Tuesday, July 12, 2016

On Black Lives Matter: A letter to other liberal white people

I have struggled with whether or not to write anything about Black Lives Matter, because the last thing the world needs is another white person centering their voice in the movement. I have had a voice for too long, so before I go any further I will lift up the voices of some folks of color whose words have inspired me.

Nekima Levy-Pounds 

Broderick Greer 

Bishop Michael Curry

The Rev Wil Gafney, Ph.D

The Rev Grace Imathiu

This is by no means an exhaustive list and I welcome further suggestions to expand my reading lists. I have also appreciated the writings of James Cone , Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Michelle Alexander. I encourage you to check them out, familiarize yourself with their work and become conversant about Black Lives Matter and the profound racism that continues to plague people of color in America.

As a white person, I have my voice heard almost automatically. My privilege allows others to listen to what I have to say. So I need to proceed carefully with what is mine to say.

Primarily, what is mine to say is to own my white privilege. I was born with advantages because of the color of my skin. I have never been followed in a store for fear of shoplifting. I have never had to fear for my life when being pulled over by police, I just have to fear for a speeding ticket. I don't have to be expected to speak for my entire race or have my experience be generalized as true for all other white people. I benefit from institutionalized racism. I benefit because I have white skin. I might not like to think that I am racist, but I am racist. Because I unknowingly benefit from privilege in an untold number of ways. Because I am ignorant of all of these benefits. 

Next, what is mine to say is that it is not the "job" of people of color to educate us (white people) about racism.  It is OUR job to educate ourselves. Google Black Lives Matter for the basics. Visit NAACP's website. Check out any of the websites of the people linked above. Ask me questions and if I don't know the answer, we can find it out together.

Generalizations such as "We're all the same inside" or "I don't see skin color" etc, are violent. They erase the lived experience of racism and pain and injustice of people of color. These expressions are said with good intentions, but good intentions aren't good enough. Commit to educating yourself and educating your family, friends and neighbors.

Don't assume that your experience is the same as that of others. I have many family members who are law enforcement officers. I work with police, sheriffs, and detectives nearly every day in my work at the hospital.  By and large, my interactions with law enforcement officers have been positive. I respect the work that they do. I have never had a bad interaction, but I don't know the experience of others. Part of my role as an ally to the movement is to honor the stories of others and to believe what they are telling me. It is entirely possible to respect law enforcement officers and want to hold them to a higher standard and because of the many cops that I respect and work alongside, I do want ALL police held to higher standards.

Don't EVER say, "All Lives Matter."  Period. Don't do it. Our racist culture reinforces in thousands of ways that some lives matter more than others. We are lifting up Black Lives Matter because it is time to uncover the racism that has plagued our siblings of color. This is yet another example of invalidating the experience of so many people of color. As white people, we already know that our lives matter. We must keep proclaiming that Black Lives Matter.

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