I wrote a blog a while back about how sharing any kind of opinion that might stir controversy on social media is hard for me. I’m one of those “I don’t want to offend people” types. I, like many, would say that “no one’s opinions are changed by a social media post, so why bother?”
I don’t feel that way anymore.
While I don’t condone ugliness or hate-filled posts of any kind, and I have snoozed or unfriended my share of people, I have also read perspectives on threads that gave me pause to consider another point of view. And once or twice, I DID change my mind on something. Social media, among other things, has opened my mind about two things that, I am ashamed to admit, I held views that I now believe were wrong: the phrases Black Lives Matter and White Privilege.
When I first heard the words “white privilege,” it made me uncomfortable and defensive, as it still does for many white people I know. The term couldn’t be referring to me. Sure, I am fortunate. I was born into a wonderful family, but we weren’t “rich.” My dad was a plumber, and he worked hard to build his business from the ground up. When I started my career in broadcasting in the early 1980s, it was a very male-dominated business. I worked hard and struggled through a lot of my own battles. I faced my share of sexism. Things weren’t that easy for me. So when I first was challenged to face my privilege, it felt like an attack on me, and my hard work. Calling me “privileged” felt like I was being blamed for being white, and insinuating that the only reason I had what I had was that I was white and not because of my hard work. I used to have a similar reaction to the Black Lives Matter phrase. Of course black lives matter, but don’t all lives matter? I didn’t understand that saying Black Lives Matter wasn’t saying white lives don’t. But somehow, that was how I took it. Somehow, that’s the way a lot of white people think.
I don’t think that way anymore about either phrase. I’d like to say I had an epiphany, but it was a gradual evolution. My mind was opened by listening to other points of view. My mind was opened by my daughters, people younger than me, people I worked with that have a different skin color than me, people that shared their experiences. And yes, even by people who posted enlightening articles and stirred constructive debate on social media. After I stopped being defensive and worrying so much about MY view being heard, and about being right…I felt the pain in other’s experiences. Then I felt anger at the injustice and realized that whatever issues I faced as a woman–a white woman, still were different than those who traveled the exact same roads as me, with darker skin.
I lived through the 60s and 70s in my bubble and really thought the Civil Rights movement brought more equivalency. I held this naïve point of view until really, just a few years back. My perspective was not based on hatred or prejudice, but instead, on ignorance. The biggest difference over the last 20 years isn’t that these things are happening more…it’s that, because of technology and (thank God) cell phone cameras, we are finally seeing it. We have proof.
My first revelation was when I heard a black coworker casually mention that he kept diapers and baby wipes in his car in full view, so that if he got stopped the police would believe he was a family man. Wow. I literally NEVER have feared that being pulled over for speeding, or another minor traffic violation might end up in anything other than a ticket for me. The conversations and safety tips a black parent gives their teens are completely different than the conversations I had with mine. Then, the video of the white woman calling the cops on the black bird watcher, and then…the George Floyd murder video. George Floyd, one more in the long list of names of black people dying at the hands of police officers. And back came that uncomfortable feeling as I watched so many of my white friends post their All Lives Matter and white privilege defenses and wished I could find a way to put into words what I felt.
I read a piece recently about singer Billie Eilish, who used her enormous following on social media to explain the concept of white privilege and Black Lives Matter to white people. “You are privileged whether you realize it or not,” Eilish wrote. “Society gives you privilege just for being white. You can be poor, you can be struggling..and still, your skin color is giving you more privilege than you even realize and nobody is saying that makes you better than anyone.” She went on, “This allows white people to live without having to worry about surviving, simply because of their skin color.” Regarding Black Lives Matter, she said “If all lives matter, why are black people killed for just being black? Why are immigrants persecuted? Why are white people given opportunities that people of other races aren’t?”
Billie and several others have pointed out what should have been obvious to me, but somehow wasn’t.
Saying Black Lives Matter isn’t saying ONLY black lives matter. Saying Black Lives matter is pointing out that society has allowed systemic violence on black people perpetrated by many police officers in a way that doesn’t happen to white people. Our acceptance of the injustices that just keep happening infers that black lives don’t matter, so pointing out that they do is NOT saying other lives don’t. It is black people who need to be heard. It is black people who are the victims of this violence again and again and again. We already know white lives matter, but it is pretty clear that our allowance of brutality and even murder at the hands of the police are demonstrating that black lives don’t. So we must say it.
Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter Black Lives Matter.
An example to explain the point: If your house was on fire, and the fire department came to put out the fire, but your neighbor said “all houses matter” that would be insane, right? Because yours is the house that needs help right now.
I sure don’t have the answers, and I can never fully understand. But I can listen and learn.
I can peacefully demonstrate alongside my black brothers and sisters and listen to their experiences even if they make me uncomfortable. I can open my mind and my heart. I can stop talking and defending and making it about me. I can donate to causes and organizations that promote change. I can vote. I can actively promote and support black-owned businesses. And I try to further understand the message,
Black Lives Matter.