Creator: Michael S. Williamson | Credit: The Washington Post
Hey y’all, welcome to our first official blog post!
Adding a blog to our website has been a long time coming — something that folks have asked us, and we’ve been trying to build capacity for. Hang with us on this new adventure.
Let us also say that we’re not positing ourselves as experts and our views are constantly evolving as we learn more about all the ways in which white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, homophobia and all other systems of oppression are ingrained in society and how to dismantle them. We’re also leveraging the expertise and experience of so many others - particularly Black folks - and have quoted abundantly here! That said we’re committed to holding ourselves accountable and always open to feedback → shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
NOW, TALKING ABOUT BLACK LIVES MATTER WITH YOUR FOLKS…
This topic felt timely to us, as many of us are spending extended time with family and loved ones during the holiday season and perhaps this topic is less prevalent in the news cycle compared to last year. This article is primarily written for White and non-Black POCs. Whether you feel like you’ve got this topic down or have been dancing around this issue during the holidays for years, we hope we can help provide some language to break through a particularly challenging but necessary convo with your folks.
HOW TO BEGIN
These types of conversations are never easy (and likely why some of us have resisted having them for so long!) but the only thing we can do to combat that is to prepare. And given that you’re reading this - you’re on the right path!
We’re often nervous because we don’t want to start trouble or be ‘the difficult one.’ However, we believe that it often feels more manageable when we accept conflict as a natural outcome. How can we have controversy with civility and continue engagement through conflict? And remember that safety and comfort are not the same — authentic learning often requires risk, difficulty, and controversy.
In our experience, it can be helpful to weigh the discomfort of not wanting to be ‘the difficult one’ with the alternative — not talking about it.
“Considering how ignoring the subject of politics negatively impacts oppressed folx, it's vital to have these conversations. Past decisions to prioritize the comfort of your family members by not discussing politics over the holidays may have contributed to safety concerns for marginalized folx (BIPOC, disabled, Muslim, trans, etc.) It's become more evident that these conversations can no longer be brushed aside.” —Krystal Jagoo
Additionally, white fragility often presents itself as the lack of stamina we display in discussions of race or in encounters with people of color. Used to being the dominant/default in everything in our culture, we can be lazy and often unwilling to do the work to train ourselves to think otherwise. This, in part, is what’s playing out when White folks call the police on or report the posts of Black people — we feel uncomfortable and mistake the discomfort for danger.
That’s been a kick in the butt enough for us. Now let’s prepare…
REFRESH ME, WHAT IS #BLACKLIVESMATTER?
#BlackLivesMatter was founded in 2013 by Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza, and Patrisse Cullors in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. A year later, it went viral during the 2014 uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, when people took to the streets with a simple demand: Stop Killing Us.
Photo credit: Black Lives Matter Herstory
Black Lives Matter became a rallying cry that captivated the country, galvanising a national movement for dignity, justice and respect. For some ‘Black Lives Matter’ was a wakeup call, for many others the words gave voice to a deep-seated awareness of what it felt like to be Black in America.
On their website, BLM writes:
“When we say Black Lives Matter, we are broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state. We are talking about the ways in which Black lives are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity.
#BlackLivesMatter is a movement that is working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. We affirm our contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression. We have put our sweat equity and love for Black people into creating a political project - taking the hashtag off of social media and into the stress. The call for Black lives to matter is a rallying cry for ALL Black lives striving for liberation.”
Black Lives Matter challenges the notion that our society inherently values Black lives by demonstrating where and how Black life is cut short, particularly through viral videos of police violence and statistics of the disproportionate impact of the criminal legal system, homelessness, and economic disparity on Black communities. (More on this below.)
Even though we often are reacting to specific instances of police violence or individual cases of false imprisonment, make no mistake that Black Lives Matter is about structural change.
