Standing in Solidarity: Black Lives Matter

I didn’t plan on writing this piece about #BlackLivesMatter.  I wanted to watch how it all played out without getting too involved. Truthfully I was afraid that I would say something wrong that would make me look unintelligent and uninformed. Then I realized that by being silent about it, somehow I was allowing more damage to happen.  I write this from a place of vulnerability, love, and hope.  I’m willing to be brave for those whose voices are drowning in fear. I hope to amplify the voices of my black brothers and sisters as they scream, even when it seems no one is listening. I hope to be corrected, as needed, by those whose lives are in danger and whose shoes I can never occupy. I will keep listening.

There is trepidation among many to acknowledge the fear that exists in communities of color, especially among those who are Black or African American. I get it.  While it’s scary to witness scary things, it’s also easy to turn off the tv and erase it from our own sheltered lives. It’s easy to claim that racism doesn’t exist anymore. It’s easy to think, “How horrible for those people” or even “They deserved it” or “They asked for it.” You’ve heard of victim blaming, yes? It’s an easy escape when you don’t want to accept responsibility for being part of a system with severe character flaws. In the case of a class of people being violently murdered because of their skin color, focusing solely on our own problems (My cat is sick. I put too much salt in this food. Why are gas prices so high?) is similar to walking by a robbery and not doing something to try to stop it or saying “it does not affect me, so I don’t have to pay attention” (Not in my backyard). When our simple problems become more important than the fact that people are dying, especially when we can do something about it, we’re part of the problem. Inaction does not make the problem go away. We’re all guilty.

These killings affect everyone. They are on our tvs, in our back yards, in our schools, on our news feeds. This earth holds us all, and every action or inaction we choose affects the rest. If we claim that every life is equal while we watch senseless killings of people who are black, because they are black, we do not have equality. If we claim racism is no longer an issue while we see white supremacy rallies and KKK reports of recruitment, we are supporting an institutional tendency to ignore hatred in favor of the oppressor while blaming the victims for not fighting back (or fighting too much). Censoring our current history creates an environment that silences the exploration of solutions and only serves to hide us from the realities of the world.

All Lives Matter, right? When we say all, do we really mean all?  Who is included in “All?” Are we saying that all lives matter equally? Isn’t that what it is supposed to mean? Do some lives matter more than others? Who chooses whose life matters more?  All Lives Matter is an inclusive statement in theory, but when suggested as a counter statement to Black Lives Matter it serves as a wall to protect ourselves from the reality that black people are scared because they are black. Do white people fear for their lives because of their skin color?

The opportunities that exist for us are often based on our identities. Our master statuses control our access to the wealth of resources and opportunities in society. My master status is most often female. My secondary statuses include being chronically ill, having a college education, and identifying as queer. Only one of these I chose for myself, the fact that I have a BA in Sociology, although I had better access to higher education because of privilege. As a female I exist in a system with institutional sexism – women still make a fraction of their male counterparts in the same jobs with the same qualifications.  Girls are sent home from school for disobeying sexist dress codes that hold them responsible for the way boys act, rather than teaching all children how to treat each other with respect and care. Women are often defined as what they are not, rather than what they are: if boys will be boys, then what will girls be? Women who work in male-dominated jobs must fight twice as hard just to be seen as equal (Don’t believe it? Ask me!). Women are constantly judged by their attractiveness, their ability to handle a sexist joke, and the assumption that they’ll leave work to have kids (and if they don’t, then there’s something else wrong with them).  Women can’t catch a break.  Conversely, when men enter the world of “women’s work” they are often embraced for their new ideas because they are men, and they do not have to hide or disqualify or ignore their gender, and they don’t have to work as hard just to be seen as equals because they know they won’t be questioned just for being male. The message is: women just aren’t as good as men.  Having privilege means occupying a space in society that is seen as normal and anything else is seen as deviant and treated as the ‘other.’

Groups of people whose master statuses are lower than that of the privileged classes (ie: male, white, straight, tall, physically able) have to fight twice or thrice as hard just to be seen, period.  We must acknowledge all our brothers and sisters, especially those who seem to not matter as much when judging by current and long-reaching historical events, laws, and systemic privilege. Let me make this absolutely clear: I am not attacking or blaming privileged people for occupying privileged places. I’m asking brave, courageous people to listen.  Listen to the people who are screaming to survive.  Listen to the people whose brothers and sisters and daughters and mothers and fathers and cousins are being murdered – listen to the people who are dying at the hands of others.  People are afraid for their lives for no other reason than they are black. There is such power in listening, and actually hearing and feeling the pain of those beside you who are afraid to drive, afraid to call the police for their own protection, afraid to send their children to school, afraid to go to church! We should not, cannot support a culture of terror for any group of people.  Silence about privilege does nothing but make cancer out of useless fear. So, listen and speak up. Be an ally. Talk about racism. Ask questions that are uncomfortable. Talk about injustice. Ask what fear feels like.  When we learn how to listen and talk openly and honestly to work through hatred, that is when all can perhaps truly begin to mean ALL.

Black Lives Matter is not a movement by a group of people trying to take over.  It is a movement of people (and allies) who have never seen equal ground as defined by law – it is a movement of desperate, afraid, and sometimes hopeless people who want to live without fear of the color of their skin. People who want to abide by the law (and a majority do), but who are murdered just the same. There comes a breaking point, when you get tired of being treated like a criminal whether you’re breaking the law or abiding it. Black people are dying violent deaths at the hands of the people who are sworn into their positions to keep people safe.  Exactly who is being kept safe? 

White Lives Matter is a statement that needs no backup; it’s a statement that doesn’t need to exist simply – we already know and understand it to be true.  Black Lives Matter is a statement of hope for people whose skin color causes them to be a moving target.

Black lives need to matter; if we hide from this fact we deepen the jagged, deep, bloody lines of oppression and hatred and prejudice. Keeping the invisible invisible because you/I/we feel threatened by those who are actually equals makes those of us with privilege stand on shaky pedestals that will be felled by anger – the cycle of hatred and violence will only continue. Let go of your ladder up to nowhere and instead make a bridge out of it. If my life already matters and I know it, it hurts me not to shout from the top of my lungs, BLACK LIVES MATTER.

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