It’s been two years since the #blacklivesmatter movement appeared after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the unjust murder of Trayvon Martin. In that same time, the media began to cast a more focused spotlight on race relations in this country. The spotlight only served to display what many already knew was happening in this country. As I reflect on the time since the media began casting light on the injustices, I think about the many conversations that I have held the space for in my classroom. One conversation that sticks out in my mind is a conversation between one of my young black male students, his parents and myself. In discussions, I highlighted the brilliant points that their son had made about being a young black male in America. His mother turned to his father, then to him with a smirk of affirmation. His father responded matter-of-factly: “My son and I have had the talk…we talk about these things a lot at home.” The “talk” that he was speaking of isn’t the one about the birds and the bees. The talk is more consequential than that. It is a talk that is absent from the tables of white America and an ever-present thought in the many households of black and brown Americans across this country. The talk that they were referring to is the talk about what it means to be a person of color in this country and the dangers and injustices that one might face.
This past week has been a really difficult time for America. This week has been one that has sought to divide when what we really need is to come together. It has reawakened struggles that many had forgotten existed. That’s the thing about being privileged— you can forget that the pain of others exists. After the initial shock has worn off, the awareness can be turned off and we can slip back into our daily lives as if nothing had ever happened. It was just a horrible week in this country—right? Wrong.
For many living in this country, the fear and the pain is something that is regrettably tied to their very existence. For them, choosing to ignore it is not an option. The pain is real. The fear is palpable. For my student and his family and families like his, it is impossible to forget. The thought is something that is ever present in their minds.
It is a thought that they have every time they see their son, husband or boyfriend walk out the door. When reports of yet another young black male being unjustly gunned down by a police officer surface, it is just another reminder of what they already know— the system isn’t in their favor and their lives are of less consequence than others.
Over the past week, I have engaged in many conversations with other white Americans via social media outlets. Many have been left in a quandary of misunderstanding of the reality of race relations in this country. Let us not leave these moments in misunderstanding. It is far easier and far more comfortable to remain unaware than it is to engage and struggle with the realities of our own privilege—the same privileges that are not afforded to people of color. When we say that #blacklivesmatter, we aren’t saying that other lives don’t matter. We are simply asking people to wake up and realize that we need to pay more attention to the value of black and brown lives in this country. We need to pay more attention not because we want to create a divide or because they matter more than the lives of police but because black and brown Americans aren’t being treated with the equality and justice that all people deserve.
As a white American who is an ally to people of color in this this country, I am asking you to step outside of your comfort zone and check your privilege. Over the next week, take some time to reflect on your own life and the way that your race influences your daily life. We cannot truly begin to grapple with the issues surrounding race until we have spent time reflecting on our own race and the impact that it has on our daily existence. What unearned privileges does the color of your skin afford you? The very fact that we have a choice in deciding whether or not we think about our race is a privilege that black and brown Americans are not afforded. I get it. Having to grapple with your own race is difficult and is often uncomfortable. However, we cannot sit in comfort and expect that things will change.
Over the past week, I have heard the calls of many who are asking to end the division and side-taking. Simply because one rallies behind the #blacklivesmatter movement, does not mean that sides are being taken. We are asking others to simply identify that there is a problem. Would you be OK with being treated in the same way that people of color are treated in this country? If your answer to this question is ‘no’, then you are identifying that there is a problem.
The only way that we begin to bring healing to all and bridge the divide that has been created through centuries of oppression is if we all recognize that there is a problem. Only then can we gather around the issues and work collectively as a nation to solve it and bring healing to the oppressed.