Amplify Black Voices
Below is an essay taken from my book “Amplify Black Voices”, published in the summer of 2020. Purchase copies at JacobLGraham.com
#BLACKLIVESMATTER is not about making white people, or anyone, feel ashamed of themselves. It is not about retribution. It is not about hand-outs, or reprioritizing which group of people in our society are the most important. It is about identifying systematic patterns of oppression that affect our communities disproportionately. White people do not have to say “White Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter”, because everything in our society is constructed with white people in mind, by default. White people do not have to shout to be heard.
We are crying Black Lives Matter because when we say “equality”, people stop at the surface. Some look at our nation’s first mixed-race President, at wealthy Black celebrities, and see a flat playing field. “Think of how much progress we’ve made since the 60s!” they say. How much progress have we made when Black people, Black children even, are being killed on the street in alarming numbers, by the very people that pledge to protect everyone? How much progress have we made when Black women are still violently abused, and are woefully underrepresented and under-appreciated in our society? How much progress have we made when Black transgender individuals are so far off our radar, that even the LGBTQ community is largely blind to their struggles? The reality is that while we have indeed made progress, broad strokes will not solve our problems. Without a singular focus on the issues which affect the Black community, the racist rhetoric that plagues the United States cannot accurately be understood and eliminated. Nothing will change if people believe that ended with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We have to identify what specific parts of our culture are broken, or we will continue to miss the mark.
People look for a way to avoid taking action, a way to bask in their privilege and comfort. Instead of taking “equality” to heart, people start looking for excuses to shunt the burden of change back onto those who are oppressed, so that those in positions of privilege do not have to do the work themselves. They blame the victims, people in underfunded, underrepresented communities who “brought it on themselves” and “could get ahead if only they worked harder”. People of color end up being labeled as “lazy”, “uneducated”, and “thugs”. These are weasel words, infected with pernicious meanings, because it is no longer politically correct to outright call us “inferior”. Black victims of police shootings are portrayed by the news as inevitable criminals, while white convicted rapists are lauded for their athletic abilities, their education, their “potential”. Such is the insidious nature of social constructs surrounding race, they work in multiple directions, under multiple guises. “All Lives Matter” is a dangerous cop-out, an embodiment of white fear that minimizes the issue to its smallest and least actionable form. It ignores the history that brought us to this boiling point and it ignores the ingrained societal notions that keep us frozen in place. If we cannot have open conversations about the specific ways in which our culture in the United States targets Black people, then we cannot dismantle the institutions that continue to hold us down.
When I see and hear people shouting “All Lives Matter”, I do not see a fight for equality, I see deflection. People are dodging the issues so they do not have to confront their white privilege, their fear, and their shame. They fear that their undeserved privilege is slipping away while the Black community continues to stand up and fight, and they feel the shame that comes once you truly understand your own plentiful contributions to this nation’s problem of racial inequality.