YSU Discusses Black Lives Matter
By Justin Wier
More than 50 people crowded into the back room of MVR on Thursday to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement. Youngstown State University’s Philosophy and Religious Studies Club hosted the discussion as part of their Eat, Drink and Think series.
Michael Jerryson, professor in the department of philosophy and religious studies, moderated the discussion following an introduction that outlined the injustices black Americans have been subject to over the last 200 years — from slavery to lynchings to Jim Crow to redlining to mass incarceration to the recent police shootings of black Americans that have garnered media attention and spawned the Black Lives Matter movement.
Jerryson asked those gathered to consider three recent events in Ohio: John Crawford III, who was shot while holding a toy gun in a Wal-Mart outside of Dayton; Tamir Rice, who was shot while holding a toy gun in a public park in Cleveland and Samuel DuBose, who was shot by University of Cincinnati police during a traffic stop.
He asked participants whether black lives matter, or if there is legitimacy to the counterargument that all lives matter.
“People think Black Lives Matter means that we think we’re the only ones that matter,” a student said. “It’s we matter too, and people fail to acknowledge that.”
Philosophy professor Deborah Mower — noting that she was playing devil’s advocate — asked if, in light of the politicization of the labels, framing it as an issue of universal human rights would make a stronger case for concern.
“If the labels are meant to be affixed to a particular group, would it be a stronger strategy to make it a global argument?” Mower said.
A student suggested that Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter both damage the issue.
“Instead of searching for an answer or solution, they start looking for someone to blame for the problem,” the student said.
But others insisted that the focus on black lives is necessary because it is black lives that are at risk.
Jerryson said the movement is not founded solely on historical neglect of black lives, but the continued neglect in the present.
“White privilege is not gone people,” Jerryson said. “It’s still here.”
Tiffany Anderson, director of the department of Africana studies, said it’s important not to point fingers in debates surrounding these issues.
“I do not believe that we should point fingers,” Anderson said. “I believe that white people are survivors of slavery just as I am a survivor of slavery.”
She said the problems exist on a systemic level and aren’t directly tied to racism on the individual level.
“Those things will exist without anyone being a racist,” Anderson said. “In order to rid ourselves of racism and white privilege, we have to dismantle the system.”
Jerryson highlighted the way our society sees whiteness as normal. Noting that when movies feature black heroes, they are referred to as black movies. This doesn’t occur with white movies.
Another student said while Black Lives Matter may not be the most strategic way to approach the issue, trying to make the movement universal could unintentionally whitewash it.
“To take it from their hands and transform it to all lives matter like this isn’t a matter of race. This is a matter of humanity,” she said. “Well, it is a matter of race.”
Jerryson noted that people who are uncomfortable with the issue often refuse to say race and use the word ethnicity instead, but people who were enslaved often don’t know what country they came from.
“Ethnicity is something that black Americans can’t claim as part of their identity,” Jerryson said.
Another participant said there is a fear white people have. The student who claimed labels impede progress responded by saying that racially charged movements amplify this fear.
Yet, Mower said it sounded like people were suggesting that the issue needs to be politicized.
“It’s not enough to make this an issue of human rights,” Mower said. “The best strategy, in order to make people to attend to this issue, is to use this slogan.”
The conversation then shifted to how the movement can get people to listen, make them care and move the conversation forward.
A student said people need to realize it costs money to oppress people — to maintain things like the prison-industrial complex.
“Just because it’s called Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean it doesn’t benefit you because you’re white,” she said.
Jerryson asked whether it would help to have a Black Lives Matter chapter or movement in Youngstown. The same student said too many problems in the community need to be addressed for us to reach the point where that would be effective.
“Having a movement without a community is pointless because it won’t stick to anything,” she said.
Others said we need to find ways to make the issue personal to people who don’t feel personally connected to it, perhaps by employing experiential learning.
Mower closed the discussion by saying she would like to see SGA support a Black Lives Matter event at YSU with many university organizations participating.
The Philosophy and Religious Studies Club holds Eat, Drink and Think events on a monthly basis.