ICYMI: Elizabeth Warren Talks About Structural Racism and Black Lives Matter

By Kenrya Rankin Sep 29, 2015

During her talk at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate on Sunday, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) gave a speech that bore the heart of the structural racism that activists have long known to be the sparks that necessitated the Black Lives Matter movement.

Warren touched on many topics that are key to the every day lived experiences of black people in America, covering everything from housing discrimination, to police violence, to domestic terrorism, to the gutting of voting rights.

I speak today with the full knowledge that I have not personally experienced and can never truly understand the fear, the oppression, and the pain that confronts African Americans every day. But none of us can ignore what is happening in this country. Not when our black friends, family, neighbors literally fear dying in the streets.

Listen to the brave, powerful voices of today’s new generation of civil rights leaders. Incredible voices. Listen to them say: "If I die in police custody, know that I did not commit suicide." Watch them march through the streets, "hands up don’t shoot" – not to incite a riot, but to fight for their lives. To fight for their lives. This is the reality all of us must confront, as uncomfortable and ugly as that reality may be. …

Policing must become a truly community endeavor-not in just a few cities, but everywhere. Police forces should look like, and come from, the neighborhoods they serve. They should reach out to support and defend the community – working with people in neighborhoods before problems arise. All police forces-not just some-must be trained to de-escalate and to avoid the likelihood of violence. Body cameras can help us know what happens when someone is hurt. …

The first civil rights battles were hard fought. But they established that Black Lives Matter. That Black Citizens Matter. That Black Families Matter. Half a century later, we have made real progress, but we have not made enough progress. 

Many people, including activist DeRay Mckesson applauded the senator for her speech:

“Senator Warren’s speech clearly and powerfully calls into question America’s commitment to black lives by highlighting the role that structural racism has played and continues to play with regard to housing discrimination and voting rights,” Mckesson told The Washington Post. “And Warren, better than any political leader I’ve yet heard, understands the protests as a matter of life or death—that the American dream has been sustained by an intentional violence and that the uprisings have been the result of years of lived trauma.”

But some wondered online if Warren isn’t just riding the wave of the movement in an attempt to win black votes. Arielle Newton, founder of the Black Millennials blog, wrote on Facebook:

Black Lives Matter (as a Movement and affirmation) holds tremendous political capital. Folks can literally get votes and funds if they court the growing Black vote that is disillusioned by of the system and is ready to divest from it. …

Black folk are conditioned to accept so little, to the point where we applaud white folk for recognizing our work, labor, analysis, and most importantly…our lived existence. We praise a white women who made credible our claims against institutional racism. We laud a white women who probably wouldn’t have delivered these words had it not been for sustained protest and uprisings. We uplift a white women for doing what she’s supposed to do. …

If you wanna praise Sen. Elizabeth Warren for the words that’ve been uttered, written, screamed, chanted, whispered, and proclaimed by many Black folk, fine. But don’t get complacent.

Watch the full video above, or read the transcript.