger is a far stretch of the imagination. In much the same way, it is difficult for some to believe that 52 years after the Civil Rights Act, blacks still suffer a degree of subjugation within American society. Wherever you fall on the issue, you must acknowledge that artists, social media and politics are forcing us to think continuously about race and the experiences of blacks in America.
First, artists and athletes are becoming more vocal in bringing attention to Black issues.
Recently, the nation watched as two prominent entertainers took their messages to prime time audiences. Beyoncé’s performance of “Formation” at the NFL’s Super Bowl 50 brought attention to the Black Lives Matter movement through powerful imagery portrayed by black women sporting berets and Afros, while making a tribute to Malcolm X. A few days later, Kendrick Lamar performed several of his hit songs from his Grammy winning album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” clad in chains while band members played their instruments from mock jail cells. The next day NFL football star Robert Griffin, III played tribute to Lamar with a tweeted picture of himself working out in chains. Under #KendrickMadeMeDoIt, Robert Griffin, III tweeted “Embrace your roots! Pick up your chains today and break free!” His choice of words along with a picture of himself struggling to move heavy chains contributed to a powerful image of the struggle of blacks in American society.
Second, social media is a powerful platform to fuel discussions about race.
In recent years, we have seen events unfold in the media only to fade into somewhat obscurity. But that hasn’t happened with the Black Lives Matter movement due in part to the use of social media. The movement’s ability to continual spark conversation around a singular topic has been interesting to witness. Although the intense debate between black lives and all lives misses the point, it continues to fuel the discussion.
Social media sites are platforms for speaking out and reacting in real-time. Twitter has proven to be a powerful medium for the exchange of conscious raising information. According to Pew Research Center, 96 percent of black Internet users between 18 and 29 use social networking sites. While only 16 percent of white Internet users are on Twitter, 22 percent of black Internet users are on Twitter. For good or for worse, social media has the ability to rapidly infuse messages into the subconscious of the American psyche. How those messages are used to shape the future remain to be seen.
Third, presidential candidates are looking for black voters.
Recognizing the power of black and Hispanic voters in Obama’s success, Democratic Party candidates are working diligently to secure endorsements from key supporters and voters. The Sanders campaign has Symone Sanders, a Black Lives Matter activist, serving as press secretary. The Clinton campaign has secured the endorsement of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Although Republicans may have a genuine concern, black issues seem to be lost in the grand scheme of things. As I see it, the issue of race will become more prominent when the contrast between the two parties becomes more evident.
In thinking about the future of American society, I can’t help but to wonder: how long blacks will be relegated to a sort of second-class citizenship status where they must continually fight for equality of opportunity? However, I am optimist in this regard. If the concerns about conditions affecting blacks continue to play out in the media, by artists and athletes, in social media and on the campaign trail, then there is hope. Hope of creating an America where people are not burdened by the color of their skin, but are proud of their heritage as they seek a future in a society that is fair and just.
It is time for us to realize that at some point an oppressed people become conscious and understand that at some point oppressed people revolt. It is our responsibility to guide and shape a revolution to improve the conditions and lives of blacks in America.
Author: Vanessa Lopez-Littleton, Ph.D., RN, is an assistant professor in the Department of Health, Human Services and Public Policy at California State University, Monterey Bay. Her research focuses on social equity, cultural competence, and racial and ethnic health disparities.
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