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The year is 1963. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators congregate at the steps of the Washington Monument to advocate for Black rights, both civil and economic. The year is 2014. Hundreds of activists participate in a protest in Ferguson, Missouri to call attention to the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer. Both of these marches were peaceful and nonviolent, but the former is venerated while the latter is condemned. The narrative of diversity has in the past shaped and continues to shape our views of demonstration and its participants. When most people think of Black protestors, they think of Martin Luther King Jr. , Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks in the era of the civil rights movement. The methods of these individuals and their followers shaped the views of Americans on what demonstration should look like. On one hand, Martin Luther King Jr. preached peace above retribution: “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals. ”
Contrarily, Malcolm X once said, “If violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it’s wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it’s wrong for America to draft us and make us violent abroad in defense of her. ” He was pointing out the hypocritical nature of the white man’s actions; he used violence against everyone else, but could not stand when the violence was turned against him. Martin Luther King Jr. was praised for his pacifistic principles while Malcolm X was condemned for his passion to protect his Black brothers and sisters. Ultimately, even the most understanding of the dominating whites was only in support of Black revolution on his own terms. Plenty of people have heard of the Stonewall Riots. A rebellion against the arrest of gay and transgender people in a queer bar in 1969, it incited several days of protest on the streets of Manhattan and the first pride parade in its honor the following year. However, one of the leaders of the riots was Marsha P Johnson, a young impoverished Black trans drag queen largely unacknowledged in academia surrounding both the gay liberation and civil rights movements. According to Stolze, during the first night of the riots, Johnson is credited with throwing a shot glass at a mirror, shattering it in an “act of defiance [that] became known as the ‘shot glass heard around the world’”.
In 1992, Johnson’s body was found in the Hudson River. The police dismissed the insistence of people who were close to her that she was not suicidal, quickly ruling her death a suicide (Stolze). This reaction is far from uncommon. As of 2015, “just 17 states and the District of Columbia have laws that include gender identity protection,” meaning discrimination is still legal against trans people in most of the United States (Blaise). This discrimination is especially prevalent against Black trans people, who made up approximately 75% of the recorded transgender murders between 2013 and 2015 (Blaise). Merriam Webster defines prejudice as “an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge” (“Prejudice”). The feeling hinges on a fundamental misunderstanding. If people knew more about one another, they would understand each other better, leading to greater racial harmony. The problem predominantly lies not in the offering of education—though there are always ways to teach more—but in the desire of humans to seek out and retain the knowledge. It’s easy to get students to learn: include the information in a curriculum, require that course to be taken, and hang their future on their grade in that course. Adults are much more difficult to convince to learn. They don’t generally take classes from which they might receive grades. However, they do ordinarily have jobs. If the knowledge was to be made essential to their performance in their position, more adults would learn and keep the information. Employers must be held responsible for the ability of their employees. People would become more educated, but it would also cause trades such as marketing and social work to become more successful due to the workers’ increased understanding of their target audience, thus boosting their effectivity with patrons not previously accessed. In the age of globalization, enhanced understanding of other cultures ought to be mandatory for any job, but especially those revolving around human interaction.
Today, the public opinion of Black protestors is deeply rooted in the discriminatory dichotomy of the civil rights era and distaste for queer activists. Communities dehumanize these advocates and treat them with scorn. Even as they protest peacefully for rights, lingering animosity causes blame to be shifted to those attempting to incite change. Still, education and understanding have been and remain the most effective ways of counteracting prejudice. If the communities understood one another’s perspectives, real advancement could occur.
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