On Wednesday, members of the #BlackLivesMatter movement responded to President Obama’s sixth State of the Union address by releasing the first ever State of the Black Union address on blacklivesmatter.com.
In contrast to Obama’s hour-long speech (which addressed issues ranging from Instagram to middle-class economics to the fact that climate change exists, while only lightly grazing the topics of racial justice and police violence), the SOBU was a succinct 1180 words focusing on structural oppression of Black people in the United States. Over a dozen organizations endorsed the statement, including Justice League, Millennial Activists United, Trans Women of Color Collective, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and Dream Defenders.
From the SOBU address:
This country owes Black citizens nothing less than full recognition of our human rights. The White House’s current racial justice initiative, My Brother’s Keeper, ignores too many members of our communities. It does not address the inhumane conditions we collectively experience living in a white supremacist system. The issues facing Black women, immigrants, trans and queer people must be included and we demand a full expansion of My Brother’s Keeper to do so.
We demand the same inclusion from our movement.
None of us are free until all of us are free. Our collective efforts have exposed the ugly American traditions of patriarchy, classism, racism, and militarism. These combined have bred a violent culture rife with transphobia, and other forms of illogical hatred.
This corrupt democracy was built on Indigenous genocide and chattel slavery. And continues to thrive on the brutal exploitation of people of color. We recognize that not even a Black President will pronounce our truths. We must continue the task of making America uncomfortable about institutional racism. Together, we will re-imagine what is possible and build a system that is designed for Blackness to thrive.
The address highlighted key statistics on the disparities Black America faces, including:
- The median wealth for single White women is $42,600. For Black women, it’s $5. (Source)
- Blacks and Latinos are about 31 percent of the US population, but 60 percent of the prison population. (Source)
- Since 1976, the United States has executed thirteen times more black defendants with white victims than white defendants with black victims. (Source)
Among the demands listed were an immediate end to police brutality, a public education system that teaches the rich history of Black people, and an inclusive racial justice agenda from the White House.
“2015 is the year of resistance,” the SOBU declared in its powerful conclusion. “We the People, committed to the declaration that Black lives matter, will fight to end the structural oppression that prevents so many from realizing their dreams. We cannot, and will not stop until America recognizes the value of Black life.”
At 8 p.m. EST the same day, a town hall meeting was facilitated by Black Lives Matter national leadership on Twitter hashtag #SOBU, hosted by Hunter Lourdes, co-founder and national director of the Trans Women of Color Collective, and Erica Totten, abolitionist and founder of Live Unchained. The format was a series of questions dropping every 10 minutes, with participants providing their own answers and engaging with each other during the hour-long session.
A sample of some of the responses:
Q1: #SOTU FAILS. What was missing from POTUS Address?
A1: mentioned anti semitisn but glossed over anti blackness #SOBU
— Nnenna (@theAfroLegalise) January 22, 2015
A.1 Admitting too much money has been spent on war & defense, and not enough on healthcare & education. #SOBU
Q2: None of us are free until we all GET FREE! How are YOU engaging in collective healing?
— Justice League NYC (@NYjusticeleague) January 22, 2015
A2. Taking the time to hold space with my sisters where we can laugh, cry, drink, listen to Beyonce. #SOBU SOTU
— Rebel Scum (@awkward_duck) January 22, 2015
Q3: 2015 was coined Year Of Resistance and Resilience! What does that look like for the Black Community?
#SOBU A3. Resisting any and all forms of oppression even when it's done internally as a symptom of Stockholm's Syndrome.
— #FixthePolice (@mikebrowncover) January 22, 2015
— J Mase III (@JMaseIII) January 22, 2015
— Elle Hearns (@SoulFreeDreams) January 22, 2015
Q4: Accountability is a gift. In what ways are YOU actively upholding oppressive spaces?
#SOBU A4 Getting defensive when Black women speak rather than listening, understanding & APPLYING lessons.
— No1ofConsequence (@MoJohn8510) January 22, 2015
A4. Losing sight of intersectionality and therefore spots where I have privilege #SOBU
— Senaida (@ThatKittyMcGee) January 22, 2015
A4: Myself blaming other Black's for not understanding when I should take the time to dismantle the lies they've been told & believe. #SOBU
— “R.J., They/Them” (@darkskintrudeau) January 22, 2015
Q5: Structural oppression manifests in all our lives. In what ways are you committed to dismantling white supremacy?
A5. Economic freedom for the working class and poor which are mostly minorities. Oligarchy has got to go! #SOBU
— Moumita for District Leader 🌹 (@disruptionary) January 22, 2015
A.5 I'm committed to NOT centering respectability/whiteness as a preferred "norm" in conversations I have with my API communities. #SOBU
— Sammie Ablaza Wills (@FTWSammie) January 22, 2015
— ashley yates (@brownblaze) January 22, 2015
Q6: Our oppressor will never free us! What is it going to take to gain our collective liberation?
Q6: Unfortunately? Time. Fortunately? Creativity. Which I’ve seen. We need to think about new forms of resistance. #SOBU
— M i c h e l l e (@heymeeshi) January 22, 2015
A6: recognize the interconnectedness of all oppression & that the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. #SOBU
— Janan (@jananamirah) January 22, 2015
— The Woo👁Woo Savage 😘💋 (@FEARLESSnFREE) January 22, 2015
Following the meeting, Hunter told Autostraddle that she was pleasantly surprised to see only one troll in the discussion. “Having the opportunity to provide a platform for all Black folk to come together on social media and discuss [the state of the union], peel back the layers of structural oppression as well as build community was transformative,” said Hunter. “I feel that any opportunity for folk to live in their truth is an opportunity to celebrate. The Twitter Town Hall provided that opportunity for collective healing, restoration, fellowship and action. We demonstrated that All #BlackLivesMatter.”