Friday, September 4, 2015

Why the Word "Black" in #BlackLivesMatter, Matters

This week the world lost a celebrated, heroic father of four. He was a mentor to many, a devoted husband, an Army veteran, and a source of light and inspiration in our community. The perfect example of what it means to be an upstanding member of society. A blessing dressed in boots and humility. His name? Lt. Joe Gliniewicz, an officer with the Fox Lake Police Department, gunned down by three men, still at large, only few weeks away from his retirement.

A tragic loss to his family, to our community, and to the nation.

As I scrolled through my Facebook feed this week I had tears welling in my eyes from the heartfelt and touching stories of the way this man lived. I was moved by the outpouring of support for his family and friends. I was proud of the memorials and honor bestowed upon this deserving man. This man who was a gift to our community.

But I also noticed a disturbing trend, something that distracted me from the true purpose of his memorials.

In many of the beautiful candlelight vigil and memorial photos I viewed, my eye was drawn to a number of hand-written signs, filled with black block lettering spelling out the hashtags:

"#policelivesmatter"

"#hislifemattered"

I don't know how to describe how that made me feel. The best I can do is to say it rubbed me wrong. And at first, I couldn't figure out why.

The negative feelings stayed with me for the remainder of the week, as the soft lock-downs at schools ended and the police choppers stopped whirring over our homes.

Why, in the midst of all this tragedy and sorrow, am I feeling resentment toward my neighbors?

And then it dawned on me. The hashtag, #policelivesmatter, made me angry. It made me sad. And it motivated me to write this post, despite the fact it may be one of the most controversial topics I've addressed to date.

We can't replace the word "black" in #blacklivesmatter, my fellow neighbors and friends. We cannot. Hear me out.


History

Let's start at the beginning. The hashtag #blacklivesmatter was created after the 2013 murder of Trayvon Martin. It accompanied the 2014 deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. And it continues to stand alongside the family and friends left behind when unarmed African Americans are killed at the hands of the very people we depend on to keep us safe.

To put it simply, #blacklivesmatter is a movement. It is a cause. It is more than just three cramped words on a sign - it is an awareness campaign. It is meant to invoke change.

It was not started to create a divide. It was developed with the intention of enlightening the nation to a division that already exists.

I cannot say the same about the newer hashtags I've seen this week. #policelivesmatter is retaliatory in nature, designed to fire back at a perceived missile that, in all fairness, was never launched. #blacklivesmatter was not written on signs to shame white people. It was written to act as a wake-up call and garner support in fighting an issue that's lived in the dark for decades.

While the historical source of these two hashtags both stem from tragedy, one is intended to bring light to a dark space, while the other is meant as a counterattack.

Unequally Yoked

This won't go over well with some of you so let me start with my obligatory disclaimer.

***Obligatory disclaimer: I am no stranger to the consequences of violence nor the commitment required to serve this country and its citizens. I have nothing but respect for my fellow men and women in arms, especially those who've lost their lives in combat or on duty, but you don't need to take my word for it, my actions speak louder - I served as a US Army 91-W series medic for 4 years before my honorable discharge in the winter of 2007. My husband served 2 tours in Iraq, deployed for 12 months the first time and 13 months the second. We lost many members of our brigade to the war in Iraq. I attended too many funerals for the fallen. I do not take this subject lightly and hope my opinion, however layman, will at least be respected based on the perspective I've gained from having lived the life of someone who's served in more ways than one.

#policelivesmatter is a play on #blacklivesmatter. You cannot read #policelivesmatter without acknowledging (however resentfully) #blacklivesmatter. In it's very nature and design, #policelivesmatter forces a comparison. An unfair one. An unequal one.

At some point we need to acknowledge an assignment of responsibility for willingly putting one's self in a line of work that could result in the loss of life. A soldier, or officer, willingly jumps into the fray. They run toward the sound of gunfire. A child, or civilian, runs away.

Now hear me. This assignment of responsibility doesn't make the loss of life any less important. It doesn't make the loss of life any less tragic. But as anyone knows when signing up for the service or force, getting shot in the line of duty is expected. It is not cloaked in secrecy or hidden in the dark places of a stranger's mind...it is expected. So expected, in fact, that we undergo severe training purposely intended to teach us how to handle taking fire.

The life of a police officer absolutely matters. But utilizing a phrase made to defend the innocent lives taken due to racial violence creates an unjust and unequal comparison. The African American boys and girls who were shot by racists with weapons never ran toward the bullets. They ran away.

The death of an officer in the line of duty and the death of a civilian while walking down the street cannot be compared and chained as equals. They are two different things. They may hurt the same. They may hold the same importance to the family, friends, and community left behind. But they are vastly different circumstances that deserve to be spoken about, debated about, and yes, hashtagged about, as separate entities.

Detraction

Police brutality against African Americans needs awareness. As a white girl, I will plainly tell you, most of us have no idea what real life is like for a black person living in a white country. We think because we aren't lynching people or calling people that disgusting hateful "n" word to their face that racism is abolished. We may even think "reverse racism" is a more appropriate phrase to describe today's racial climate. And you know what I say to that? I'm willing to accept the anger of a race who's grandmother was cut down because she needed to use the bathroom. I'm willing to accept the disgust and mistrust of an entire culture that was once raped, molested, impregnated, and aborted to serve a white man's needs. I'm willing to accept the discrimination and wariness against my translucent skin tone because if the tables were turned, would I feel any differently? Would I want to engage in a culture that historically treated me no better than a pair of shoes? Was I, personally, the one who did it? No. My family had barely arrived from Europe by then. But can I understand it? Can I empathize, especially when I see racial slurs and hate crimes against people of color as I scroll through my News Feed? Absolutely. As a white woman who finds herself personally innocent of performing racial crimes, I willingly shoulder the anger and mistrust projected on my race...if for no other reason than to respect the horrors of the past and prove that yes, I can be different. I can teach my kids to be different.