“It is about sparking dialogue and changing the conversation: If it is true that Black lives matter, then what does that mean for police reform, for our justice systems, for schools, for jobs, for infrastructure, and for economic development? If Black lives matter, then what needs to change in politics and in the media?” —Sydney Peace
OK, GOT IT. SO HOW TO RESPOND…
Racial Gaslighting 101 IG post by Jacquelyn
When folks say “blue lives matter.”
- Blue lives don’t exist. A police officer gets to take their uniform off once they clock out. Black people are born in their skin and are born into this systematically racist oppression.
- Remember, we’re talking about structural change. Your individual positive experiences with cops do not negate their role in upholding systems of oppression.
When folks say “all lives matter” or “I don’t see color.”
Creator: Jacquelyn Martin | Credit: AP
- Affirming that Black lives matter does not suggest that other lives do not matter. Rather, it is an attempt to affirm a select group of people that are systematically and intentionally told they don’t matter. (Reference statistics below.)
- While the colorblind microaggression seems to be more prominent now more than ever as we’re discussing racism, the problem is that claiming not to see race functions as a way of ignoring discrimination.
When folks talk about Black on Black crime or violence.
- The data shows that we are more likely to commit violence within our racial groups. Therefore, Black folks don’t have a disproportionately higher rate of crime within their demographic than white folks.
- Studies show that there is “no relationship” between crime rates by race and racial bias in police killings.
- Even if the crime rates were higher, why would that be a reason to accept higher rates of police violence against Black folks?
- This is an example of “whataboutism” — a tactic people use in conversation when they feel accused or attacked by responding with ‘what about…’ It re-directs the accusation elsewhere and takes the weight off the accused.
When folks complain about the violent nature of protests.
- Clarify that violence against property is not the same as violence against people. Property can be replaced, and yet police exist to protect property, not people.
- Remember that the option to be seen as peaceful in a racist society is a privilege, so the respectability argument is flawed from the beginning.
- Finally, concern over the means of how the oppressed are expressing themselves is a tool to distract from an honest look at what the oppressed are expressing.
Creator: Sarah L. Voisin | Credit: The Washington Post
WE CAN’T TALK ABOUT BLACK LIVES MATTER WITHOUT ADDRESSING WHITE SUPREMACY
One of the privileges of being white in America is that we can pretend that we are merely individuals and that our actions do not operate within a larger culture or hold systemic implications. (Ironic then how often we ask Black folks and other people of color to speak on behalf of their entire race.) However, thinking we’re only accountable as individuals is a super dangerous assumption.
Scott Woods teaches us that,
“The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you. Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you can breathe. It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.”
It’s particularly important for White folks to continue to recognize systems of oppression because so often we let individual defensiveness paralyze us from dismantling them. Let’s not forget that Black Lives Matter is inherently about systemic change. A system that has historically devalued a whole group of people is by definition exclusionary and fundamentally immoral.
IF YOU NEED STATS OR RESOURCES TO BACK YOU UP...
We thought it would be helpful to prep you with some accessible data and resources to learn more. For the following statistics, please keep in mind that Black folks make up roughly 14% of the total population in this country.
Credit: Police Killings Database — The Washington Post
- Black people are subjected to higher rates of police surveillance, violence, and arrest than any other racial demographic. —Washington Post
- The rate at which Black people are killed by police is more than twice as high as the rate for White people. —DOJ
- Read more: Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color —Andrea J. Ritchie, Badges without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing —Stuart Schrader, and Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment —edited by Angela J Davis
Lifetime Likelihood of Imprisonment of U.S. Residents Born in 2001 - The Sentencing Project
- Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as White men. For Black men in their thirties, about 1 in every 12 is in prison or jail on any given day. —The Sentencing Project
- Black youth, perceived as superpredators and viewed and charged as adults, are twice as likely to be sentenced to life without parole. —M4BL
- The massive misdemeanor system contributes to overcriminalization and mass incarceration. Black people are particularly vulnerable to misdemeanor arrests.
