It’s been simultaneously fascinating and disturbing to me to watch different people’s reactions to that simple hashtag and the movement it shares a name with. My white conservative friends almost uniformly react with disgust and defensiveness to both the statement and the movement. My white liberal friends almost all claim to support the movement, particularly as long as they approve of the methods employed by the movement and haven’t, to my knowledge, disputed the truth of the statement.
On the face of it all, #BlackLivesMatter is such a simple statement that it seems as though it should be too obvious to even bother stating let alone disagreeing with. Do #BlackLivesMatter? Well, of course they do! The fact that anyone would dispute the truth in that statement or feel the need to counter it with statements about how #AllLivesMatter is itself a strong *indictment of the racial issues and defensiveness in the US.
Now, I must admit that I’ve completely shied away from using those specific words in the past, in large part because of the strong reaction I’ve seen in response to them. Sure, I’ve tried to be a good white ally in other ways. I’ve been fairly regular about posting articles about systemic racism, talking about race and racism with my children, and calling out racist remarks when I see them. But…. I haven’t used #BlackLivesMatter.
Why not? I finally asked myself earlier today, but I wasn’t completely sure what the answer was. I don’t particularly like politicized posts or being bombarded day in and day out by extremist posts from any side of the spectrum and I guess the reactions to #BlackLivesMatter have felt to me as though they’re reactions to an extreme perspective. I don’t particularly want to be an extremist who constantly posts links to questionable websites and subsequently gets hidden or ignored by all reasonable people on the Internet.
But, when looked at rationally and not through the lens of other people’s emotions, is #BlackLivesMatter really that extreme? Is it extreme at all? This is a simple statement of truth. Something so obvious that it shouldn’t even need to be said. Yet many people all but lose their minds with defensiveness when they see it.
So, I’ve come to the perspective that it is the people who object to #BlackLivesMatter, particularly those who object to the statement itself, who are the extremists. Those I’ve seen who object to others saying something as fundamental as #BlackLivesMatter have not been coming from a place of reasonableness or thoughtfulness, but rather from defensiveness, if not anger, and it’s pretty well accepted that defensiveness intereferes with understanding.
I can’t base my wording decisions on other people’s defensiveness. Sure, it’s often essential to know your audience and to try and present things in a way that are most likely to be understandable to them, but sometimes the defensiveness itself needs to be addressed before a productive discussion can even be had.
On another note, I’ve seen many liberal friends of mine post about how upsetting it was to them that some protesters from the #BlackLivesMatter movement interrupted Bernie Sanders’ rally in Seattle a couple days ago. This might sound harsh, but truly, it’s not up to white liberals to decide what is or isn’t acceptable for the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Marginalized people have historically not been able to access the “socially acceptable” channels in order to have a strong voice in society. Perhaps instead of voicing outrage on the Internet, white liberals might gain more understanding and be able to remain supportive by looking into the reasons why the #BlackLivesMatter protesters at that event felt as though they needed to use tactics that you see as unacceptable.
Don’t get me wrong, nobody has to completely agree with everything a movement does in order to support it, but standing in judgment of a marginalized people’s movement from a place of privilege is not supportive.
I like Bernie, I think he’s a good guy with good intentions. I don’t agree with him about everything, but he seems genuine and as though he’s really trying to tackle the big issues that other mainstream candidates won’t even bring up. It’s still not my place or any other white person’s place to look from our position of racial privilege at what #BlackLivesMatter did and get all judgy about it. Those aren’t my family members and friends being murdered by the establishment or by overtly racist nutjobs spurred on by systemic racism. You or I might have done the exact same thing if we were in their shoes, there’s no way of knowing.
For what it’s worth, I grew up in the Seattle area and I 100% agree with the protestors that Seattle is horribly racist. The worst thing about the racism in the PNW is how so many of the white people who live there simply don’t see it or consider it to be an issue. So many people in that area will readily and repeatedly call out racism in the Deep South, but ignore the rampant racism in their own area or in their own words and actions.
I do know one thing: I’m more upset and concerned about the shootings of unarmed black men and women than I am by the things the #BlackLivesMatter movement has done and said. Even if I was more upset by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, it’s not my place to grumble about it. It’s not about me.
*We’ve probably all seen the #AllLivesMatter analogy of a fundraiser for cancer treatments where someone stands up and shouts, “But other diseases are bad too!!!” Okay. Yeah, all diseases are bad and everyone’s life matters. Thank you, Captain Obvious, but we’re focusing on this specific problem right here and now for specific reasons.