Guest Post by Paula Kiger
I once referred to “United Health Plan” as “Untied Health Plan” in a letter that ended up being a piece of evidence in a formal dispute. Oops.
I had typed the words “United Health Plan” so often that I stopped thinking about what it meant (and spell-check didn’t flag a word that was spelled correctly, even though it was totally wrong for the context).
The phrase #BlackLivesMatter is being written, spoken and often shouted these days, but it is often dismissed and sometimes vilified, evicted from the territory of “us” and relegated to the arena of “them.”
#BlackLivesMatter: When it’s Challenging to Speak Up
I have shied away from many discussions on #BlackLivesMatter on social media. Although the number of young black men arrested, denied plea bargains, found guilty, sentenced more harshly, given the death penalty, and killed or injured in interactions with law enforcement officers has been proven to be disproportionately high compared to other races, I have hesitated.
I was worried about the people close to me who are law enforcement officers and law enforcement spouses, who posted “#BlueLivesMatter” messages.
I was struggling to reconcile the disconnect when many people posted “#AllLivesMatter” as the #BlackLivesMatter movement gained momentum.
Two things changed my mind and prompted me, a white person, to advocate more specifically for #BlackLivesMatter.
- I learned more about the statistics revealing the disproportion behind young black men’s experiences
- I heard Lucia McBath, Jordan Davis’s mother, speak, along with Tamir Rice’s mother, Samaria Rice, at a vigil commemorating lives lost to violence
Why did those two things, in combination, make a difference?
They made a difference because they united stark, realistic facts with the personal connection I felt with McBath and Rice, both fellow “boy moms.”
They made a difference because when I kept an open mind, I really heard for the first time:
“I feel powerless against a system in which many procedures, organizational climates, and assumptions have become biased against my loved one only because of the color of his skin”
“I am exhausted from worrying that ‘the talk’ his father and I gave him when he was six years old is something he will neglect due to youthful exuberance or that will simply not be enough when someone pulls a gun, afraid my son is a ‘bad kid.’”
Meeting the Challenge of Speaking Up
The challenge a phrase like #BlackLivesMatter presents is that it forces us to do the hard work of isolating the fact that yes, it is lives the slogan refers to but the inequities happen one life at a time.
The inequity that happened when Jordan Davis was killed by a white man who objected to the volume of his music.
The inequity that happened when Tamir Rice was fatally shot by a retired police officer who mistook his toy gun for a real weapon.
The inequity that happened when Trayvon Martin, who was unarmed, was killed by a white man who considered him threatening.
The inequity that happened when Philando Castile was killed by a police officer, after he informed the officer that he had a permitted firearm, while he was reaching for his identification, as his four year old daughter watched, horrified, from the back seat, screaming “I don’t want you to get shooted.”
Having common ground conversations about the unique prominence of #BlackLivesMatter can’t be brushed away by saying, “but ALL lives matter.” These conversations demand us to dive into discomfort.
It’s a small start, but I began by making a public statement in this post:
As a white person, I am declaring my overt support of #BlackLivesMatter. The disproportionate mistreatment of people of color, the institutional racism that influences some (not all) law enforcement agencies, the divisiveness among our nation’s citizens, won’t be resolved until we “get” why #BlackLivesMatter is a thing.
Writing two sentences in a blog is only a start.
Before Speaking, One Must Listen
Finding common ground means doing two things that seem diametrically opposed to each other: staying quiet yet speaking out.
What I mean by this is: people who are not black should listen and read and think before assuming that parroting #AllLivesMatter is the solution. BUT once they have listened, read, and thought, they should be that person in a social conversation who has the courage to say, “think about each black life” that slogan covers. The sons/brothers/friends who didn’t get the chances you have gotten.
It would oversimplify things to say “all white people, especially all white law enforcement officers” are biased. It would oversimplify things to imply that all young black men are innocent (nor are all white people). It would not oversimplify things to say “maybe you have a point. Tell me about your son/brother/friend. How can I help?” Or to take specific actions to weave different races more closely together in your community.
Lucia McBath told Ta-Nehisi Coates: “It’s very difficult to know that it doesn’t matter what morals you instill in your children.”
It is up to all of us to take that “it doesn’t matter” McBath referred to and turn #BlackLivesMatter into a springboard instead of a dead end.
Paula Kiger believes her Twitter bio says it best: Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. She is a communications professional, community coordinator for the Lead Change Group, and author of the Big Green Pen blog. You can find her on Twitter at @biggreenpen. She has spent the past three years caring for her father-in-law; it may not be easily defined on a resume, but taught some lessons no job could teach. Paula has a Master’s Degree in Counseling and Human Systems from Florida State University. She has been a Shot at Life Champion Leader for three years.