- Read more: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness —Michelle Alexander, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption —Bryan Stevenson
- Black immigrants are more likely to be detained for criminal convictions than the immigrant population overall. —BAJI
- Although Black immigrants comprise just 5.4% of the unauthorized population in the United States, and 7.2% of the total noncitizen population, they made up a striking 10.6% of all immigrants in removal proceedings between 2003 and 2015. —BAJI
- Read more: Illegal Among Us: A Stateless Woman’s Quest for Citizenship —Martine Kalaw
- White families have substantially more wealth than Black families. The median net worth of Black households was less than 15% that of White families in 2019. —CNN
Note: Figures are comparing wealth for non-Hispanic White families and non-Hispanic Black families | Source: Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances, 2019 | Graphic: Christopher Hickey and Curt Merrill, CNN
- White families have higher incomes than Black families. The median income for Black households in 2019 was roughly 60% of the median income for White households —CNN
- A larger share of the Black population lives in poverty. The poverty rate for Black Americans in 2019 was more than double that of White Americans. —CNN
- Read more: The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap —Mehrsa Baradaran
- 38% of Black trans people report having been harassed by police and 15% report having been assaulted by police. —National Center for Transgender Equality
- 2021 has seen at least 50 trans or GNC people fatally shot or killed by other violent means. The majority of these people were Black and Latinx trans women. —HRC
- Read more: Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States —Joey Mogul, Andrea Ritchie, and Kay Whitlock, Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex — Eric A Stanley, Nat Smith, and CeCe McDonald
- Public water systems that constantly violate the Safe Drinking Water Act are 40% more likely to serve people of color, and take longer to come back into compliance among communities of color. —EPA
- Polluters and pollution are often disproportionately located in communities of color. Hydraulic-fracturing oil wells, presence of dangerous aromatic chemicals, and the prevalence of lead poisoning are all linked to race. — The Atlantic
- Read more: All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis —edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson & Katharine Wilkinson, Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States —Carl A. Zimring, and Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility —Dorceta E. Taylor
- The current 30-percentage-point gap between Black and White homeownership is larger than it was in 1968, when housing discrimination was legal. —Urban Institute
- Black Americans account for 39% of people experiencing homelessness and more than 50% of homeless families with children. —Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, Part 1
- Read more: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America —Richard Rothstein
- Black women are 2 to 3 times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women. —CDC
- Black people make up a larger share of US COVID-19 deaths (23%) —CNN
- Black children have asthma rates that are double those of White children —The Atlantic
- Read more: Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experiments on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present —Harriet A. Washington
- Black students from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade are overrepresented in every form of discipline - from teacher-issued referrals to corporal punishment to suspensions, expulsions, and police arrest. —Dr. Kihana Miraya Ross
- Research shows that compared with white students, Black students are more likely to be suspended or expelled, less likely to be placed in gifted programs and subject to lower expectations from their teachers. —APA
- Read more: We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom —Bettina L. Love and Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools —Monique Morris, Mankaprr Conteh, Melissa Harris-Perry
- Discriminatory voting practices persist today, including: new restrictive legislation, discriminatory voter roll purges, long lines and closed polling places, voter intimidation and misinformation, and efforts to overthrow elections through litigation or by invalidating ballots cast by mail. These are evidence to racial discrimination in our election system. —Brennan Center
- Read more: The Turnout Gap: Race, Ethnicity, and Political Inequality in a Diversifying America —Bernard L. Fraga and Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All —Martha S. Jones
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
We appreciate you for having the courage to have these difficult conversations, and we promise it gets somewhat easier with practice. So let’s continue to ask ourselves how we can make this an ongoing habit?
We’re always here to support your continued education and advocacy! For more resources and action items, check out our Black Lives Matter Issue Page.
And of course we’re always looking to follow leadership from Black folks — particularly Queer and Trans Black women — many of whom are helping shape the vision for an abolitionist future.
“Abolition is a vision of a restructured society in a world where we have everything we need: food, shelter, education, health, art, beauty, clean water, and more. Things that are foundational to our personal and community safety.” —Mariame Kaba
What feels more capable of bringing us structural change than this?