Tell me If I’m wrong…at some point this year you’ve overheard or even taken part in a conversation that went something like this…
One person says, “Black lives matter!”. Then another responds, “No, all lives matter.”
Well, if this is the case, then you have definitely lived through the year 2020. You or someone you know may have taken part in the ongoing national and local protests aiming to fight discrimination and racism against our black communities. Some of you may remember sitting in your living rooms watching the news, seeing thousands of people marching for those who are no longer with us, infuriated with the never-ending police brutality, yelling “No Justice, no peace” at the top of their lungs.
The global uprising this past summer of the “Black Lives Matter Movement” was sparked by the unnecessary death of unarmed African American George Floyd. Victims like Floyd have drawn attention to the massive racism issues in America to areas it has never reached before. Despite it all, the most common rebuttal I’ve heard towards this movement is “all lives matter.” I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve debated with people that saying “all lives matter” communicates to our black community that theirs don’t. (Capatides 2020)
Assistant Professor of Sociology Maghbouleh mentions the term “double consciousness” throughout her non-white reflected race work. Double consciousness can describe how African American individuals view themselves through the eyes of racist white people living in a white-supremacist society. There are apparent psycho-social divisions in America, and many African American individuals began to believe in the socially constructed hierarchies and divisions used to marginalize them, hence why they have decided to fight back (Maghbouleh, 2019).
From my own experience and knowledge that I have gained over this crazy year, I have gathered that many white individuals are triggered by the phrase “black lives matter.” You may be wondering what is so triggering about a statement representing so much to so many people; my answer to that is white fragility.
As a white individual myself, I am interested in pulling back the whiteness veil to understand a white person’s discomfort and defensiveness when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice. The phenomenon of white fragility can be seen as a form of defensiveness or discomfort that a white individual faces when confronted with any information regarding racial inequality or injustice.
Philosopher Stuart Hall wrote extensively on cultural studies and touches upon the idea that certain groups, specifically white individuals, are made to feel superior over others, which has generated stereotyping and racism. In one of Hall’s most significant works, “The Spectacle of the ‘Other’ he quotes,
“Stereotyping… it sends into symbolic exile all of Them- ‘the Others’- who are in some way different- ‘beyond the pale.’ (Hall, 2013).
It has been ingrained into our society to accept stereotyping and accept that we are largely segregated. I have found that many white individuals are insulated from any form of racial discomfort. When a moment arises, and for instance, someone tells them “black lives matter,” they right away debunk it by saying “no, all lives matter.” This is the case due to racial hierarchies that tell white individuals that they are somewhat entitled to deference. Many white people cannot engage in difficult conversations about race because they lack what Author DiAngelo would describe as “racial stamina.” In such a white-dominated environment, the black community has been silent for so long because they know that white privilege exists all around them, so by standing their ground, white individuals become defensive. (DiAngelo, 2018).
Civil activist Audre Lorde wrote on the conditions of racism as a black lesbian woman; she touched upon in her book the conditions of US history that have allowed us, humans, to see each other as superior or inferior. One of her quotes really stood out to me:
“To survive, those of us for whom oppression is as American as apple pie has always had to be watchers, to become familiar with the language and manners of the oppressor, even sometimes adopting them for some illusion of protection.” (Lorde, 1977).
Lorde’s work opens up our discussion about how our black communities have adapted and accepted thus far the oppression and racism that has been held upon them. This year has proved to us that they no longer want to be silenced by white America, and the time to discuss racism is now. They no longer care for white fragility triggers because they have been protecting white individuals' feelings about racism for so long. Avoiding the topic of race contributes to discrimination.
By disregarding the notions of white superiority and white privilege, racism will continue to hold its place in society. If 2020 taught us anything, avoiding anything to do with “black lives matter” only contributes to discrimination. We can no longer ignore white privilege because racial arrogance only leads to white fragility. Caporuscio 2020
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Stuart Hall, 2013 , The Spectacle of the ‘Other’,
Audre Lorde, 1977, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House
Neda Maghbouleh. (2019) (Links to an external site.) From White to What? MENA and Iranian American non-white reflected race. Links to an external site. Ethnic and Racial Studies. pages 1–19.
DiAngelo, Robin J. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018.
Caporuscio, Jessica (2020). “Everything you need to know about white fragility.https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/white-fragility-definition
Capatides Christina (2020). “Why saying “all lives matter” communicates to Black people that their lives don’t”. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/all-lives-matter-black-lives-matter/