The Issue with #alllivesmatter and Being Blind to White Privilege

By Denise Rhone, Age 30 

meme

Nothing like a classic, lighthearted Batman and Robin meme to get a point going. But while I am just poking fun (seriously ya’ll, let’s not go slappin’ people), I find absolutely zero humor in the “all lives matter” hashtag and every other narrative aimed to subvert black and brown empowerment. And yes: this article has every intention of penning the mess out of ignorance with the same force as Batman’s black-gloved hand.

Let me step back to make sure we are all on the same page. In the wake of Treyvon Martin’s murder by an acquitted white vigilante and the subsequent onslaught of murders, brutality and harassment black men and women face in the hands of mainly white police officers, the #blacklivesmatter movement was born. I do want to note that the disproportionate number of African-Americans facing these injustices existed long before Trevyon Martin, but these issues haven’t been spotlighted by the media/social media in quite the same way they are today. Black Lives Matter is a crusade 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.…”

Boom. There you have it. More than just an italicized grid followed by three un-spaced words.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, this bothered some people, and not long after Black Lives Matter did willful ignorance rear it’s head and creep it’s way into social media as  #alllivesmatter.

Cue the Batman meme.

Totally dismissing the outcry of a community, folks instead decided to drop black (ironic, right?) and insert → “all”, as if all lives are equally being policed, killed, imprisoned, lacking resources and opportunities, facing injustice and enduring centuries of systemic racism.

In 2013, something similar happened when the Black Girls Rock! Foundation, represented as #blackgirlsrock on social media, was countered with #whitegirlsrock commentary.  Offended by perceived “reverse racism”, individuals flooded Twitter and social media with #whitegirlsrock in response to black women celebrating themselves and their achievements. Founder Beverly Bond responded beautifully and wrote:

“Well, duh! Of course white girls rock. Are they unaware?” White women’s beauty, talent, diversity and worldly contributions are affirmed everywhere: on billboards, on television, in magazines and in textbooks.However, the breadth and depth of the beauty, intellect, work and legacy of black women is often marginalized…

I also think the anxiety that people have about Black Girls Rock!-ing reveals the blind spots associated with white privilege, including the inability to acknowledge that the privilege actually exists, a lack of accountability for prejudices and an overwhelming deficit in cultural competency. So whoever is offended by Black Girls Rock!-ing and whoever thinks that black empowerment threatens their own power should confront their own racism.”

Just like with #whitegirlsrock, #alllivesmatter is a symptom of racial oblivion plaguing our nation. People just aren’t buying that modern day racism and white privilege exist. Part of the reason is that the most destructive racism is often the most subtle. It is the putrid historical residue of European colonialism and the 246 plus years of American slavery that lingers in our schools, financial institutions, standards of beauty, justice system, and every facet of our society.

White supremacy is not just that pointed dunce cap donned by Caucasian men; it is also the quiet, unintentional discrimination, or microaggressions, that is more difficult to identify and combat. Anyone who is blind to the white privilege doesn’t see that today’s world is built in favor of it.  Through this narrow lens, we are all on an equal playing field, all experience hardships, and for God’s sake, people just need to get their act together and stop whining.

In a PBS spotlight on how microaggressions impact people of color,  Dr. Derald Sue, Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University explains:

“You know the problem is that people believe microaggressions are very similar to the everyday incivility and rudeness that individuals, white Americans, experience in their day-to-day lives. They are quite different. Microaggressions for people of color are constant, continual and cumulative. They occur to people of color from the moment of birth to when they die, and as a result, any one microaggression in isolation may represent the feather that breaks the camel’s back. And people who don’t see the lived experience of people of color and the daily onslaught that they experience tend not to believe that it’s a major event.”

If you can’t see racial privilege, then you certainly can’t see racial disparity. Consequently, you get increasingly defensive individuals who view “blackgirlsrock” as “onlyblackgirlsrock”, “blacklivesmatter” as “otherlivesdon’tmatter”, black and brown affirmation as “reverse racism”, and outcries against racial inequality as a card game.

THE UNEQUAL OPPORTUNITY RACE

There is so much to be said on this immensely deep issue, but not wanting to oversaturate you, dear reader,  with thoughts, quotes, videos, memes  and other goodies (ugh, I was so hyped to put in some James Baldwin too), here are instead some quick points about white privilege:

  1. Um, it’s real.
  1. “Reverse racism”  is ridiculous.  Yes, any individual can experience the simple, isolated online dictionary definition of racism. But in addressing “reverse-racism” we have to engage the more comprehensive definition of racism, which is the system that allows a certain group in power to retain power while preventing others access to it. There is only one race that has ever been in power since the foundation of this nation, and the only way they could experience “reverse racism” would be for another race to rise up, take over, then push them out of the privilege club.  Comedian Aamer Rahman illustrates this point precisely:
  1. Of course all lives matter. Of course everyone has hardships. But it ain’t all equal. It’s deeper than just “personal choice” and people needing to “take responsibility” and  “get their act together”. YouTube educator Laci Green does an awesome job of summarizing the history and reality of racism and white privilege in the U.S. here (the six minutes are totally worth it):

Ahem. So, to anyone who’s been using, is using, or thinking about using #alllivesmatter–

SIT DOWN.

This isn’t some random peaceful hashtag in support of an egalitarian society. Nuh-uh. It’s an offensive, hostile phrase created in response to the black community’s unapologetic and necessary self-affirmation in a country where some lives matter more than others, and oftentimes, more than theirs.

So scratch all,

reinsert → “black”,

and let’s stand in solidarity because, sin duda

#blacklivesmatter.

Young Women Rising encourages Connecticut women ages 18-35 to raise their voices about issues they care about. Each writer speaks for herself as an individual and Young Women Rising as a whole does not intend to endorse the views of any particular writer. If you’re interested in submitting a guest piece please contact us at Michelle.Noehren@cga.ct.gov. 

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