Let’s Talk: Racism

And once again, dear reader, we find ourselves in the aftermath of a tragic event that creates more offense and bigotry than positive social change. And once again, I find myself having to write about something that should, in my opinion, be rather cut-and-dry.

But, before we get into it here, can we please take a moment to reflect and ask ourselves, “When is this nonsense going to stop?” In the span of the last 60 days, we’ve seen a hate crime and act of terror against the LGBT community in which 103 were injured and 49 were killed. We’ve seen not one, but two deaths of black men at the hands of members of law enforcement, both cases being tantamount to murder. We’ve seen 11 police officers injured, 5 killed by sniper fire in an act of revenge. And yet, America seems too content to ignore the facts: that undercurrents of racism and homophobia permeate society to this day, resulting in horrific acts of violence  being perpetrated out of feelings of fear and ignorance, and being allowed to happen due to outrageously ineffectual and laughably loose gun control laws.

But I don’t want to focus on gun control or homophobia today. No, today, I need to talk about the problem of institutional racism in our modern society. Specifically, #BlackLivesMatter vs. #AllLivesMatter.

And honestly, dear reader, I didn’t think this was an article I’d have to write. I assumed that most Americans would understand the meaning behind the Black Lives Matter movement. And yet, I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend of white Americans responding to “Black lives matter!” with the phrase “Well, all lives matter.” Which means that many people, if not most, are indeed missing the point. To rebut with “All lives matter” is minimizing, offensive, and the argumentative equivalent of a government coverup. And if you honestly can’t see that, then we need to dig deeper.

Black Lives Matter is a socio-political movement that was born out of the issue of systemic police brutality toward the black community. The Black Lives Matter movement was founded in the summer of 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who fatally shot Trayvon Martin in Florida. Founded by community organizers Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, Black Lives Matter, or BLM,  claims inspiration from such social activist movements as the African-American Civil Rights Movement, the LGBTQ Social Movement, and the Black Power movement, among others.

In the beginning, BLM operated mostly digitally, sticking to a system of hashtag activism. Since then, the Black Lives Matter movement has held rallies and protests, and prefers to engage in direct action tactics, making people uncomfortable enough that the issue must be addressed.

Behind it all, the BLM philosophy is to advocate for dignity, justice, and respect for all black lives through an end to violence, not escalation.

Statistics show that black americans are disproportionately targeted in cases of police brutality and violence at the hands of the criminal justice system. And this is why the Black Lives Matter movement is necessary, and why saying All Lives Matter is so upsetting.

The very concept of All Lives Matter exists out of yet another false dichotomy. One that supposes that to support Black Lives Matter is to be anti-white or anti-cop. But that simply isn’t true. Because there is no invisible “only”. No one is arguing that Black Lives are the only lives that matter. Of course all lives matter. Of course they do. Everyone knows that, and to suggest otherwise is just stupid and practically slander. What we are saying is that black lives are the ones that are being taken right now; black civil rights are the ones being infringed right now, and we need to call that to attention, so as to fix this horrifying situation for the betterment of our society as a whole.

Still having a hard time getting it? Alright. Let me put it another way. To paraphrase Reddit user GeekAesthete, “Imagine that you’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don’t get any. So you say ‘I should get my fair share.’ And as a direct response, your dad corrects you, saying, ‘everyone should get their fair share.’ … However, dad’s smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn’t solve … that you still haven’t gotten any!” (Please click the link above to read the full comment. It’s a great point.)

“All Lives Matter” is a broom meant to sweep the unpleasantness of systemic racism under the rug so that others can ignore the problem. Because to say “All Lives Matter” is to insinuate that all lives are equally at risk. And of course they are not. I want you to do a little critical thinking experiment, dear reader. Just bear with me. Close your eyes, and think about how many white americans you can recall being shot without cause by police officers in the last two years. Can you think of just one? By name? Because I cannot. And if you can, did the media treat the victim as at-fault?

The reason I ask you to do this is because in the past two years – since the riots in Ferguson, Missouri – over 15% of all fatalities at the hands of police were black men. That’s 5 times higher than the the numbers of white men of the same age, and african americans only make up 2% of the population. These deaths include many names that I remember: Tamir Rice, Eric Courtney Harris, Walter Scott, Jonathan Ferrell, Sandra Bland, Samuel DuBose, Freddie Gray, Philando Castille, and Alton Sterling. Please, pause here for a moment and say their names out loud to yourself, if you haven’t before. Really soak in how many names you’re speaking out loud to yourself. Is the sheer number of names not upsetting?

If you didn’t understand before, do you understand now, dear reader? Of course all lives matter. But right now, we need to focus on the the black lives that are being taken away. Because that what societies do: they improve all things for all members.

But is that all to the argument? Is there more to the movement? Of course there is, dear reader. But honestly, this is all I feel safe saying about the movement, as I am a white transgender woman, and can not even begin to truly understand the struggles faced by the black community. And my experience as a minority allows me to empathize with the black community but, as I am not black, I can never understand their unique struggles. And I would never claim to.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t do everything I can to show support. And regardless of race, we should all show support. Because we are all members of the same community, and if it has failed one of us, it has failed us all. After all, if all lives really do matter, are not Black Lives part of the “all”?

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