Is Santa Fe Ready for Black Lives Matter?

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On June 3, Santa Feans held a Black Lives Matter protest, which saw hundreds of participants gathered in solidarity with BLM and its immediate objectives to demilitarize or defund the police (or both). I was proud to see Santa Fe in sync with the national movement following the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.

I still weigh the question "Is Santa Fe ready for Black Lives Matter?" mindfully, because the crowds at the rally heavily relied on the youth and student community.

Previous local BLM marches (co-sponsored by Occupy Wall Street) occurred locally in 2014 and 2016, and neither event drew crowds. They drew scores at best. There was a Santa Fe memorial to the nine victims in the Charleston Church shooting in 2015 which, to my recollection, drew 15 mourners. And the issues go deeper.

A contingent in 2014, for example, was uncomfortable with the rallying cry. I remember a sharp divide existed between participants who explicitly critiqued race, privilege and police violence versus a camp carrying "All Lives Matter" signs. There was no special space given to black voices. The event survived intact by alternating "Black Lives Matter" with "All Lives Matter" chants.

I was quoted in a story by The Santa Fe New Mexican's Phaedra Haywood saying, "In every city in America, there is a part of town where the poor people live. And they are usually black and brown people. Accept the reality that there is a color line based on economics." Looking back, if anything, I stated my case rather timidly.

In the past two weeks and with lightning rod swiftness I have watched the level of support behind the Black Lives Matter movement expand astronomically, accompanying profounder reflections on racism in law enforcement, housing and employment, criminal justice and education. It may be that the national surge has already clarified my major points. Or maybe not. I don't know. However, I write to support BLM's capacity to transform America—Santa Fe included, where the black population is minimal. And Black Lives Matter? In 2014, a percentage of folks at a BLM event didn't even want to say it.

And where were the teeming crowds in Santa Fe six, four, or two years ago?

In the past weeks, I've had several friends call on me to express their regrets over the horrors of the racist policing and/or ask about my "black experience." These include friends who have never expressed interest before (I don't let the conversation go by without noting this). Their personal blind spots reflect something about Santa Fe. It is a tourist city whose legacy has also created a bubble city.

I have conducted racism workshops during my decade here. A particular piece of evidence of the Santa Fe bubble stood out when I conducted (how coincidentally) a workshop on poetry and police violence. A white woman who boasted she attended "every writing workshop I can," couldn't absorb the dual nature of the presentation. In fact, although she was eager to learn "poetry writing," when I mentioned Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, she expressed complete ignorance of who they were. I don't know whether this is racism, escapism or naïveté, but (giving it the benefit of all doubt) it's a kind of naïveté solely possible by living in insularity. And Santa Fe abets the bubble.

Santa Fe supports annual celebratory cultural festivals. It isn't eager to scrutinize Anglo-Hispanic-Native American divisions, nor African American disenfranchisement. Notable exceptions that I have admired, including Tonya Rubinstein's Monologue series and individual works showcased by the Alas de Agua Collective, are often rewarded by paltry attendance. I have given presentations after which I believed I literally was going to suffer a white backlash. The bubble audiences had been tricked into listening. They were never returning to see me again!

And what do you say when people who live in a Santa Fe bubble—and usually aren't aware they do—phone asking you about racism? I resolved the dilemma by challenging them with my real question. "Is Santa Fe ready for Black Lives Matter?"

A Black Lives Matter gathering should highlight black voices and black speakers—no more or less so than Jewish, Hispanic or Native American gatherings highlight their respective stories. "All Lives Matter" is not a plea for colorblind humanitarianism. It is a racist and dismissive insult. Would you condone going to a Jewish Holocaust memorial, and calling on them to excise references to Jewishness? Or attend gay/lesbian/ transgender memorials to their dead and tell them to drop the LGBTQ2IA+ part?

The hesitancy, or worse, inability to say Black Lives Matter exhibits an inability to pay African Americans the respect you pay the aforesaid groups. In New Mexico Black and Brown Lives Matter is a powerful and relevant statement. Countless brown and Indigenous people are also victims of police violence.

But it is most important that BLM demonstrations have a historical connection to black oppression, slavery and segregation. Between 1877 and 1950, 4,084 black women and men were lynched in Southern states, according to a report from the Equal Justice Initiative. Lynching was state-sanctioned "legal" murder, without a trial. It was euphemistically called "vigilante justice." Today, more than a thousand African Americans are killed by police each year. How many have been wrongfully killed? How many have been euphemistically "legally" lynched? A BLM demonstration is both a protest and a funeral. It is a funeral for the wrongfully murdered, a protest against more murders.

Black Lives Matter is a struggle to sustain memory against forgetting, yet change the future.

Darryl Lorenzo Wellington is a journalist, syndicated columnist, playwright, poet, surrealist and performance artist.

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