At a dinner discussion on Tuesday commemorating the 50th anniversary of civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, students discussed the legacy of the marches and modern-day racism in the United States.
Members of the Harvard Political Union posed questions to attendees, touching on issues such as the use of the “Black Lives Matter” social media hashtag by other groups.
Some expressed concern that such use of the hashtag might diminish the power of the original movement. However, most attendees said they believed that the hashtag should serve as a vehicle to achieve similar goals for marginalized groups, especially in an age where social media is a powerful platform for protest.
“We are in an age where a lot of the social protest can come down to what you post, what hashtag you are using in your Instagram pictures, your Facebook posts, or your Twitter feeds,” said Omobolaji O. Ogunsola, a resident tutor in Pforzheimer House.
Ogunsola also commented on the differences between Selma and current social movements. She said that protestors at Selma had more focused demands for political and legal change than those in Ferguson, Mo., where protests errupted after a white police officer who shot and killed a black man last summer was not indicted.
“Everyone was saying, ‘We need to do something,’ but no one knew what to do except be out in the streets,” Ogunsola said. She said while the Ferguson protests received national attention, they should also think about how to turn protest into political change.
“There is a lot of attention on protests, but not a lot of attention on the actual policies that need to be changed and what we can do to be a part of active change,” Ogunsola said.
Discussion also turned to the issue of racism and how Americans speak about race. Brandon A. Wilks ’17 said Americans need to change the way society speaks about marginalized groups.
“If you create a dialogue or rhetoric where people have value, hence the idea behind 'Black Lives Matter,' and you attribute that to other marginalized groups...that same change can happen,” Wilks said.
The discussion also touched on the definition of racism and how people address the issue. Kelcee A. Everette ’18 said during the discussion that “people don’t have the right idea of what racism is. I feel like people still have that idea of racism being that blacks have to sit in the back of the bus.”
She said many often overlook the issue of everyday microaggressions when defining racism.
The discussion, called “50 Years after Selma: A Student Dinner Discussion,” was sponsored by the Black Men’s Forum, the Black Students Association, and the Association of Black Harvard Women.
—Staff writer Carolina I. Portela-Blanco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cportelablanco.
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