Beyond the Hashtag: Dismantling America’s Framework of Oppression

By Jaden Urbi

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Christine Salek, senior in journalism and mass communication, shares her experience via Instagram from a Black Lives Matter Rally in Des Moines in spring 2015.

The carefully assembled framework of oppression that runs back to America’s conception takes on a new form in each passing generation, now like a silent force working diligently beneath the floorboards, out of sight from the unaffected passerby.

As Martin Luther King led his generation’s fight for equality, this generation’s efforts to unveil the systematic oppression of its predecessors has come largely from an unprecedented source of inspiration, a hashtag.

#BlackLivesMatter has become a symbol of the growing transparency behind police brutality, and to some, evidence of a country being torn apart by hashtags, protests, riots and bullets.

As a plight of names, statistics, trials and tweets dominate news headlines and spark national debate; a divisive race war is raging throughout the streets and screens of America.

For Kenyatta Shamburger, program coordinator for Multicultural Student Affairs at ISU, talk of the modern civil rights movement and activism hits close to home on many levels.

“The information about the civil rights movement that I grew up knowing was more than just reading it in a book,” said Shamburger.

Originally from the South, Shamburger’s parents were actively involved in the civil rights movement, making conversations around race and activism normal dinnertime conversation.

“When we think of civil rights movements, they tend to ebb and flow, and right now we are in one of those heightened times,” said Shamburger. “We are in a state of emergency, people are tired and are finding various ways to express and demand justice.”

Go back to the 50s and 60s and most of the news people got came from radio and TV. “But the black church was a center point where the pastors were also activists, and would preach a social gospel message,” said Shamburger.

Fast-forward to today, the message has become instantaneous with pictures, memes and video being spread on social media and playing on loop during newscasts.

“These are not actors, there is no ‘scene, cut, wash the blood off and move on to the next scene’,” said Shamburger.

Images of shaky cell-phone video and protests thousands of people strong, marching through city streets have become the reference point for millions of Americans through mainstream media, but where does that leave members of predominantly white communities who aren’t seeing police shootings on their own block?

Julian Neely, sophomore in journalism and mass communication and vice president of the Black Student Alliance, used his experiences at a predominantly white high school to strengthen his understanding of the systematic oppression of the black community.

“I remember I wore an ‘I am Trayvon Martin’ sweatshirt and students argued with me about why he deserved to die,” said Neely. “After that moment, I began intensifying my knowledge and education on mass incarceration, miseducation, police brutality and racial discrimination.”

Shamburger acknowledges that often times people are not comfortable having conversations about race, privilege and oppression, but he believes it is absolutely necessary to discuss, especially in schools.

“Somehow, someway we are connected to somebody that is being affected by something,” said Shamburger. “Once we start connecting with people at our point of humanity, the possibilities begin to open up.”

Once we are able to take the step from media dictated discussion of black lives and connect with people at the point of humanity is when we will truly be able to begin dismantling America’s framework of oppression.

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