By Liz Moore, Director
I was reading Facebook posts and articles as I came home from camping, the day after Senator Bernie Sanders was pre-empted by Black Lives Matter in Seattle, after he and Governor O’Malley (also a Presidential candidate) had been challenged at Netroots Nation by Black Lives Matter. At the time, Sanders had no statement about racial justice on the Issues page of his website. He’s from Vermont, with relatively few people of color, and he lives inside the Beltway bubble, but still … he or his advisors should have recognized the need to lead on racial justice in the USA in 2015 as “the people’s candidate.”
It’s rather stunning to me that apparently no candidate was ready to lead on one of the most pressing issues of our time, an issue made pressing by grassroots folks in Ferguson and all over the country responding to the unjust deaths of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, and other Black people whose lives have been taken from them by law enforcement all over the country. Why is it necessary for Black Lives Matter to challenge people who want to lead our country to also lead on ending the deaths of Black people?
Since that day, both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush have also been challenged by Black Lives Matter activists. Sanders has articulated a powerful issue position that calls out “the four central types of violence waged against black and brown Americans: physical, political, legal and economic.”
But at the time, some white progressives responded to the BLM challenge in ways I found disappointing and distressing. I want to share my admiration and respect for the leadership and courage of Black Lives Matter.
In the same way that we at PJALS choose to spend our energy meeting with Senator Murray’s staff to urge her to support the deal with Iran, but only drop off petitions for the entrenched Rep. McMorris Rodgers, Black Lives Matter first seeks to move their likeliest ally, Senator Sanders, to raise expectations of him in order to raise expectations of other candidates. Smart.
I appreciated people I knew engaging thoughtfully, listening to each other and to the BLM leaders as well as sharing their own thoughts without imposing their opinions on others. I also read several responses that seemed to be coming from a significant arrogance based in the writers’ sense of being entitled and qualified to assess and judge the tactic. That arrogance put me in mind of Peggy MacIntosh’s classic “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack,” which includes passports, maps, and codebooks as well as a “Your opinion matters all the time” card.
Many white people who are working class, not Christian, women, GLBT, or otherwise the subject of discriminatory actions, prejudices, or policies of exclusion or oppression have our own realities of our own experiences. We can own our experiences without thinking that gives us experiential knowledge of the reality of Black people knowing every 28 days a law enforcement officer kills another unarmed Black person.
I saw more than one white person state they might not be an ally to Black Lives Matter anymore unless they were “won over” to support the tactic. What does that mean? Does it mean they’ll start believing Black lives don’t matter? What level of support is at stake? Does it mean they won’t “like” things on Facebook anymore? They won’t challenge racist statements made by co-workers or friends? They won’t work to change policies that disadvantage people of color? Ultimately, the choice to be or not be an ally in opposing racism is the most fundamental definition of white privilege. The choice (or threat) to exercise that privilege is quite a stunning comfort with that unearned privilege.
For those of us who are white who wonder or fantasize about what we “would have done” during the Civil Rights Movement: the time is now. This is the Movement for Black Lives. What will we do?