To A Good Person Who Did Not Understand
I have just had a conversation on social media with somebody who I have known since childhood, and who I know to be a lovely, and true and honest spirit.
It was not just that conversation, however, that prompted me to publish my comments in full here. Last night I was informed about a discussion that took place with somebody in a position at such a high level that they should have understood well, and had been trained also, to not make the statement that they believed all lives matter after having discussed diversity and inclusion in the workplace and the murder of George Floyd. It almost beggars belief that a person in such a position would be so ill-equipped for that discussion. To say any more of it would be to betray trust so I cannot, but it does prove to me just how far we still need to go!
Finally, just to get an indication of exactly how difficult are these concepts to understand, on the drive home from school today I asked my 12 year old and 15 year old sons whether the statement “all lives matter” is a good thing to say in today’s context, and why. They both immediately said “no”, it was not a good thing to say, and they made all of the key points that I would and have made. The reader can infer from that what they will, but I will say that I infer that a reasonably intelligent and open-minded person should understand by now why it is inappropriate to make such a statement.
Below is the conversation I had with my friend after she very sincerely stated that she was confused and wanted me to explain it to her. Please feel free to share this or to use the text if you find yourself in a situation where you need to explain the significance and symbolism of Black Lives Matter.
I know you don’t have a mean bone in your body, so I would be happy to explain (and perhaps some others might follow and understand too).
Can you hang in with me while I explain?
That message [her post stating “Police Lives Matter (share if you are brave enough)”] is actually like walking around town smiling and waving with one hand, but looking at some and giving them the finger with the other hand.
I know you thought you were being inclusive by saying something like “hey, I care about police officers because I care about all people” – right?
But what many people are doing by sending this message around is attacking the sentiment and people protesting for Black Lives Matter.
So sending a message that causes hurt amongst some of course is being divisive, even if that was not your intention.
How can I infer all of that – well we all do it all of the time – infer things from all sorts of gestures (on the face, body, images/symbols or in slogans).
Can you imagine living in a place where people don’t understand what is “flipping the bird” – people would just laugh at you wondering why you are poking up a middle finger. Believe it or not, in some countries the rudest thing you can do is take off your shoe and wave it at them 🙂 We might laugh if someone did that to us, but somebody from that culture would be highly offended.
One harmless example of the power of symbols – when my first-born was still 3 on a Friday night he saw me watching the channel 9 crew talking about the upcoming game, and just from seeing the commentators and footage of the empty field he asked “who is playing footie tonight, the telephones and the beers?” He knew from the people and the field that a football game was likely to be played and he already associated the Telstra symbol with telephones and the VB symbol with beers 🙂
The point is that these symbols and gestures are deeply embedded in our minds, including from young ages…
I will pause for a second here and continue on in another message – but while I do I ask you to think about what was the most evil symbol of the 1900s and think what about that symbol depicts the atrocities committed under it (blood, guns, gas chambers?) – nothing – but most people, especially those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis, feel fear and anger towards the symbol…
OK so I hope that you have followed and understand how symbols and gestures can send powerful messages.
So to understand why ….. Lives Matter, including All Lives Matter, is hurtful we need to recognise a few things.
Firstly it is important to understand that the symbolism behind Black Lives Matter existed first, so all of these other statements followed, and they are not stand alone statements.
They are, in reality, a response to Black Lives Matter.
Then we have to think about what is the symbolism behind Black Lives Matter. Well the first thing is that there is a fourth word inferred in the statement at the end – which is the whole point of it. Do you know what it is?
It is again inferred in the “response” that you posted, except because it is said by many in anger and disapproval at Black Lives Matter, for them it is underlined and/or bolded (not in reality, just inferred remember).
So why is it necessary in this day and age to make the point that Black Lives Matter?
Well because of the history of America and Australia and other countries where racism has been so embedded in the culture since Europeans arrived in the country.
For 450 years in America and almost 250 in Australia black people have been treated as if their lives don’t matter as much as others.
Black American slavery treated people as commodities (like loaves of bread, bought and sold) and today racism deeply affects their lives. In Australia many Aboriginals were killed by settlers, it was only in the 60s that they were accepted into law as citizens of Australia, and of course racism deeply affects their lives.
The history on that is undeniable, even though racists do deny it and aim to confuse the issue (many racists also deny that the holocaust occurred).
The murder of George Floyd bought all of this to a head last year. Do you know how he was killed? A policeman stuck his knee into his neck for 9 minutes as he lay pinned unable to move and as he tried to say “I can’t breath”.
Can you even begin to imagine that? Perhaps you might want to set a timer and wait in silence to understand just what a long time that is, let alone if they were the last minutes of your life as your lungs are gradually deprived of air.
Can you even begin to imagine the hate in that person’s heart to do that to another?
In most developed countries we are so concerned about animal cruelty that we insist that food animals die quickly and painlessly.
I hope that explains exactly why there is such strong symbolism behind Black Lives Matter and why responses against it are so offensive.
But I know you and I know you are a good person who cares about people… just one final post to come
So finally, if you did not mean to be offensive why should you do anything about it?
Well if you did walk down the street flipping the bird at everybody but not meaning to be offensive, would you not feel bad once it was explained to you and then try to make up for it by apologising and ensuring you understood why it was offensive and make sure you didn’t do it again?
You already started that by asking me why it was offensive, right 🙂
People who say others should not be so sensitive about these issues are as much as saying to people who suffered at the hands of the Nazis they should just forget about it and move on. The problem is that we know that if we do not learn our lessons then we are sure to repeat them, and as I said above, racism has been with us for a very long time. What is more, if we do nothing about it things will never improve and likely they will get a whole lot worse again.
People who spread these posts fall into 3 categories – those who understand all of this and spread these responses deliberately to be offensive and counter the Black Lives Matter message, those that understand it is not entirely polite (they understand the double meaning to “share if you are brave enough” and take up the “dare” aspect) figuring it can’t really hurt anyhow, and then there are others that have a very honest spirit and just do not understand the offense, instead thinking that they should be “brave” to stand up and say that I care about all people including …. (whoever was the group of people before “Lives Matter”).
On the internet people do not know you and they cannot determine in any way what category you belong to and most people assume that it is a statement of support for racism (even if people will deny that they are racist – that is the strange thing about it – most racist people, besides those who are actively involved in far right movements and who feel righteous in their racism, actually consider themselves to not be racist). These messages are shared and shared – going viral – so that in the end, regardless of your intention, you end up contributing to increasing division.
So when you do want to express support for people you are better off doing it in your own way. And when you see posts that you think are likely to be racist or otherwise divisive, the role that you can play is by just ignoring it and not adding to the spreading of those divisive views.
Doing nothing with these messages – not sharing, not liking – is an important part of getting towards that inclusive world that you and I both want for ourselves and all of the people that we love and care about.
I sincerely hope that this helps you to understand what is definitely a complex situation, which is getting more and more confusing because the people who want to create division amongst us are getting more and more sophisticated in the way that they spread their messages.
If you want to talk it through more, don’t hesitate to message me or talk it through with other friends (perhaps including some Aboriginal friends).
Sincere thanks for asking me to explain this for you. I look forward to catching up next time.
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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2021