Let me start off by saying that I don't pretend to know everything about the state of race in our country. In fact, I know very little. I do know that we have a problem--a very serious one, and it drives me up the wall when people refuse to acknowledge it. And if I, a privileged middle-class white person, get annoyed by it, I cannot imagine the frustration that people of color must feel day in and day out.
I, again, a privileged white person, am so sick of seeing Black Lives Matter posts, because they all end up with someone saying "All Lives Matter." If it makes me want to flip tables and collectively slap everyone who says it, I cannot imagine how people of color feel.
Because the Black Lives Matter movement is about genuine problems that exist in this country, and it's an attempt to bring attention to those problems so we can start to work on a solution. Every time it is mentioned, every time I see the beginnings of a potentially productive conversation about the systemic racial issues we have in this country, I almost immediately see some ignorant privileged white person ruining it for everyone.
Don’t be offended by that. I am also an ignorant, privileged white person. I always will be, no matter how hard I try to understand, because I don't live it. If you're white too, you don't live it either. It doesn’t matter what bullying or discrimination you may have experienced, it is not the same thing.
So this one is for the people who end those conversations and dismiss the Black Lives Matter movement. From one privileged white person to another, I think we need to clear a few things up.
1) Of course all lives matter
You are not a genius or any sort of clever for holding this sentiment. Life matters. That's obvious. Saying this does not make you sound like you care about everyone. That is not up for debate. It makes you sound like you only care about white people.
2) Understand the purpose of Black Lives Matter
How it's meant: black lives matter (too)
How it's often misunderstood: (only) black lives matter or black lives matter (more)
Nobody is saying that black lives matter more. They are saying they are equally as important as other lives. The reason this is necessary is because we white people have royally screwed everyone else in this country over for hundreds of years. We've created a system where black lives (and those of other minorities) are treated as though they matter less, not just through discrimination and prejudice but by actually killing them off and imprisoning them in ridiculously high numbers. Again, this is not up for debate. We may believe that all lives matter equally, but our system demonstrates, time and time again, that some lives matter more than others.
3) All Lives Matter is a dismissal
Saying that all lives matter dismisses the problem, and that’s not ok.
Let's change the situation a bit. Imagine a world with two types of dogs. Dalmatians are fed enough and given loving homes and played with regularly, while Chihuahuas are fed leftover scraps and kept in kennels all day long. I think this is wrong and I say to a friend, "This needs to stop. Chihuahuas are important." They reply, "All dogs are important." What just happened? They just ignored my point completely. They did not acknowledge the problem, and they basically suggested that there was nothing wrong to begin with.
It is the same with saying all lives matter. When you say that, you're saying that we don't have any problems with race in this country, that everything is fine the way it is. And maybe you think that, but if you do, you're wrong. You've been blinded by privilege. But you had to find out eventually, and now you can make a change.
You have to make a change. Ignoring the problem is the same thing as contributing to the problem. If you are not actively working against racism and injustice, you are contributing to it. You are allowing it to happen. You are complicit.
5) Educate yourself
I'd like to stress once again that I don't know very much about race. And neither do a lot of white people. But the best way to know more is to read. Read articles, books, etc. written by people of color. Talk to people of color after you've read a bit. Do not just ask your non-white friends to explain race to you. It's too complicated.
Ask people about their stories and actually listen. Seriously. Listening is key. Not listening to disagree or argue back later or listening until it's your turn to talk, listening to really understand.
A good place to begin understanding is to understand the privileges you have being white. Peggy McIntosh wrote an article about this. It's short, an easy read, and also eye-opening. Then, if you're ready to really dig in, here is a collection of resources that are a good place to start.
If all of that seems like too much (even though it shouldn't be) just do me one favor. Stop saying all lives matter. Even idiots know that all lives matter. Nobody wants to sound like an idiot, so just don’t say it. It's degrading, dismissive, and disrespectful. If you really believe that all lives matter equally, support Black Lives Matter, so that we can change our system to reflect the equal value of human life.