#Black Lives Matter is Not Racism 101

February 19, 2015 at 1:58 am Leave a comment

Throughout the past year, I’ve watched many organizations, both political, religious and civic, particularly those with predominantly white leadership, grapple with the desire to make a statement of solidarity, support, concern or otherwise in regards to the Black Lives Matter series of tragedies and responsive events (my inner political science nerd has trouble calling it a movement yet) The problem is, that some of these groups have not done much in the way of previous work, study or discussion to develop better racial understanding. I have especially noticed this among GLBT, Pagan and Heathen organizations, many of which are comparatively younger organizations, historically very white and not always inclusive of people of color, particularly in leadership positions. As a result there’s been a lot of turmoil in many communities, and long-suppressed tensions have arisen, friendships, professional and organizational partnerships have been threatened or even broken.

There is a large gap in understanding of racial issues between Black and White Americans. It’s always been there, since the first African slaves and free African immigrants alike came here. The gap has changed in nature over time, but it is still far greater than many White Americans realize, and Black Americans while painfully aware of our ignorance, are still surprised by the depth of ignorance. I’ve explained to some Black folks, that in fact, some white folks genuinely *do not realize* why blackface is offensive. White folks who think their racial humor is funny or “ironic” believe that blatant racism is of course, a thing of the past, and so they are being clever/vintage/retro when wearing t-shirts with slurs that their grandparents might’ve uttered but they never heard. White people I know all seem to have their own personal definitions of racism, generally carefully constructed to exclude themselves.

Black folks have been doing work in their communities and broader society in education, health care, criminal justice, employment and many other issues, both on their own, and sometimes with support and partnership of white activists and predominantly white organizations. There is a lot of frustration that they have to be the ones constantly educating whites about race, telling them many of the same things they’ve been saying for years, while white folks argue back and don’t listen. Then self-proclaimed white allies come along and give talks or write books on white privilege often getting paid more do so- or just getting paid, period than Black folks who have been saying the same things for years.

Meanwhile, white progressives/liberals in academia and the professional non-profit establishment have been highly inconsistent about considering the role of class issues when discussing race, thus alienating whites from poor or working class backgrounds. Whites who grew up bullied as a minority in mostly Black and Latino neighborhoods, and whites who grew up in dying farming communities who watched tax dollars being spent on cities feel resentful and angry. When they express their frustrations, they are told that they need to “check their privilege” and that they are racist.

Technology evolves rapidly- making smart phones, and thus access to the Internet far more available to different classes and ethnicities than ever before. Mobile-friendly websites like Twitter and Tumblr grow and spread messages, gossip and information-good and bad- like wildfire. The online community, which thus far tended to slant to educated white men in industrialized countries, finds itself in culture shock at this broader diversity. Isolated teenagers discover others who share their identities, concerns and interests in a way that was never before possible. People are educated, misinformed, and misinterpret, form friendships and communities and end them.

We need to take a step back from this, folks. Several steps back, so we can take a good look at ourselves, our past, our present and future. We need to do our racial and cultural homework before we can write or present our senior paper.

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Entry filed under: Pagan Communities, Race/Ethnicity. Tags: , , , , , , .

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