Sunday, July 24, 2016

Why are We Whites Afraid to hear "Black Lives Matter"?

I have been on the periphery of the periphery regarding the "Black Lives Matter" social media campaign. But now that it's summer, and a teacher has a little more down time, I have taken one step into the conversation.

I read "'All Lives Matter' is a Gross Attempt to Protect White Privilege" by Angelina Chapin.

I repost it on Facebook with my own two-cents: "After reading this article, we white folks can ask ourselves if we are in denial, resistance, exploration or commitment stage of anti-racism and changing white privilege."

One of my white friends says, "I think many people say 'all lives matter' very innocently. I have said it when the police officers died as all lives involved, no matter what Color, mattered, and it wasn't to take away from the need for awareness and change in the world for black people. It is a sick world that we have to add a Color to the statement 'lives matter'. Very, very sad. 'All lives matter' is to me a way of saying I don't see Color, so I think many people see it that way, not as a racist thing. This is very hard, as I can see the problem with saying it as well."

One of my white cousins, Cheryl, replies, "If we are ever going to get passed the color issue every color needs to be given respect; otherwise, it's still an us and them divisiveness. Take away human skin and we are all the same!" she says. "Do we have to have groups to talk, to come to a that how elders did it long ago? People just got together and discussed problems. Everyone today has a group... Has having these groups helped or has it just created more problems? Bottom line...we need to talk, we need to listen, we need to compromise and we need to forgive."

I offer my cousin that I'd love to come and speak with her and her church group, specifically using the Blanket Exercise as a way to begin this discussion. "And yes," I say, "white privilege is being interrupted by social justice groups. This is why white people feel threatened and defensive. It is time we listened to those marginalized rather than telling them how to move on."

After more comments, questioning the common sense of "All Lives Matter" because of course, all lives do matter, it becomes clearer and clearer to me that the disconnect we are having "white on white" is connected to the invisibility of what it means to be white in our society and also the reality of white privilege.

I share two articles that I return to over and over to ground me as a white person, trying to decolonize myself and my society. In a Canadian context, I am making connections to racism against Indigenous peoples.

I continue addressing Cheryl:

I have found the article, "Detour Spotting for White Anti-racists" to be very helpful homework for myself. It will help you think about racism and the systemic role that white people play in racism. Then, it will give you some language to help navigate this topic. For example, when we say things like, "People are just people; I don't see colour." This is what's called "colourblindness" which actually plays into racist thinking. Or, when people like you and me who have relatives or friends who are Indigenous, we can use this as a protection, equating our relationships with anti-racism, when in fact, we can be inadvertantly employing "innocenct by association" which is not an excuse to avoid anti-racist work. Finally, naming white privilege is not name calling, it is actually just identifying a reality which is often invisible to white people. On the other hand, calling Indigenous people by stereotypes is racism. Naming white privilege is not racism, it is the beginning of anti-racism. If we see this as offensive, it means we are in the denail or resistance stages of change toward a more anti-racist society.

I also add the primary reading, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh.

We close our Facebook conversation amiably, with promises of further communication.

When re-reading "Detour Spotting" I know that I am dangerously close to falling into a detour myself,  Jona Olson's #13, "White On White, and Righetously So" sounds like, "What is wrong with those white people? Can't they see how racist they're being?" Olson unpacks this by saying, "We may have attended many anti-racism workshops; we may not be shouting racist epithets or actively discriminating against people of color, but we still experience privilege based on our white skin color. We benefit from this system of oppression and advantage, no matter what our intentions are. This distancing serves only to divide us from potential allies and limit our own learning." This white-on-white blaming is another form of denial. I have to watch for this in my own positioning.

My old high school social studies teacher, Michael Ensley, posts a helpful piece.  "White Plight?"

I repost this article, and say, "Thanks for sharing this piece. As white people trying to understand race relationships today, we must first unpack, make visible, the systemic privileging of white people that our North American and colonial/British nations are founded on. There are many shades of white identity, and we all have different roles we (mostly unwittingly) play in racism. Naming white privileges is not being racist; to the contrary, this is a first step toward dismantling racism."

"Black Lives Matter," Mr. Ensley posts, "First Nations lives matter."

Cheryl writes, "I have been wondering since I read the articles you sent me how many of my generation are aware of this conversation? I feel that it's being discussed more in your generation and on down to high school level, but I have not heard anything from people my age...maybe I need to get out more!"

"You are bringing tears to my eyes with your humility and open-mindedness," I say. "I agree, this has been invisible for a long time, and our youth will be our teachers."

"The problem I have is that it's my generation who still make up the majority, we still make a lot of the decisions too both here and in the US. I am going to introduce the topic in my coffee group on Monday...see what kind of feedback I get," she says.


"Be ready for a tussle," I say. "But you're up for it!"

"Well, I won't be able to claim I am an expert. I am still a baby when it comes to the whole conversation but it makes a lot of sense."


"Me, too," I say. "I have so much to learn! Humility is a great starting point!!! So thankful we are on this journey together!"

My friend adds to our original comment thread. "Ok I think this may be a better way to see it. It isn't about whose lives matter, but equality is not always equal. If we give equal to those who are treated less it still isn't equality. Being equal can take growth and help."

So, why are we whites afraid to hear, "Black Lives Matter"?

When we hear "Black Lives Matter" and we immediately say -- innocently -- that "All Lives Matter" we are silencing a conversation. We are saying that we are uncomfortable with where this dialogue might take us, and we are okay with the status quo (which we don't realize privileges white people.) By leaving "All Lives Matter" unmarked,  I believe we are unintentionally saying, "White Lives Matter More" and innocently, unintentionally, we feel more comfortable with this, because we don't know what we are really saying.





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