Frances Brady is the Public Services Librarian at Adler University’s Harold and Birdie Mosak Library. She assists students with their research as they grapple with questions about individuals and society, and what can be done to effect meaningful change.
In light of the recent egregious acts of police brutality, many of us assert, “Black lives matter!” in response to the systemic racism against blacks. There are also people quick to point out that many experience discrimination or other hardships based on gender, sexuality, class, religion, citizenship, etc. It is presented as a belief in equality: “All lives matter”. And as a defensive tactic, it’s meant to shield people from feeling guilt, to avoid acknowledging their society’s and their own racism.
A few things.
As a woman, I know the fear of being alone in an elevator with a sketchy-looking guy, or of walking deserted streets in the dark, alone. I know the revolting statistics about how many women are raped. But those experiences not only do not negate the systemic oppression of black people, they are not the same as black experiences.
If I walk down a dark street alone but spot a cop, I breathe a sigh of relief. If I am home alone and hear a funny noise that I think might be an intruder, I open my phone, ready to dial 911. While I do not think the justice system adequately protects women against rapists (see Brock Turner’s 6-month sentence for raping an unconscious woman), I do not fear that the police will rape or kill me when I call for help, and then face no penalty for doing so.
As a white person, I have the privilege to not fear for my life from those who “protect and serve”. This lived experience is in stark contrast to how black people navigate the world.
So in response to those who wonder when we can stop focusing on black issues:
- We can stop discussing Black Lives Matter when it is widely understood and acknowledged that racism is systemic, which means it is built into our laws, our every-day lives, and even our beliefs about who is valued.
- We can stop discussing Black Lives Matter when laws actually protect all of us, not just those born into privilege.
- We can stop discussing Black Lives Matter when it is clear by the country’s actions that black lives are valued.
Until then, yes, we will keep talking and protesting and grieving about racism.