Saturday, August 29, 2020

A stranger willing to learn more about Black Lives Matter

One morning in June, about two weeks after the murder of George Floyd, in my majority white Maryland town, I posted simple Black Lives Matter signs near my running path, which runs along a decommissioned canal.

“MAGA (Make America Go Antiracist)”

I wanted my signs to be a call to action in a way I hadn’t seen, so I included my cell and invited people to start a conversation. I heard from one person—rather from my “butt hole.”

But I returned later that afternoon to find the signs gone. I reposted them. (A sight you don’t see: someone in running clothes on a wooded trail holding a tape gun.)

Several days later, the signs were still up. A small victory…soon to be dwarfed by an also-small but hugely affirming development.

Someone else who saw one of my signs texted me.

“I would like to discuss. if ur down.”

I was down. Also up, diagonal, and inside out.

Let’s say it’s a he and call him 240 (his area code). In a non-combative way, 240 said he thinks some people say “all lives matter” because they feel some people who say “Black lives matter” care about Black people only when they’re killed by white people but ignore other issues affecting Black communities (i.e. Black-on-Black murder, higher percentages of single motherhood). He feels that police officers killing Black people is terrible but questioned why the movement seems to consider that a bigger problem than the others he cited. He seemed genuine.

I disclaimered that I’m no expert, then proceeded to fumble through some of what I’ve learned.

I said that people who say “Black lives matter” do care about other challenges Black people face, and all lives in general, but it’s a matter of urgency. The BLM movement aims specifically to dismantle the harmful, ongoing way white-dominant institutions mistreat Black people, consciously or subconsciously.

I agreed that the other issues he mentioned are indeed pressing, but preventing preventable murder and educating white people how to eliminate systemic racism is paramount. I also said we need to multi-task like we do in other aspects of our lives. We didn’t stop searching for a cure for cancer when we started searching for a vaccine for COVID-19.

240 asked for examples of mistreatment. I recommended starting with a book called I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown

He pushed for examples so I gave him two:

1 – Black parents teach their children (especially boys) to keep hands out of pockets when in stores because employees are historically more likely to suspect/accuse Black people of shoplifting.

2 – White people sometimes ask to touch the hair of Black people, often Black children—or sometimes they skip right to the touching—while praising it. Though they may be well-intentioned, it is inappropriate—a manifestation of privilege that can be dehumanizing. 

He said he’s seen that happen.

He wrote “Thanks for talking with me. I learned something.”

So did I.

Then he went fishing.

1 comment:

Dina Roberts said...

I love that you did this.

And I'm glad you had at least one productive conversation.

I think some people are just confused by phrases like "Black Lives Matter" and "Defund the police".

It IS easy to read Black Lives Matter as Black Lives Matter MORE rather than Black Lives Matter TOO. With some people, you can simply explain it, and they're like "Oh!" and they're ready to join the movement. Other people refuse to hear or understand the meaning, because they don't want to. They continue to purposely misunderstand the meaning.

I like your analogy about Covid and cancer.

I think there's a big difference between being anti-racist and anti-police brutality while also being concerned for other dangers and difficulties facing the Black community....vs. pretending to suddenly care so much about these problems as a way to change the subject away from systemic racism. We had some major family arguments involving the latter. Your texting friend seemed more open, though. Hopefully.