Why Protest? Why Black Lives Matter?

Why do I protest?  Why do I, as a white person, with white privilege and everything to lose, care about Black Lives Matter?  Do I hate white people? Do I hate police?  Do I want to overthrow the government?  What is my role in the Black Lives Matter movement? What is wrong with me, anyway?

All valid questions. A couple I can answer quickly, no, I don’t hate police. No, I don’t hate white people. No, I don’t want to overthrow the government.  But there is much more, even to these “simple” questions.

I’ll start with the typical statements that my privilege allows me to make. I have friends who are POC. I have friends who are LEO’s. I believe that not all people are bad. I know that there are bad people of all races, and all job descriptions. But again, it’s complicated.

I deeply want to change how policing is conducted in our current climate, militarization of police forces, setting up the relationship between police and citizens as an adversarial one, black people and all people of color dying in disproportionate numbers at the hands of law enforcement. The climate of fear for LEO’s.  The relationship between police and ordinary citizens should not be one of mutual fear. There is plenty of research to show that people of color, particularly black people, are dying in higher numbers.

Policing as a means of raising funds for a community is not a valid option. The cascade of expenses incurred by poor people in disproportionately poor and black communities due to money raising policing tactics like ticketing broken taillights, high grass, broken windows, and requiring court appearances, and charging court fees for attending court, and interest on fines, and parking fees for appearances, ticketing cars of people caught in court, until finally placing a lien on their homes, and taking them away, is an untenable option, and certainly no example of serving and protecting. Many of these communities at the same time have notoriously poor policing service, extremely long or non responses to emergency calls. Their officers are often also at the low end of the pay scale, and in short numbers for the areas policed.

I do support Law Enforcement, I am not an anarchist. I also have a problem with the “Blue Lives Matter” hashtagging, though. Yes, police lives matter. As individuals, lives matter. But being a LEO is not the same as being black. LEO’s can remove their uniforms, and they then become whatever race they are, which for white officers, gains them privilege, and for black officers, puts them back into the same danger as other black citizens, and can be an even greater conflict, because in some black communities, the last thing people want to deal with is a cop. I don’t think anyone wants police to feel unsafe in their jobs. I don’t think most officers join the force because they want to harm people. On the contrary, I think they have the same desire to help people that I have.  They are supposed to be serving and protecting us, we pay their salaries, they are public servants. I think good cops would love it if their brotherhood would stop protecting bad cops and weed them out, while focusing on better training for the rest of the force.

Community policing initiatives and demilitarization of the police force will go a long way to improve those relations. Unfortunately, our government promotes militarization of the police, because it gives them a place to sell off all their war equipment as they replace it with even bigger, more expensive, killing machines. At our expense.  We pay for military equipment upgrades over health care for veterans and training for cops on a daily basis.

Rational gun control would go a long way to help, we’ve seen plenty of examples of open carry advocates being less than useless in active shooter situations, on the contrary, they cause the police to work even harder, trying to discern the “Good guys with guns” from the “Bad guys with guns.”  The second amendment is to allow us to protect ourselves from a tyrannical government, not black people, our neighbors, some guy at the wal mart.  To those who believe they need to carry  because the government is after their rights, I’d say, time to stop harping on those who want to change the system, and start doing something more responsible than whining and carrying a gun to try to intimidate individuals. I have guns. I would happily register, and license them. Report them within 24 hours if stolen. I keep them locked in a gun safe, and ammo in a different location, locked as well. I have no illusions of fighting off intruders with a gun. I have sticks and mag lights and 911, the police, who are trained, for that.

Do I want to overthrow the government?  I want to unsettle the government. I want some serious fundamental change in systems. I want equality for every human being who is a participant, subject, citizen of our government. I want less money for military equipment, more money for healthcare and mental health care of soldiers and the citizenry. I want a separation of church and state. I can appreciate other people’s beliefs, but they should not be forced on me by my government. I want people from classes other than the very rich to be able to run for office on a national level. I want women, LGBTQ people, homeless people, people with disabilities, and POC to have the same voice, with the same weight,  as white males. I want truly equal education for all, early, and consistently. I want more money spent on schools than on prisons. I don’t want a child’s education to depend on that child’s parent’s ability to pay high property taxes.

White privilege is real. I have it. I participate in racism every day, I am not a willing participant, but the reality is, I am a holder of privilege and benefit from the inherent racism in our culture every single day. So then why would I want to speak out against something that benefits me?  Because I truly believe that no one is free until all are free. I think other human beings are as important as I am. I have the advantage of being viewed as speaking only for myself, my entire race isn’t burdened with my words, and judged by my actions. I can’t be silent and complicit while other people die. If not me, then who?  POC are not heard in many circles, or are immediately judged as having a bigger racial agenda, questioning authority, the status quo, is either dismissed, immediately seen as overtly threatening, or treated with retaliation, verbal or physical.  Black people are treated as if they speak for the entire Black race.  I believe that people like me, who have access to those circles through my whiteness, have a responsibility and an obligation to have the hard discussions about race, privilege, and how we can make positive change in our culture, for ourselves and our children, even when it’s exceptionally uncomfortable. Even if we lose friends. Because while I’m uncomfortable for 20 minutes, people of color are dying. While I am offending my kids’ friends’ parents, another mother somewhere is losing her son. I’m not willing to ignore that.

My role in the Black Lives Matter movement, and the general movement toward social equality for all, is complicated. I do go to marches and protests, but I don’t need to be the person talking to the camera, the press, being the do-gooder. It’s not about me. Black people have their own voices, and they need to be heard.  As a woman and feminist, I don’t appreciate men being paternalistic and taking over women’s protests, and talking over me.  If it is beneficial for me to be present, to create a buffer, to make an opening for someone’s voice, or make a block to keep someone safe, I will be there. If I am causing more trauma to someone by my presence, I will leave that part of the fight to the people who are on the front lines. Much as I empathize with my black brothers and sisters, I cannot pretend to have lived the same experiences they have. I have worried for their sons, but not my own. I can easily slide into my privilege, but they cannot remove their blackness and “take a break” from activism, or fear.

My job in the social justice for all movement is to be awake to my own privilege, to speak in spaces where POC are immediately judged as “angry black people”, or “militants” or expected to speak for their entire race. My job is to call out my white brothers and sisters when they are sleeping, being paternalistic, coopting other people’s voices for their own gain. My job is to document, see things, not turn a blind eye to racism, classism, misogyny, homophobia and hate. My job is to help when asked.  My job is to continuously educate myself, present options, accept criticism. I want a better world for everyone. My job is to work for it.

What is wrong with me?  I think that one is open to discussion and depends upon to whom the question is directed!


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One Response to Why Protest? Why Black Lives Matter?

  1. Elaine Ellis says:

    Thank you for your wise words and for your activism, I also believe no one is free until all are free.

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