Diversity Educator, Taj Harvey

Name: Taj Harvey

Major: Communication Studies

Minor: Theatre

Year: Class of 2015

Fun Fact: Taj is only half human, the other half is Kryptonian.

 

Her Campus Ithaca College: How did you first hear about the Black Lives Matter Movement?

Taj Harvey: I first heard about Black Lives Matter during its official inception back in 2013. The Organization was founded by Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors who were moved to action by the death of Treyvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman.

 

HCIC: What was your initial reaction?

TH: My initial reaction to the Black Lives Matter organization was gratitude. I was grateful that for the first time in my life there was public acknowledgement that the lives of black and brown people were valued. It was cathartic to hear that someone cared about the death of Seventeen-year-old Treyvon, who was murdered for—quite literally—minding his business and walking home. Treyvon Martin was the exact same age as me so I couldn’t help but wonder if that could have been me or my brothers. That thought, alone, was enough to keep me up at night.   

 

HCIC: What does this movement mean to you?

TH: To me, this movement has always been about protecting and saving lives. Period. It is not a complicated concept to understand. Black Lives Matter has been fighting these past four years to protect minority groups in this country that are terrorized, largely by: police brutality/over-policing, systemic violence and oppression, and dangerous politics that encourages harm towards disenfranchised communities. Does this mean that all police officers are bad? Of course not, (and frankly it’s annoying that I even have to explain that), but that does not excuse or justify the fact that America has race and policing issues that have been going on for centuries. The work to dismantle these violent infrastructures is beyond simple “beliefs,” “values,” or “opinions,” because people’s lives are on the line. I’ve had to explain that to many of my white counterparts many times. If you can afford to be calm in situations involving systemic violence against another group of people and expect them to react the same as you, then you should be aware that that is a form of privilege and it must be checked.

 

HCIC: What do think about the All Lives Matter Movement?

TH: I think that if people who say “All Lives Matter” truly cared about all lives then their “movement” would not need to be in opposition to Black Lives Matter. Matter of fact, it would be an extension of Black Lives Matter because, idealistically, we would want the same thing—which is for all people to be protected, respected, and treated equally in society as well as under the law. However, let’s be honest, “All Lives Matter” is a rhetorical phrase created by those aiming to silence the voices of marginalized communities. It is a phrase that people say who are not only unaffected in a negative way by establishments of white supremacy, but who benefit from it. You cannot say that “All Lives Matter” to you while being complicit in a system that has been fueled for centuries by the systematically-designed destruction of minority communities. It’s just irresponsible, contradictory, and nonsensical.   

 

HCIC: What would you say to those that say “All Lives Matter?”

TH: To the people who say that “All Lives Matter” I would say that if you truly believe that then do the right thing. Instead of silencing and ignoring the legitimate grievances addressed by Black Lives Matter why not educate yourself on what exactly it is that we’re trying to achieve and become part of the conversation for socio-political improvement in America? Do not stay quiet on issues that are colossally harmful to oppressed communities—stand with us because our issues are your issues as well. Lend your voice to causes and educate yourself about topics that are not ethnically centered around yourselves. Listen to people of color and other marginalized groups when we try to explain what is happening in our communities at this time and place in the world. And, know that not everyone is going to be polite and hold your hand every step of the way, because battling racism and systemic inequality is exhausting, but your willingness to ally with other cultural causes should not be reliant upon that. Most importantly, I want people to understand that while they have the ability to walk away from certain topics and issues that people of color, folks in the LGBTQP Community, and other marginalized groups do not have that luxury. These are our lives and we will never stop fighting for our right to exist peacefully and equitably among other Americans.   

 

HCIC: When did you realize that black people were a marginalized group in society?

TH: I think that I’ve always known deep down inside, but when you’re a young kid you don’t always have the articulation, intelligence, or emotional maturity to explain what exactly it is that you’re dealing with. But if I had to talk about something that really stood out to me, it was when I was in third grade. I had a white teacher named Mrs. Frompneck (yes, that is her real name, hahaha) and every day she would come into class and yell at myself and my friend Bernard (who was also black) for just about anything she could think of. If I asked to use the restroom she would say I was being disruptive. If I asked for her help on a homework assignment she would tell me that if I wasn’t smart enough to do the homework by myself and that I shouldn’t be in the third grade. And she would even throw my homework in the trashcan after it was completed and tell me to do it again. It went on like this for some time until I finally told my mother and she came to school to meet the teacher. During that meeting Mrs. Frompneck told my mother that I was a “delinquent child” and that perhaps my problems with academics came from a “cultural issue.” My Mother, naturally, was extremely upset by the language and micro-aggressive behavior of my teacher and decided to move me to a new school after leaving a lengthy email to the principle threating to sue the school for discrimination and the emotional trauma that I faced. My mother and school ended up settling out of court and that was the last time I saw that teacher, but on that day, especially, I learned just how much some people don’t seem to like people that looked like me.  

 

HCIC: What advice would you give to people who are in a marginalized group?

TH: To my fellow friends, family, and allies that are fighting to humanize yourselves I want you to always remember that no matter how bleak things look in the world right now that there are literally billions of people across the world fighting for your freedom and liberation. Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that for every one ignorant person out there that there are three other people trying to educate themselves and improve their cultural consciousness. I think this is important to say because a lot of people are feeling hopeless right now for political reasons and beyond. I just want to make it clear that there has never been a resistance in the history of the world without backlash and right now this storm is temporary. Keep pushing for liberation, keep fighting for love, and don’t ever turn your back on one another!

HCIC: What do you think are the best ways to raise awareness, educate, and fight the systems of oppression in the US?

TH: The best way to fight systemic oppression in the United States (granted it is never the easiest) is to stay active in the policies and foot traffic of your local government and national elections. Most people tend to vote during the Presidential Election, but it is vital to monitor the activities of the local and Congressional members as well. In 2018, for example, most of our members of Congress are up for re-election. This is critical to making sure that there are appropriate checks and balances of our current administration and the laws that will be passed forward in the future. Otherwise, I’d say to get out of the house, get off social media, and organize. This past month we have seen the largest Women’s March in History and that was only possible because people were willing to stand for their principle’s—literally. So, don’t let anyone ever tell you that social and political activism doesn’t work. It does and it has for almost a century.

 

HCIC: Final Thoughts?

TH: I am and always have been about love. The most critical aspect of all that I do and all that I fight for is driven by love. I love my friends and fellow activists. For them, for our shared humanity, and our right to exist regardless of race, sexual orientation, or religion I will always stand up and do the right thing.