Right-wing media outlets including Breitbart, The Blaze and Drudge Report spent the last two days posting about Black Lives Matter Philly, saying the group’s “black-only” April meeting discriminates against white people.
But the organization, which has designated “black-centered” spaces since its inception in 2015, is defending the practice and asking critics to check their civil rights history.
“Black-centered spaces provide black people with the opportunity to come together to strategize, organize and heal in fellowship without the fear of violence and co-optation,” said L. Williams, a BLM Philly member who requested Billy Penn not publish her first name for safety purposes.
Earlier this week, Black Lives Matter Philly — an affiliate of the national Black Lives Matter organization — advertised its April 15 open meeting, noting “this is a black only space.” When someone tweeted at the organization Monday morning regarding the policy, they pointed out that Malcolm X “took our same stance” and replied that anyone who identifies as a person of the African Diaspora was welcome to attend. If not, “you can support us in other ways.”
By Monday afternoon, The Daily Caller published an article titled “Black Lives Matter Philly Bans White People From Its Meetings” and Breitbart wrote “white people banned” from Black Lives Matter meetings in Philadelphia. Later that day, Drudge Report tweeted out the Daily Caller article to its more than 1.1 million Twitter followers. The Blaze also published an article about it Tuesday.
This morning, Black Lives Matter Philly released a lengthy statement about the backlash, writing “We are unapologetically Black and believe having Black only spaces — where Black people can come together to strategize, organize, heal and fellowship without the threat of violence and co-optation — is an important part of Black liberation.”
The organization wrote that the idea of “black-only spaces” is associated with the teachings of Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Marcus Garvey and other black leaders. The teachings, they wrote, say “that we, Black people, are in the best position to define and create our own plan and path towards freedom and liberation based upon our own unique experiences as Black people in the United States.”
BLM Philly isn’t the first or the only membership organization to restrict access to certain spaces based on a variety of criteria. There are religious ceremonies and events that people cannot attend unless they are a member of that faith.There is a huge difference between a systematic denial of a person’s access to public spaces such as restaurants, hotels, schools and hospitals simply based on their skin color, and saying that a meeting is a Black-centered space. Trying to compare legal segregation and structural racism to lack of access to our meetings is a false dichotomy and the epitome of privilege.
Williams said Black Lives Matter Philly has routinely held meetings considered “black-centered spaces,” but this is the first time they’ve dealt with widespread backlash. She said the group routinely directs others toward other organizations they can get involved with, including the Philly chapter of Standing Up for Racial Justice, a national organization that aims to mobilize white people for racial justice, POWER, Philly for REAL Justice and other groups in the city.
She said despite the relentless online attacks, Black Lives Matter Philly remains dedicated to hosting events with black-centered spaces.
“It’s been tiring,” Williams said. “We’re trying to actively work to end white supremacy and racism, and our entire last 36 hours we have spent having to defend our position.”