Thursday, July 7, 2016

"Black Lives Matter"

A good friend asked me to talk about why "All Lives Matter" is problematic in this day and age. 
First, let me say that, of course, all lives matter. And, of course, the lives that matter most to each of us are the lives of those closest and nearest and dearest to each of us. Those are facts, which we all know.
However, when we use the meme "Black Lives Matter," it is a way of pointing out and highlighting that in this day and age, Black and Brown people are targeted unfairly and unjustly in numerous ways that are caused by systemic racism that is institutionalized in how we think, feel, and act. Those systemic racist ways include both explicit racism and implicit racism. Systemic means that we have raised those racist ways to the level of having them embedded in how we organize and live our lives altogether as a society and as communities.
Explicit racism occurs when we intentionally behave in ways that unfairly treat and target Black and Brown people. Implicit racism occurs when we are unaware that we hold prejudices against Black and Brown people that cause us to recoil from them and/or respond to them in unfair and profiling or targeting ways. An example of explicit racism is someone who believes that "those People of Color are lazy or intellectually inferior" and then passes over qualified People of Color for jobs or promotions on purpose merely on the basis of their skin color. An example of implicit racism is someone who doesn't CONSCIOUSLY hold a belief that "those People of Color are lazy or intellectually infereior," but who somehow never manages to choose a qualified Person of Color for a job or a promotion because they somehow always manage to find another reason for why that qualified Person of Color is not employable or promotable, such as "she doesn't seem like she would be a good fit," or "he doesn't seem like he would be fulfilled in that promotion; maybe he'll be happier in the next promotion that comes up," or "I'm not comfortable with having him in that position or working with her."
Implicit racism is particularly pernicious, because it flies under the radar most of the time. Implicit racism exists in the nicest people, people who are our friends and our neighbors and our teachers and our priests. And nice White people are loathe to admit that they have any racist thoughts or feelings or attitudes within themselves, because it means having to face something that we're not proud of and that we can't justify. It may even mean having to repent, to turn away from the sinfulness of implicit racism and to try to behave more fairly and more justly and yes, more honestly. Becoming less racist is hard work, and it requires humility and sometimes a thick skin; there are personal sacrifices involved in giving up privilege of any kind.
"Black Lives Matter" is an important meme, because it DRAWS OUR ATTENTION to the irrefutable fact that Black (and Brown) People ARE presently being disadvantaged, sometimes to the point of false arrests and being killed, merely because of the color of their skin. We often see excuses offered for why these bad things happen -- from "that man or woman shouldn't have resisted arrest and they wouldn't have been shot" to "they shouldn't have been there in the first place" -- which are all excuses based on blaming the victim. As a society, we are still learning how to avoid blaming victims, as is evident in the way that we are learning to address rape culture by not blaming rape victims for the way that they are dressed or their prior sexual experiences as being the causes of them being raped. 
"Black Lives Matter" is an important meme, because it DRAWS OUR ATTENTION to the fact that it is human nature to want to smooth things over and to think well of people we want to trust whom we have, as a society, placed into positions of authority over all of us. "Black Lives Matter" as a meme forces us to look where we may not feel comfortable looking, forces us to have conversations we are not comfortable having, forces us to admit things about ourselves and our society that we don't feel comfortable admitting, forces us to begin the honest, hairy, uncomfortable, and painful process of admitting our complicity in, our participation in the benefits of, a racist system that unfairly disadvantages, to the extreme of death, people who happen to have been born with dark colored skin. 
When White people choose to substitute "All Lives Matter" over saying "Black Lives Matter," they are, in effect, choosing to gloss over the fact that it IS Black and Brown lives that have been so grossly and unfairly treated, harmed, and killed, because it makes them as White people feel more comfortable with themselves and they can comfort themselves with the fantasy that "All Lives" includes "Black Lives." It should, but it doesn't in this day and age, in this society, here and now. It is our goal, but we are not there yet. 
Another way to say this point is to ask why White people who have White Privilege feel the necessity to also grab a piece of the pie that those who have been victimized finally have access to. It's kind of like the unfairness of a teacher on a playground recognizing that Susie hasn't had a turn playing with the ball, but then telling Susie she now has to share her five minutes with the ball with the other children who had it for all the other minutes already. How does that affirm Susie that she has the same rights to play with that ball as the other children? How does it teach the other children that sharing means that Susie deserves to get her turn, too, just like they already had their turns? 
Needless to say, our hope is that as we acknowledge that "Black Lives Matter," we will also recognize that there are so many other ways in which we as a society demean the dignity of so many of our sisters and brothers of any color (such as the homeless, especially those with mental illness) and that through such recognition, we will live into an ethos that says, "All Lives Matter," and mean it.

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