Atlanta March for Michael Brown Answers to Respectability Politics

Atlanta March in honor of Michael Brown

Credit: David Goldman/ AP

Thousands of protesters marched through Atlanta on Monday, despite heavy rains and thunderstorms, to continue the national push for justice for Michael Brown.

Unarmed 18-year-old Brown was shot multiple times by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer despite eyewitness accounts that the teen had his hands up prior to being shot.

The digital flyer for Atlanta’s march in honor of Brown asked protesters to wear business casual clothing and for students to wear their graduation caps and gowns to serve as a “sarcastic” response to respectability politics.

Respectability politics argue that Black people need to live a certain way and make themselves look a certain way in order to be respected. This also implies that Blacks are not automatically entitled to the same respect that others are naturally granted.

In this case, respectability politics place a majority of the blame of Brown’s death on his appearance and the behavior of the Black community as a whole and can often spark the criminalization of Black victims. 

Elle Lucier, one of the organizers of Monday’s march and the executive organizer for #ItsBiggerThanYou, explained that the goal of the march was to condemn this way of thinking.

“There are a bunch of different movements that are really putting the blame and the complete responsibility on the Black community,” Lucier told Atlanta Blackstar after mentioning a viral slogan “Pants Up, Guns Down.” “… I don’t believe in giving anyone, any victim of oppression the responsibility of ending their oppression because, at the end of the day, racism is a prejudice that’s combined with institutional and systematic power.”

Lucier explained that dressing nicely or behaving a certain way still does not change the “systematic and institutionalized perception of Black people.”

“That’s something that is reinforced by politics, it’s reinforced by the media, it’s reinforced in our public schools and in our churches even,” she said.

By having so many protesters dressed in business casual attire and graduation gowns, the organizers wanted to “answer to respectability politics,” Lucier said.

“How well do I have to dress?” Lucier asked. “What does innocence look like to you? When you think of an innocent Black person, what does it take for me to look like that, or do you even think that Black people can look innocent?”

Many protesters embraced the message.

One white demonstrator was holding a sign that read, “Why do I still look more innocent than him?” as he was standing next to a Black friend marching beside him in a button-down shirt and tie.

The march, which began in front of the CNN Center at 7 p.m., grew in size and power as the day passed.

Atlanta march brings thousands together for Mike Brown

Credit: AJC

Despite heavy rains and warnings of severe thunderstorms in the area, the protesters continued to fill the streets.

At one point, the massive crowd reached Centennial Olympic Park while wrapping down Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard and back down Marietta Street.

Lucier said she overheard a journalist estimate that there were close to 5,000 people participating in the march.

She remembered one of the protesters finally telling her and the entire committee to turn around after they reached the park.

The 19-year-old activist grew emotional as she remembered the moment she turned around and looked down the rain-soaked streets only to realize she couldn’t see the end of the march.

“All you could see was this rumbling wave of energy coming from all of these people in the street, and it looked like 1960,” she said as she began tearing up. “… It was so beautiful. I can’t even put it into words.”

Another protester, who could barely see after harsh winds caused her contacts to come out, said the experience was incredibly powerful.

“In moments of doubt or fear, chanting the words ‘It’s bigger than you’ was a necessary, constant reminder that this is bigger than me.” Aliscia Ray, a senior at Georgia State University, recalled. “Even though there were no instantaneous results, and even though this was a very, very small step to what is justice, and an equal justice system, none of it was done in vain. We are fed up, and we will be heard.”

Lucier revealed that #ItsBiggerThanYou is currently working on several more projects to continue pushing a message of equality and to stand in solidarity with Michael Brown and the people of Ferguson.

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