Yet I'm not hearing enough of my fellow whities stand with me. I'm still hearing people use that horrific "n" word to describe their neighbors. I'm still witnessing discrimination in schools. I'm still watching my community shake around signs reading #policelivesmatter, when they should instead be holding pictures of our fallen officer, or his insignia, or his squad.

Because the purpose of #policelivesmatter isn't to raise awareness, right? We know police officers fall victim to criminals in the line of duty. And when it happens, the entire community comes out, pays their respects, and salutes the officer into the afterlife with a 21-gun salute. It may not make national news every time it happens, but it certainly is recognized by the family of the fallen, the friends of the fallen, the state's entire police force, and the fallen officer's community. There is no doubt #policelivesmatter.

Can we say the same about the murders and deaths of our black neighbors? Can you name 5 out of the known 15 black lives that were lost in the past year due to police brutality? Are these individuals buried with the same recognition? And what are you feeling as you read that question? What is the first answer that pops in your head?

Hell no?

Who cares?

They did it to themselves?

I need to google who those people were?

There is more racism alive today than we realize. Hence, the reason we need an undiluted, strong, powerful statement dedicated to drawing awareness to the lack of equality in our judicial system. We need to stop detracting from #blacklivesmatter by watering it down with our own personal pain and anger.

Division

It was never #blacklivesmattermorethanwhitelives, people. It was never that. It was never intended to be personal. It's hard to not take it personally. I get it. I'm a white girl, so believe me, I get it. But you know what the answer shouldn't be to those feelings you might get as white person reading #blacklivesmatter? Those feelings of maybe guilt, anger, and shame?

The answer shouldn't be to retaliate in anger. Or respond with violent, harmful phrases intended to hurt. It's not to one-up the #blacklivesmatter movement. The answer is not to whip words back in another's face.

That's not the answer, people. Those types of responses further divide us from each other.

Pitting #policelivesmatter against #blacklivesmatter moves us away from equality, not toward.

There's no doubt #policelivesmatter. Get original and think with the big picture in mind. We want less violence, not more. We want less death, not more. We want more togetherness, less racism. More peace, less war.

And the first way to get there is to find a way to express our sadness and anger without further dividing our country. Grace and understanding are two of the most vastly underutilized weapons against violence of any color. 

So how about this. How about instead of snapping back out of anguish with things like #policelivesmatter and #alllivesmatter we let #blacklivesmatter continue to act as a cornerstone in the fight against racism.

And let's instead come up with our own original way of memorializing the incredible lives of those killed in the line of duty. Like wearing the blue stripe. Lighting our blue lights. And remembering the life and love of a man who gave all to protect his community.


Rest in Peace, GI Joe.

Jen


6 comments:

  1. Beautiful post love!!! I definitely feel racism still exists today, all over the world not just here. It always will at different capacities because grace and understanding requires many times admitting what we once believed and thought was WRONG. People are proud and stubborn. Love it chicka and although you're a "white guuurl" - understanding the importance and significance is separate from color. :P Have a great weekend Jennifer!! Take Care lovely -Iva

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    1. Thank you Iva!! And thank you for sharing this post - the message is so, so important. I know there will never come a day where we don't see color, but I'm hoping at least my kids will see different colors and see opportunity instead of disgust.

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  2. I completely understand this post. For me though, I always say #alllivesmatter with no guilt at all. But I respect what others say too. I don't have a fit about it.

    But mostly I am ashamed of how some people treat others. Racism is real and it's sad.

    I also worry for our police officers. My husband is a military cop, and I know they go through a lot.

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    1. Racism is very real - more so than I even thought when I wrote this. I received responses from friends that almost knocked me over. Had no idea there was such widespread discrimination and hatred in my closest groups of friends and family members. It's insane! Appreciate your comment girl and for respecting what I say despite whether or not you agree with it.

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  3. I agree with this. The situation of racism in America saddens me greatly--though it does feel a little distant at the moment, because Malaysia has its own serious issues with race relations--mostly in regard to wealth disparity, education, and government preferences/quotas (i.e. there's quotas in public universities that benefit the majority race, making it much more competitive for the minority races to get in--that doesn't hurt the wealthy minorities so much, but the poor minorities have basically no chance whatsoever).
    So...the problems here tend to involve fewer guns and bloodshed, which I'm grateful for.
    I don't know why white people can't read #blacklivesmatter and not take it as an insult against white lives, because it's not. Sure, all lives do matter, in reality, but pointing out injustice is needed.
    And I never thought about the difference between civilian death vs. death in the line of duty before, but what you pointed out makes a lot of sense. I hate death, all of it, but civilians getting killed isn't exactly the same situation as someone getting killed when, sadly, it's a risk of the job.

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    1. Thank you Rach - I agree with you, I often feel more sad for America's problems simply because they pale in comparison to some of the world's issues out there. I think that almost makes it worse...we have such an incredible network of peace at our fingertips, but we don't capitalize on it. We're such a lucky country but at the same time we are so, so broken in many hidden ways. Hoping our nation can learn to think beyond racism and greed and corruption so we can focus on breathing life into our land again and maybe even getting to the point where we can set an example for disparaging nations around us.

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