• Piper Manesse

Why It's Okay to Say Black Lives Matter

I've heard lots of stuff lately about Black Lives Matter from people I interact with here in Iron County and from comments sections in newspapers and from social media posts. I've heard lots of reasons why saying that Black lives matter is unfair, unnecessary, and offensive. I've heard that we can't say that Black lives matter because all lives matter. I've heard that more Black people kill white cops by far than the other way around. I've heard that Black people keep themselves down because of their victim mentality. I've heard that systemic racism is a figment of the imagination of political extremists with an agenda. I've heard that when Black people stop breaking the law at such a lopsided rate, they'll stop getting hurt by police. I've heard that if Black people weren't lazy and indolent and constantly on the government dole, they wouldn't have the problems they do now. I've heard that Black police officers shoot at Black suspects more often than they do white suspects. I've heard that if Blacks would just stop yelling, looting, and rioting, everyone might listen to what they have to say. I've heard that when Black people finally stop whining about perceived injustice, then they can finally pick themselves up by their bootstraps and be successful members of society like everybody else. And I've heard that Black people are more racist against white people than white people are against Blacks.

I think perhaps we're missing the point.

And that point is that we're not listening to the story after story after story of the different treatment Black people receive daily based solely on stereotypes. Not really listening, anyway. We seem to listen just long enough to a Black person's terrible experiences to interject something like, "Yes, but that wouldn't happen if Black people would just stop [insert reason Black people deserve worse treatment]." But why do we do that? Why do we feel threatened when someone asks us to understand and acknowledge their pain? Is it really as zero-sum as that? Does acknowledging that Black people really are treated differently because of skin color somehow diminish the rest of us? Or are we simply uncomfortable hearing those stories and knowing that our society still has the capacity to demean others in such an awful way?

This story from Tyana Williams, 27, of West Jordan, is a good illustration of what so many Black people experience, even right here in Utah. I read this in a recent Deseret News article. Ms. Williams recounts: "In 2017, I got pulled over by a police officer when I was coming home from a friend’s house in Murray. I was just about to turn into my neighborhood. He asked where I had been, and where I was going, and when I said, 'I live in this neighborhood,' he said, 'Likely story.'" Williams continues, "Twenty minutes in, the officer still hadn’t told me why he had pulled me over. Another one showed up. Eventually, they said I had made a rolling stop two blocks back. When I questioned that, he said I could sign the ticket or he would arrest me. I signed the ticket. Later, the charges were dropped."

We could say, "See? The charges were dropped, so no harm, no foul." But this experience is far from "no harm." The issue here is that Ms. Williams was stopped by police not because she did anything suspicious, but because they bought into the stereotype that a Black person must be up to no good driving through that particular Murray neighborhood. This is what Williams and so many Black people have to worry about on a daily basis, and it can't be easy to endure that kind of stress day in and day out. And our collective dismissal of that stress isn't helping.

As a white person, I never worry about this. I have never worried about this happening to me in my entire life. Even if I got pulled over for something frivolous, the thought that an officer would challenge my right to be in my own neighborhood based on my race has never crossed my mind. And if it did happen, my reaction wouldn't be fear, as Ms. Williams experienced. It would be outrage. Why? Because unlike her, I wasn't conditioned my whole life, through the racist expressions of others, to believe that someone would question my integrity based solely on my skin color. Just the opposite, in fact.

My point is this: do all those excuses that I listed at the beginning of this blog post really justify the treatment that Ms. Williams experienced while trying to simply live her life? Should those "justifications" prevent me from even acknowledging that right now, as a nation, we don't value Black people as much as we value white people? Does that take any power or rights from me? Does it diminish my value? The answer is no. It does not diminish me as a white person to say that Black lives matter. What it does is acknowledge my desire to understand the Black experience from a Black perspective. It helps convey my empathy for and encouragement to those whose stories need to be told, heard, and believed. It helps me take that first tiny step in standing with my Black brothers and sisters and saying unequivocally that racism exists, that it is wrong, and that it needs to stop. And it signals my willingness to publicly support measures to that end.

Because Black lives matter.

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