“Have Black Lives Ever Mattered? An Introduction.”
Does the title of this work seem provocative? If so, then good. That’s how it’s intended to be, for if the question is provocative, then what of the answer? Is not the answer, no matter how damning, far more provocative? And yet who dares answer in any way other than the negative?
There was an old axiom, especially among journalists and journalism professors, that today’s newspapers are the first draft of history. Like most axioms, they hold a kernel of truth, but there is more. Here is another axiom: history is written by the victors.
The words that follow on these pages were not written by a victor but by one who has seen and sensed what was happening on the other side of a prison wall, who seeks to convey those impressions with truth, and who has often done so several times a week. In a sense, the impressions recorded in these pages ahead are a form of history, black history recorded during a particular passage of time.
During this particular period, we experienced the greatest economic disaster since the great depression of the 1930s, the cultural dominance of hip-hop, the nation’s fever over mass incarceration, the Obama presidency, the spread of the Black Lives Matter movement, ad the unexpected onset of a Donald J. Trump era.
True history, what Howard Zinn called the people’s history, is the one which gives us voices of ordinary people and create through these words their ordinary struggles. And yet for blacks, much that never makes it to the newspapers, or if so, only in a distorted form, still leaves scars in the mind, evidence of trauma sustained from simply existing as a black person in the United States of America.
The pages ahead reflect the people’s struggles in the invisible sectors of American society, sectors which, by a terrible necessity, are populated largely by blacks, Latinos, immigrants, the incarcerated, and those with little income. The pages ahead are also, by equal necessity, reflections of insurgent, emergent, radical, and revolutionary aspiration, thinking, and living, for from oppression comes solidarity, resistance, rebellion, and change.
National movements like Black Lives Matter are manifestations of such solidarity and resistance and give voice to the eruption of outrage, angst, hopes, and insurgent protest provoked by each new killing. That such a movement was brought into being by three young women of color, Patrice Cullors, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza, is telling, for throughout American history, we have seen how the dedicated efforts of women of color have driven resistance, networks, and liberation movements. These determined sisters have both studied history and altered it and continue to do so today.
You’ve been listening to the opening words and introduction to the book Have Black Lives Ever Mattered? This is its author Mumia Abu-Jamal. I am here not just to read these words but to thank you for coming to this party, to greet you, all of you: old, young, straight, gay, black, Latino, brown, yellow, of every color, of every character, of every age, of every gender for daring to join me here tonight, at least in spirit. I thank you. I welcome you. And believe it or not, I love you, each and every one of you, for being part of this day and this movement.
This is Mumia Abu-Jamal saying, “I love you all.”
These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.