The MSR recently hosted a virtual discussion with two of Minnesota’s most storied civil rights leaders on the rise of protests and civil unrest in the wake of a pandemic, police brutality, and ongoing systemic disparities.
Elders Mahmoud El-Kati and Dr. Josie Johnson took viewers on an oral tour of the constructs of race and racism while sharing how today’s calls for equality intersect with those of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
They noted the struggles for freedom have been on repeat from slavery and Jim Crow to the Civil Rights Movement and today’s Black Lives Matter Movement and anti-police brutality movements.
“Here we are, in 2020, and we are still fighting for those same sets of items,” said Johnson, whose acclaimed legacy of activism began with her lobbying for fair housing and equal opportunity employment in the early ‘50s. She has continued on as a staunch human and civil rights activist, educator, and author.
What is different is the size and diversity of who is fighting for Black freedom.
“One of the major distinctions between this and the civil rights era of the same movement is today’s movement is more, in some ways, organic,” said El-Kati, educator, author, and the state’s go-to historian on the Black experience. “It’s never been this vast. It has spread throughout the Western world and a little bit of Asia.”
The movement has also amplified the call for more than speeches and the promise of change.
“Today’s children [of the protest] are saying, ‘I want to see results,’” said Johnson. “Our children have to feel that it matters, that the struggle of their ancestors and the laws that get written and acted upon …that the next generation will benefit from it,” she later added. “We have to … prove to our children that we are more than language. That we believe what we do and that we are going to do what it takes to get there.”
That includes reframing how Black communities that have internalized the country’s legacy of oppression view themselves.
“America has convinced itself so completely, so deeply in everything that it does, that there is a superior group… and an inferior group,” said Johnson.
That is why just having such mantras a “Black Power” and “Black Lives Matter” have been so important to the movement for change.
“‘Black is beautiful,’” said El-Kati. “That’s the greatest response that Black people can make to the doctrine of White supremacy.”
El-Kati explained that attacking “the idea” of racism is key to its eradication. “The symptoms are what we have been dealing with all along, and not the root.”
That is something, he said, each generation has already begun to chisel away. “We sometimes underrate ourselves,” said El-Kati, “There will always be Black resistance. They have been in every generation — people who have literally given their lives for the just cause of freedom on behalf of Black people.”
But, he said, “We can’t give up. We have got to find some courage from somewhere [to continue] to challenge the doctrine of White supremacy.”
Watch the video above for full conversation.