First of all, I shouldn’t have to write “even though I’m white,” but I feel that it is necessary because I’m hoping that this will reach at least one white person who doesn’t think it’s okay to support the Black Lives Matter movement as if it will harm their white privilege in some way. Secondly, I will attempt to refrain my anger and sarcasm as much as possible, but I can’t make any promises. These are my disclaimers.
As a teacher, I have witnessed many forms of oppression in our society, especially against black people. I see that the public school system reinforces many of this oppression. What do I mean? Let’s look at desegregation. When black children were finally allowed to attend “white” schools, how much did the schools change to include their culture? Did the history books change to include positive attributes made by black people? No. Did literature books change to include a fair amount of black writers? No. The only thing that changed was that they were allowed to attend. When I look back on my education, I think about how much I did not know about black people as a child. I didn’t have the pleasure of reading Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, etc. All that I was exposed to was the “norm.” So, looking at this from the perspective of a black child (if I may venture to do so), what would this tell me about my race? As a white child of a racist mother, I learned that white was normal, good, accepted. I was taught that black boys were rapists and violent. I was taught that black women were bitches. And, I was taught that all black people were stupid and did not belong in our society. My mother would say that she wished that black people would be sent back to Africa. I want to add here that I have long since departed from these teachings, but I’m afraid that many people still have this mentality. So, in 2016, has the public school system changed? No. They simply added a month to celebrate Black History–the shortest month of the year. Yes, they have included more black people in history and literature, but the narrative is ultimately the same. EXCLUSION OF BLACK PEOPLE BEGINS IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.
As a college English teacher, I emphasize the fact that we are all basically bilingual. When I’m at home, I sometimes say things like, “He done started something,” or “She gone get in trouble.” This is our dialect. I know that it is technically incorrect, but I do not dismiss dialect because it brings richness, culture and identity to people’s voices. My black students are not used to this. They are not used to their speech being accepted as a language. They look at me like I’m an alien. EXCLUSION OF BLACK PEOPLE CONTINUES THROUGHOUT HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGE.
Don’t get me wrong, black people are strong. I admire them for their perseverance. They have made tremendous strides considering the lack of acceptance in our society. They don’t need my support. It’s the white people who need to know that it’s okay to support them.
In fact, white people could benefit majorly from true inclusion. Look at the school system again. Now tests are the ultimate basis of knowledge. If a student doesn’t pass the test, the student is judged, the teacher is judged, the school is judged. The problem with this is that not all student knowledge can be measured by a test. And, ultimately the tests do not reflect the differences in race. This is a difficult subject because it may sound bad, but hear me out. When black people were allowed to attend white schools, they had basically no education besides the little bit that other black people could teach them. They were not up to white people’s “standards.” So, instead of changing the system and letting the black students catch up, they just kept going in hopes that they would give up. Then, legislature is passed that says that all schools must be performing. These black students who couldn’t catch up were hurting the numbers. What happens? They lower the standards. Now middle and lower class white students are also suffering. And, this is pretty much where the education system is today.
Also, some black people did give up. They recognized that they couldn’t survive this system. This system NEVER really let them in. So, what do they do? Turn to ways to survive that don’t include getting an education.
Another form of oppression is the welfare system. The welfare system was set up initially to help people get back on their feet after the Great Depression. Now, it reinforces a cycle of slavery to poverty. I once overheard a conversation among a couple of black seventh graders (ages 13-14). They were talking about naming their babies. I heard one of them say that she hoped that she would have twins so that her grandmother would get two more checks. When a person only knows one way of life, it is difficult to break out of it. It is the norm. It is a cycle. I’m going out on a limb to say that I’d bet most of our politicians know this, which is why welfare continues. I’m not saying welfare should disappear because I understand its important in helping people in need, but it should be a means to an end, not the end. So many white people disagree with me on this point because they are jealous that the government gives black people money. This is so stupid because 1. white people get welfare too, and 2. a life depending on the government is not a good one. White people say “I wish I could drive a Cadillac and get on welfare,” but that Cadillac does not make up for other hardships, and this is just nasty ass stupid prejudice assumption. Think of it this way: Do I want my daughter at 13 to be thinking about naming her child, the child that she is having so that her grandmother can get another check? Nope.
I could go on and on about the systems of oppression (a.k.a. slavery) that are thriving in our society, but this is supposed to be about Black Lives Matter. I’m writing this in response to white people trying to diminish this movement by using the term Blue Lives Matter as a rebuttal. NO NO NO! This movement was not established as a blow against police officers. It was established as a cry for help. Mothers of victims. Mother of victims. They lost their children. They lost their children to the violence of our society. Our society excluded their children, and they ended up dead at young ages. This is the problem. Stop trying to stifle their voices. Stop ignoring the exclusion. Stop saying that they can’t speak up for themselves without taking away from white people. Do white people need black lives to not matter?
No one said that blue lives don’t matter. No one said that white lives don’t matter. When a police officer shoots a black man sitting in his car unarmed, he is saying that his life doesn’t matter. When a white man shoots a black teenager for wearing a hoody and playing loud music, he is saying that his life doesn’t matter. When a child is gunned down for having a toy gun, it shows that someone believed his life didn’t matter. There are methods for preventing this violence, but they are not exercised. Are all instances of police violence about race? No. Am I saying that police officers should not protect themselves? No. I am saying that racism and oppression exist and cannot be ignored. I am saying that black lives do matter, but that does not have to take away from others’ lives. I am saying that if there are instances where a black person is targeted, then there need to consequences and recognition.
I don’t worry that my son will get shot because of the color of his skin. I don’t worry that my son will be excluded in school because of the color of his skin. I don’t worry that my son will be profiled because of the color of his skin. I enjoy white privilege in this way. I do not want to have to worry, but I want to share those same privileges with my black neighbors. I want my students to feel accepted in my classroom. I want my students to succeed and become productive members of society. I want to live in a society where we stop lying and start fixing the problem. If you want to say ALL LIVES MATTER, fine. THEN ACT LIKE IT! Until then recognize that BLACK LIVES MATTER.