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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Columns

Voices of color asked for gun control long before recent revolutionaries


Maya Dandashi/The Cougar

Privilege. It’s a word we’ve heard before. Those who are white or of higher socioeconomic status or both are aware of this term. Those who don’t feel the advantages of these statuses are even more aware. 

The Parkland shooting incited a national conversation about gun control. More importantly, it spurred a conversation about who exactly is doing the talking and how systems of privilege influence whose voice is heard the loudest.

Privilege. It’s a word we are hearing now about the Parkland activists. The March For Our Lives has received a huge amount of media coverage, mostly favorable.  

Activists of color have been vocal on many of the same issues as the newly-minted Parkland activists. They have also been widely vilified, excluded from the national discourse and incorrectly characterized as violent. 

Activists of color have organized, fought and bled for the same causes but are excluded from the same conversations the Parkland activists now stand at the center of.

Minorities have been speaking about gun violence for years. The death of Trayvon Martin awakened a long-simmering movement. Black Lives Matter rallied around protecting people of color from gun violence.

This brings us back to the question of privilege. The Parkland activists have it and, undeniably, it aids their movement.

The evidence is in their praise from the media in contrast to lack of acceptance that other activists have received. The Black Lives Matter protests, such as the ones in Ferguson, are often critiqued for turning violent quickly when they are often only defending themselves.

We wish to seclude these incidents and ascribe blame, but these assignments are made from a privileged position. Does that undermine the spirit of their activism? The answer is not an easy one.

Black voices have fought to be heard for years but have been continually denied, while the Parkland activists seem to have emerged onto the national arena with significantly less effort than their counterparts.

The message that the Parkland activists are delivering is tinged with the privilege that allowed them to deliver it with ease, but the feats they are accomplishing are undeniably impressive. The social pressure resulted in changes to policy in several corporations, such as Dick’s and Walmart.

Organizing behind a tragedy and pushing the conversation on gun control beyond the news cycle is remarkable. They organized a tremendous national protestHowever, unlike the BLM movement, there were no stories of riot gear or brutal arrests to accompany this protest. 

The majority of the Parkland activists are white. This is not to disenfranchise their efforts but rather to convey how different the conversation is. BLM movements walked straight on to a battle field, while March For Lives protesters were extended donations, celebrity endorsements and an opportunity to join a dialogue.

It is difficult to compare the effectiveness and successes of two protests when one is hindered by a system entirely set against it. 

Say what you will about this new vanguard of activists, but they are considerate of the advantages they’ve been afforded. There was intention in making sure that underprivileged voices were included. The protests in Chicago are a shining example, and they have to be.

Chicago, more than any other city, knows the pain gun violence can cause. With 762 deaths, 3,550 shootings, and 4,331 shooting victims in 2016 alone, gun violence is prevalent in the city.  

People of color have tried for years to bring national attention to the issue of violence in the Windy City. The organizers in Chicago March for Our Lives Rally were largely white, but they took measures to include underprivileged speakers in the protest, effectively promoting the voices of the activists who were previously unheard. 

Edna Chavez, a sister of a Parkland victim, was among the speakers at the march. Her presence and narrative helped close the empathy gap between minority protesters and the white organizers. It feels more unified when we make the effort to listen to one another.

The group Dream Defenders, which formed after the killing of Trayvon Martin, was also included in the national day of protest.

Those related to the Parkland movement have actively included activists of color, recognizing how critical the roots of the movement is.  Activists of color are what make this movement possible.

The Parkland movement is providing a blueprint for how integrated movements should be. It is wrong that the Parkland movement received attention because of its social status, but actions like those taken in Chicago allow it to continue to be an inclusive movement.

But we cannot forget the minorities martyred to lay the foundation for this change. March for our Lives is not the first movement featuring young protesters, but it has been the most well-received because of their skin color.

Opinion columnist Zach Appel is a political science sophomore and can be reached at [email protected]

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