As part of a series, I will explore the #BlackLivesMatter phenomenon
and its effect on race, Twitter, and activism.
I feel so uncomfortable when I am with a group of predominately white friends (mostly male), that joke causally about the news on Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter. I sit there, biting my tongue, while their cynicism permeates the room. They joke about #ICantBreathe and the protesters. Are their jokes intended towards the protestors’ use of the hashtag? Or the violent act that the hashtag implies? At the end of the day I know they are only joking and using satirical punch lines to avoid diving into the heavy topics. But that is a problem. Their conversation symbolizes many conversations that happen on the news and around the country: the lack of white Americans not taking this moment in history seriously and truly understanding an ongoing problem. White people are killing black people.
These people I am referring to are not bad people and not outwardly racist. Studies show that most of us have predetermined unconscious racist tendencies; in other words we don’t know we are acting racist. For many, the problem remains, as Nicholas Kristof from the New York Times puts it, with “People who believe in equality but who act in ways that perpetuate bias and inequality.” It takes self-exploration and self-awareness to notice your own bias, and to actively change your perceptions in order to create change in yourself and others. A way that we can understand what is going on, is following the conversations on the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
When I hear everyone’s uninformed opinions on Ferguson and cynicism towards #BlackLivesMatter, I know that racial equality still has a long road ahead. As white people, we will never know what it feels like to be stopped in our cars because we are black, or know what it is like to lose a child to gun violence, because a cop thought they were carrying a weapon. Our bias are revealed through our words on such topics involving the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and when we joke or casually talk about these topics, we reveal our lack of consideration towards the reality of these acts of violence.
That’s where the digital media’s useful and meaningful rhetoric comes into play. Tweeting is a digital tool used by protestors and activists to send messages quickly and create instant unity. Hashtag is more than a symbol; it is a mechanism that creates rapid dialogue.
I must admit that at first I was confused by the #BlackLivesMatter campaign. I thought to myself, well yes, that is obvious – but don’t all lives matter? However, that is not the point and not just another excuse to protest. I can’t speak for all white people, but the problem behind some of the sarcasm I witness towards Ferguson, is simply arrogance and crippling assumptions of the stories, such as Michael Brown’s. The reality of our nation’s inability to collectively acknowledge racial problems lies in our cynicism, unconscious bias, and simply put, our lack of trying to understand what #BlackLivesMatter really means. That is why we all need to pay attention to Twitter and understand the conversations that are going on are pivotal to our nation’s history on racism.
So, why is #BlackLivesMatter important for white people to truly grapple with and understand? It is a milestone in digital media rhetoric that has unified millions throughout the country. It also stands for so much more that what it appears. Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor in the department of comparative literature and the program of critical theory at the University of California, Berkeley, recently said in the New York Times in reaction to #AllLivesMatter, “When some people rejoin with “All Lives Matter” they misunderstand the problem, but not because their message is untrue. It is true that all lives matter, but it is equally true that not all lives are understood to matter which is precisely why it is most important to name the lives that have not mattered, and are struggling to matter in the way they deserve.”
Julie Craven from the Huffington Post proclaimed, “Saying "all lives matter" causes erasure of the differing disparities each group faces. Saying "all lives matter" is nothing more than you centering and inserting yourself within a very emotional and personal situation without any empathy or respect.” Both of their views on #AllLivesMatter and its use as a reaction to #BlackLivesMatter, exposes a unified misunderstanding. #BlackLivesMatter has a specific black narrative in relation to violence against black men and women. We all know that all lives matter and understand that every one should be considered equal. Craven explains that the reaction of #AllLivesMatter just downplays the message and significance of #BlackLivesMatter.
The ongoing victimization of black men and women needs to be taken seriously, and taken seriously by white people. Who is the #BlackLivesMatter audience intended for? Us - white people that need to know more about black history; that need to understand, sympathize, and become allies of this movement, if they haven’t already. That is how we change. That is how we self-evolve. And grow into a world where all lives do matter.