Silent Solidarity

Organized by the 100 Black Men of West Texas, a Silent Solidarity Walk took place in downtown Lubbock on the evening of June 1st. By then, thousands of people were coming together across the nation to protest police brutality and systemic racism, so I eagerly attended the solidarity walk because I wanted the Movement for Black Lives to find a place in my West Texas town. I hoped that it would spark a much-needed conversation about Lubbock’s disregard for Black lives, from the racist zoning laws, to the de facto segregation in our schools, to the over-policing of Black and Brown communities.

Upon arrival, my grand expectations were immediately disappointed as Pastor and School Board of Trustees Member Bill Stubblefield and Police Chief Floyd Mitchell, both Black men, quieted down the passionate crowd and emphasized their desire for the evening’s activism to be peaceful, without chants and without signs. It was a “Silent Solidarity Walk”, not a protest. With any previous notions of protest dispelled, the large crowd silently walked the four blocks from the Police Department to City Hall under the watchful and approving gaze of the very institution that had sparked the national outrage to begin with. After a short speech filled with prayers and angst from Stubblefield, the solidarity walk was over as quickly as it had begun.

I recalled the feelings of anger, confusion, and disappointment left from this experience  as I read Keeanga-Yahmatta Taylor’s book From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, in which she radically reimagines what solidarity will look like in the ongoing struggle for Black liberation, and affirms her trust in the ability of this era’s activism to employ new modes of resistance when history and experience show traditional modes as ineffective.

The parallels between the actions of Stubblefield and Mitchell in Lubbock and those of Reverend Al Sharpton and Former Attorney General Eric Holder in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 reveal the tension between the “old guard” for Black liberation and the “new guard” for Black liberation that Taylor writes about. Representing the “old guard”, Taylor writes, Sharpton and Holder “[counseled] patience and allowing the process to play out” in Ferguson. However, the local movement was not interested in patience. Instead, the “new guard” escalated pressure as Ferguson officials dragged out the decision of whether to indict Mike Brown’s murderer. Had the civil rights establishment pair arrived sooner in Ferguson, I wonder if the tactics might have looked more like what took place in Lubbock.

Clearly, the stereotypical civil rights establishment was in charge of the movement in Lubbock. The walk was organized by Black political power, and it was successful in so far as community members expressed their grief in an orderly manner that caused no disruption. But the status quo remained. Taylor highlights this dynamic when she says that though Black political power has been successful for some, “the continuing crises for Black people, from under-resourced schools to police murder, expose the extreme limitations of that strategy.” Despite the positive optics of the solidarity walk, the Black and Brown communities of Lubbock saw no meaningful change. 

In his article, “My Mother’s Dreams for her Son, and All Black Children,” Hinton Als beautifully articulates the personal toll that being asked to wait while simultaneously desiring Black liberation took on him. From a young age, he was disillusioned with the Black political power strategy that Taylor questions. After all, it was a Black detective who killed a young Black boy in Als’ Brooklyn neighborhood in his youth. And it was a Black man who authorized the increased police presence in his neighborhood following the murder and the ensuing demonstrations. Als has been patient and he’s lived by “the old model – Ma’s model.” He has watched as his own mother and others died believing in a strategy of patience and trust in Black political power. Ultimately, Als questions why a strategy that does not prioritize the immediate violence facing Black and Brown communities should be accepted.     

The old model advocates for patience, trust in the system, and the belief in Black political power. But as the Silent Solidarity Walk in Lubbock demonstrates and as Als demonstrates, Black political power does not guarantee Black liberation. And most importantly, Als reminds us that a strategy of patience and belief in Black political power ignores the social, political, and economic violence that Black and Brown communities continue to face in our present moment. Taylor, therefore, rightly urges us to recognize the conflict of interest between Black political power and Black liberation. In Lubbock, this means questioning the position of Stubblefield and Mitchell as leaders in the Movement for Black Lives. Challenging the status quo is not in their interest, but the economic, social, and political violence facing Black and Brown communities in Lubbock demands it.

As the Movement for Black Lives carries on, Taylor correctly centers the questions of who the movement is made of and how the movement will be a vehicle for meaningful change in the pursuit of Black liberation. Als eloquently reminds us of the real lives at stake in our moment and rejects the notion of patience. The Movement for Black Lives requires that we consider class in equal conjunction with race. Black political power will not deliver Black liberation; Black liberation will come from a new age of activism that builds solidarity where it can be built and contests existing institutions of oppression with bold and experimental modes of resistance. If Black liberation is to come in Lubbock, then Taylor gives us our starting point. We must reject leadership that is not committed to challenging the status quo, and we must be courageous and innovative in our strategies.