Hey, y’all. This is another video I’m doing in a series with Everyday Feminism which is a website dedicated to helping you break down and stand up to everyday oppression. And in this video, I want to go over five things that I’ve heard or seen white people saying about “black lives matter” and what we really mean by those.
So, as white people, we can and do maintain the status quo of white comfort without bad intentions, and we can do it even with small comments or with our silence. And as you might’ve learned from activists of color, we take up too much space when we make conversations about race about our own feelings. We need to be listening, and I don’t have anything to add on to that black activists haven’t said before, so instead of having our feelings impede once again on their important work, let’s take some time to work on our own mistakes together.
This video is directed toward my fellow white people who support or want to support “black lives matter.” I hear you. I believe that you’re doing what you think is best, but let’s talk about how we can do better.
So the first thing that I hear is, “I agree with ‘black lives matter,’ but I don’t agree with their methods.” And it can be tempting to add our voice to a situation that might not need it. For instance, we want “black lives matter” to succeed, but we don’t think they should go about it in some specific way, so we write a post about it on Facebook or we say it to our friends.
But the truth is, when it comes to making real change to the status quo, the best method is the method that works. It’s the method that gets the most attention and causes the biggest inconvenience to our lives as white people. Because whether or not we want to admit it, we’re comfortable with the status quo. We’re not in danger just for existing in the status quo. So our methods will just not be good enough.
I understand wanting to help and thinking that you know a better way. Thoughts like, “Don’t shut down the freeway. Just vote in the next election.” But there’s a reason why things have got to this point. This situation is too urgent to hope that it changes over time. Black lives are being put in danger at a systemic institutionalized level, and if we don’t all stand together and force the change, it will not happen.
#BlackLivesMatter is making it happen by saying, “No justice, no peace, no racist police.” You might think that you’re helping by lending your opinion, but instead of listening and lending your support, you’re speaking over the voices that need to be heard because they’re more directly affected by this issue.
Besides, it’s not like #BlackLivesMatter activsts don’t know what they’re doing here. They’re building on years of history and experience that has demonstrated that it takes radical action just like this to change oppressive systems.
The second comment that I hear is, “Interrupting my commute, my day, my pride parade, does not make me sympathize with this cause.” And okay, this is complicated, because you might be upset that your day to celebrate in the streets about your identity is being interrupted. You might be concerned that an ambulance with a baby being born inside can’t make it through the freeway to the hospital. Or you might just want to get to work on time so that you can pay your bills and not be fired. And I get that, I sympathize with these feelings; however, the lives in the hypothetical ambulance are not the only lives at stake here.
The lives of black people in America are at stake. They’re being shot in the street or in their car for no reason whatsoever, and by the people who are paid to protect them. Your convenience and comfort is important to you, I get that, but the lives of black people are more important. Their anger is important because it is what is fueling necessary change. It’s important because it’s a product of their very real grief. We need to hold space for their anger and support them.
As for the pride parade, I know people in my family and friends who were very upset by the #BlackLivesMatter movement stopping the Toronto Pride Parade to demand a more inclusive and safe space for black people in years to come. I know they felt like it took away from their celebration and that it was not the time or place for protest. But I want them to remember that Pride does not exist in a vacuum. Pride is political. It always has been, and it will continue to be until all sexually marginalized people are free.
As the cofounder of #BlackLivesMatter Toronto said of their halting the Toronto Pride Parade until their demands were met, quote, “Our action was in the tradition of the resistance that is pride. We didn’t halt progress. We made progress.” End quote. And they did. Among other things, they secured the removal of all police floats in future Pride parades.
When part of the queer community is literally being murdered at the hands of police, demanding that they’re not celebrated at Pride, of all places, is not out of place. It is in line with what Pride was created for, creating a safer place for queer folks to celebrate is precisely what Pride is about. Black queer folks deserve the space, too.
As white people, it can be really easy for us to forget that race does not exist separate from other issues. It’s not issues of sexual orientation over here, issues of gender identity over here, and issues of race over here. They all intersect. We have to remember that. Our whiteness can make race feel invisible or disconnected from other areas of our lives where we might experience prejudice or oppression, but for black queer people, it’s very much intertwined. So let’s try to accommodate them and be more sensitive to their struggles even, or especially, when it interrupts our good time.
Number three, “Blue lives matter.” So I get that people are upset about anyone dying. It’s a scary landscape when people are being shot in the streets, whether they’re black or white, police or civilian, but there are other agendas at play here, too. These claims about the “war on police” are being used to criminalize protestors in groups who are already targets of law enforcement. In reality, numbers suggest that police are safer than ever before, and the number of police deaths has been steadily declining since 1973.
