Our country is engaged in a fight for its soul. People are angry and I think most people would agree that what happened to Mr. Floyd was absolutely unequivocally wrong. That’s not the problem. The problem is that many white people don’t want to engage with the 400 year old anguish this has aroused and reignited. I know this is true because I am one of those white people who feels very uncomfortable right now. My daughters, 18 and 20 have put me to shame with their fearlessness to act. They are challenging their friends’ and neighbors’ viewpoints online and in person and it is making me nervous, and did I say, uncomfortable? It especially bothered me when my younger daughter posted #BLM on a post offering support to our town’s police force. My first thought was, “OMG! What is she doing? People are going to think we hate the police!” I was so upset because I started to be afraid of what my neighbors would think of me and my girls. (I am not proud to admit this. ) Why is it that every time someone posts Black Lives Matter white people automatically think that it means that the lives of police and other people matter less and respond, often angrily, “All Lives Matter!”. (All lives SHOULD matter, of course, but sadly they don’t.) Why is this so hard to grasp? Why is it so hard to actually believe what black people are saying about their own experience? Really?! Why can’t we take their word for it? They’ve been trying to tell us for a VERY LONG time. If all lives really mattered there would be no need for the BLM movement.. Our country has a history of undervaluing lives of certain groups. And, it is very apparent that black people feel their lives are undervalued. And it should be very clear to us that this is true.
‘”All Lives Matter” erases a long past and present of systemic inequality in the U.S. It represents a refusal to acknowledge that the state does not value all lives in the same way. It reduces the problem of racism to individual prejudice and casts African-Americans as aggressors against a color-blind post- civil rights order in which White people no longer “see race”.’ –
“Under the White understanding, talking about systemic racism is itself racist, because it conjures into existence “racial divides” that are invisible to Whites who believe themselves to be free of prejudice.” -David Smith, University of Sydney
We also tend to see posts go up about supporting our police during these movements. Once again, it seems a similar dynamic ensues where if there is support for BLM it somehow takes away from supporting the lives of our local law enforcement. It’s a phenomenon called “Backlash Politics”. It’s basically reassigning victimhood in a way that changes the subject, in this particular issue, from blacks being treated badly by the police to a war on cops by aggressive African Americans. I’ve witnessed many people on social media, most of whom have been very quiet about BLM, rush to pledge their support for the police. However, if you don’t support BLM then I would argue you don’t support the police. BLM is trying to hold bad cops accountable for unjust and too often egregious acts of policing and open our eyes to an unjust society. Good cops don’t want to be defined by bad cops. In fact, not holding bad cops accountable for their bad policing creates a dangerous situation for ALL cops. It creates distrust and animosity towards police, especially in our black communities. And black people have been trying for a long time to get our attention about this issue. If you’re engaging in “Backlash Politics” then you are refusing to see the problem. The Black Lives Matter movement needs our support. We can no longer be colorblind and get bent out of shape because people are forcing us to see what makes us uncomfortable. (I’m not just talking to anyone reading this, but myself as well.)
So how did the Miller family get here? My youngest daughter’s best friend is an African-American. Until yesterday, I honestly was not aware of how much racism existed at our high school. ( I mean, I’m not surprised, I just thought maybe the students were better than their parents.) If you don’t know what white privilege is then my ignorance is a really good example of it. A “friend” they had in common began by arguing there was no such thing as systemic racism using isolated data points without context to support his argument. He even posted a meme of himself stating that African-Americans were inferior and tried to disguise it as a joke. My daughter was worried about her African-America friend who unfortunately had to read through all this because he shared all of this with her. When my daughter checked in on her, she was not doing well. She admitted that her peers made racists comments “all the time” and she never stood up to them. She admitted that it bothered her a lot but she simply didn’t know what to say. The fact that I did not know this about her experience at our high school broke my heart. She had been all alone despite being surrounded by classmates and friends. But it awakened my daughter’s sense of justice and she can no longer stay quiet so she, along with her sister, who was born to fight the unjust, and some friends, are engaged in this process, sometimes imperfectly, to challenge the status quo. And boy do I get squeamish when people challenge the status quo. I am a ball of nerves. Watching my daughters put themselves out there is both a scary and proud moment. Unfortunately for them, they sometimes have to deal with a scared mom who tries to real them in and hush them. (I tried to do that this morning. Forgive me.) That’s when my white privilege is at its worst. You see, I can hide in my nice suburban neighborhood with all my nice suburban neighbors and look the other way. I can try to hush my children too and tell them not to say too much. All because it all makes me feel uneasy, as if there is an invisible force field telling me, “Whoa Jen. Easy there girl. Don’t get too carried away with all that racism crap” . I need to break through this subtle but very strong messaging I’m unfortunately very sensitive to. Maybe that’s why we resort to backlash politics. It’s a great way to avoid the uncomfortable topics of race and how we all play a part in it.
My girls are so brave. I hope they will forgive me for being scared. Because my discomfort is nothing compared to the pain caused by systemic racism entrenched in our communities. Our black community needs us. They need us to LISTEN! Not change the narrative. Black Lives Matter.