*The subject matter in this post may be touchy for some. And my handling of it is probably clunky, because I’m still sorting my thoughts and how best to articulate them, while attempting to preserve the dignity of the people discussed. Please note it was written in a spirit of self-reflection following a Facebook conversation with my friend Chad. He graciously agreed to allow me to use his name and post our original exchange, which you will find in it’s entirety at the end of the post.
About a week ago, my friend Chad posted the following picture on Facebook:
I don’t typically get into it with people over politics or their stances on social issues, but I in this case, I felt I had something to contribute, so I commented on my friend’s post:
What followed was an exchange that left me a bit exasperated with my friend, and in looking at it with the distance of a week or so, it appears to me that Chad and I really, fundamentally believe many of the same things (in this case, that ALL lives do indeed matter.) Where our communication breaks down is that I feel the All Lives Matter slogan is a defensive and reactionary response to an actual and necessary social movement (#BlackLivesMatter) and is dismissive of the fact that many Black people feel their lives DON’T matter as much as others’.
When I first saw #BlackLivesMatter, I understood it was a response to the apparent uptick in wrongful deaths of Black people by White police and others, but because I live in a fairly white-bread, insular community, at first, it was barely on my radar. However, it kept popping up in all my social media, so I started paying close attention to it and the concerns and fears and the stories of the people who were hashtagging it. I started reading articles, reaching outside of my own social and media circle, following Black bloggers, and transracial and adoptive families with the intent to understand—to listen—to their experiences.
As I listen, I’m learning. #BlackLivesMatter is not just a group of people “pulling the race card” as I’ve heard it called. They are people who are calling out actual problems and real injustices happening to people because of the color of their skin.
Throughout my discussion with Chad, I had been trying to point out that it is important to LISTEN to and try to understand WHY #BlackLivesMatter does not mean that other lives don’t—and I felt he was missing my point. To me, he seemed defensive and shut down, not even open to listening to people’s experience with racism and the need for a social movement to change the systemic and structural racism in our society. I asked him why he felt so defensive and if he had read the links to articles I had posted for his perusal. Rather than answer my questions, he returned it to me—“Why are you so defensive?”
At that point, frustration set in heavily for me. My goal in the discussion with Chad was to open him up to the idea to GIVE EAR AND THOUGHT TO OTHER PEOPLE WHO DON’T SHARE HIS EXPERIENCE so he could see why THEY feel a need for #BlackLivesMatter. Unfortunately,I don’t think I succeeded, because Chad didn’t answer my questions. I have no idea if he read the links I included in our exchange, because he didn’t indicate he did, though he did tell me that he understands that minorities have struggles as well as strengths.
I feel it is crucial to LISTEN to people who feel dehumanized and devalued, whether or not I agree that they are such. My feelings are not theirs. My experiences are not theirs, so I don’t get to decide how THEY feel. And once I’ve listened, I must try to understand. And then I must work for change, so that they feel secure that their lives matter as much as anyone else’s. THEN will #AllLivesMatter. So, when Chad turned my question “Why are you so defensive?” back on me, I felt I should walk that talk, and honestly consider the question in the spirit of believing that Chad really wanted to know my thoughts and feelings, rather than using it as a volley to evade my questions and suggestions for reading.
So, was I defensive? Yes. I get defensive when I don’t feel heard, when my questions don’t get answered, when I have spent hours poring over an issue, approaching it from as many angles as I can possibly find in an effort to understand and find the Truth (with a capital T), and am dismissed when trying to share what I’ve learned.
It is not a bad thing to question a system, even if it appears to be working for you. It is not a bad thing to take the time to listen to the experiences of others, and to conscientiously consider their beliefs, even if they are markedly different than your own
It frightens me when someone makes negative blanket statements about a group of people—any group of people—based on race, gender, politics, or religion. Doing so diminishes the humanity of that group, and as Ann Voskamp puts it, “It’s when we dehumanize anyone, that we can legitimize anything.” That is a terrifying truth that history has played out time and time again. .
As for #BlackLivesMatter, I feel it is (unfortunately) a necessary social movement. If we truly believe that all lives matter, we will not blow off Black people as playing the race card when they call out injustices. We will listen and work until they feel heard, understood, and safe. If we truly believe that All Lives matter, we will do the work to ensure it, even if it is uncomfortable, messy, and awkward.
I came away from my discussion with Chad feeling that even though we were both talking English and both have a heart for making the world a better place, we were speaking different languages and I am still frustrated that I haven’t figured out how to bridge the gap.
In the meantime, here’s our exchange, as food for thought—both on #BlackLivesMatter and an example of how (or how not?) to discuss tinderbox subjects with friends on social media: