White privilege is real, Black Lives Matter founders tell Loyola crowd

Alicia Garza, moderator Dana Bozeman and Opal Tometi discuss the importance of women as leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement.

By Rebekah Frumkin and Carlos D. Williamson

It’s wrong for people to say all lives matter when certain races clearly have an advantage, said Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza during a celebration in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Wednesday at Loyola University.

“What we’re trying to shift here is a paradigm, where the experiences of white folks are used to control how everybody else should live,” Garza said.

While African-Americans are the primary victims of systematic oppression in America, the issues affect everyone, she told an audience of nearly 200 at Loyola University’s Water Tower campus.

“People often are like, ‘Why are we just talking about black students? Why are we not talking about all people?’” she said. “We are talking about all of humanity.

“But what’s happening,” she continued, “and what’s been happening for generations is that black folks have, by and large, been intentionally not only left out of the conversation, but left out of institutions, access to resources and wealth and power.”

Garza and Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi urged the audience to become conscious of how African-Americans are often victimized by the police and other forms of state-sanctioned violence.

“Black lives are devalued in this country by so many interlocking systems of oppression and domination,” Garza said, citing the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the November shooting of Black Lives Matter protestors in Minneapolis as examples of violence against African-Americans that went largely unpunished.

Since the police shooting deaths of Rekia Boyd in 2012 and Mike Brown and Laquan McDonald in 2014, Loyola students have become increasingly aware of police brutality, according to Joe Saucedo, head of student diversity initiatives at Loyola.

“We felt like the time was right to reach out to Black Lives Matter,” Saucedo said.

Moreover, Tometi said Black Lives Matter works to amplify the voices of women and queer people of color because straight males have dominated the civil rights narrative in the past.

“It’s important that the most marginalized among us be brought to the center and lead,” Tometi said. “Our role in this movement has been to create space for stories to be amplified that have been getting ignored.”

Marcos Gonzales, a graduate student in social work, said the activists accurately described the injustices faced by oppressed people in this country.

“They speak truth,” Gonzales said. “I think it was really good to have an opportunity to begin naming some of the realities about structural oppression and racism.”

Later, during a talk at the university’s Rogers Park campus, Tometi described the racial profiling in her native Arizona as what compelled her to become an activist.

“My community was being impacted by racial profiling so much that my dad had to get rid of his car because he was being profiled too much by driving,” Tometi said. “He had to get a beat-up truck so that he could be a little bit more conspicuous.”

Shaniqua Mitchell, president of the Black Cultural Center at Loyola, said the two talks were important for Loyola students because despite increasing awareness of oppression faced by African-Americans, the subject rarely makes an appearance in school curricula.

“Our culture is still an elective to people,” she said. “It’s still a second option.”

Alicia Garza, moderator Dana Bozeman and Opal Tometi discuss the importance of women as leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement. (Rebekah Frumkin/MEDILL)