In 2016, so far, 26 police officers have been killed in the line of duty. Meanwhile, more than 100 black men have been killed across the U.S. by police officers in 2016 alone. And that’s just black men. It doesn’t include all the black women and other black gender minorities also assumed to be dangerous and killed unjustly by those who are meant to protect them from harm.
So as white people, we need to look at the ways that we are diminishing the reality which is racism in our society. We can care that a cop was killed, while still acknowledging that there’s a larger civil war going on around us. And to stay silent on the deaths of black people while speaking out about the deaths of police makes a statement about who matters to us, and it’s not a statement any of us should be comfortable with.
Lastly, remember that the police force is an occupation. It’s a choice. It’s a uniform you put on. Police officers were not born blue. Black people don’t have a choice in their struggle against racist police. Black people are criminalized. Police are weaponized. Police lives have never been widely considered disposable or less than based on their status as blue, so let’s keep that in mind.
And moving onto number four, which is the infamous, “All lives matter,” and I continue to see this. I see it a lot from well-meaning white people who are trying to speak on the issue of police brutality and racism, but might not realize the implications of this phrase. So okay, let’s say it all together now. “All lives are not up for debate. All lives are not treated equally. Black lives matter.”
We say “black lives matter” because society has not caught up, because black people are more than twice as likely to be killed by police than white people. White lives are not in question. I’m not in fear for my life when I get pulled over for a broken taillight. My life is not what is currently being discussed. So, sure, all lives matter in theory, but in practice, some lives need to have their value shouted from the rooftop until something changes.
As Kat Blaque put in her video on the subject, quote, “Saying hashtag all lives matter is like me going to your grandmother’s funeral and demanding that you feel sorrow for the death of my cat.” End quote.
Until things are equal, we need to stick to #BlackLivesMatter. Kat also shared how it feels to be a black person getting this response, and since we’ve never experienced that, we should listen. She said, quote, “When you’re in mourning, it’s not helpful or progressive to be told that your feelings of fear and sorrow are irrelevant, and that you should care about everybody’s feelings instead of acknowledging your own loss.” End quote.
This kind of derailing is something we white people do all the time. We hate having things be about anyone or anything but us. But if we truly mean well and want positive change, we need to be on the backburner right now. Sure, all lives do matter, of course they do, but black lives matter to us right now. Let’s make sure that message is heard, because there’s still many white people who need to hear and accept that fact.
And the last one is, “Insert Martin Luther King, Jr. quote about nonviolence here.” So white people, why do we love to sanitize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words and life’s work for the sake of our own comfort? Probably because we were taught a commercialized and sanitized version of his message and life work, and because much of what we do, even without realizing it, works to maintain our privilege in society.
Consider why we have all been taught that a society that sees no color is the ultimate goal: because we already don’t need to see color to survive in this society. Whiteness grants us the ability to move through life without thinking about our whiteness much at all. Dr. King did not want people to be judged on the color of their skin, but he wouldn’t want us to pretend that racial tension and justice do not exist.
So please stop posting these quotes from Dr. King about non-violence. Please stop using his words out of context to attack or diminish the work of #BlackLivesMatter. We need to resist our temptation to use Dr. King to uphold our own white comfort. This revolution currently being led by the #BlackLivesMatter movement is perfectly in line with the legacy of Dr. King.
He may have said things in favor of non-violence, but you know what else he said? He said, quote, “Large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” And he was absolutely right.
We might want peace and justice and equality for all, but if we’re not willing to listen to those who need it urgently, like yesterday, we’ll never achieve it.
So there’s a civil war going on, and when we white people use excuses or try to derail the conversation to be about ourselves, we end up on the wrong side of history. In our current police state, “to serve and protect” for white people means “comply or die” to black people. This is not equality and it’s not okay. This is why we have to stand behind #BlackLivesMatter. Donate money. Speak up when white people say these things or otherwise diminish the importance of this movement. Do not be complacent. We’re taught white supremacy as white people. We have to unlearn it. So do the work.
Make the change in yourself and in your community. Talk with other white people in your lives and hold each other accountable. I know it can feel helpless to stand on the sidelines, but we need to step to the side to allow the voices of those truly suffering to be heard. We need to channel our good intentions into the actions and words, which are more helpful to the cause.
Thank you for watching and I’m looking forward to your comments. See you next time.