Speak up, join fight for equality
From hashtags to courtrooms, from community vigils to professional athletes — it is evident something has made an undisputed mark on our nation’s consciousness — the Black Lives Matter movement.
BLM has garnered widespread awareness; yet, many still fail to understand its meaning. Questions and debates range from: What is this “movement”? Does it stand for civil rights, or human rights? What are the goals, motivations?
I urge everyone to research, learn and understand what has brought us to this point. People may have differing opinions and views; however, what cannot be disputed is history and events that occurred over centuries. So, with most certainty I can state it is not the consequence of a single, isolated event. Just as a volcano is bound to erupt from pressure, so has our nation. Love, anger and the feeling that racial tensions have reached a breaking point have captured attention worldwide.
During this time, as critical as it is for white Americans to join the black community to speak out against systemic racism, there are times when the most constructive thing we can do is simply listen, reflect and learn.
George Floyd’s killing unleashed an unprecedented expression of outrage from white Americans. Frankly, it has also made us feel very uneasy with ourselves. We cringe knowing that, by reacting to his death with such horror and outrage, we are revealing an ugly truth: We didn’t understand how bad it really is. Despite the abundance of evidence presented by the unjust deaths of so many black people at the hands of police, self-proclaimed vigilantes and throughout history in general — many did not truly comprehend that black people are fighting a different fight than white people every day.
Allow me to clarify that I am speaking as a woman; an immigrant; a mother of bi-racial / black children; and as a white American.
For both individuals and institutions, much reflection is inward-looking. We are scrambling to think back to what we said or shared on old social media posts. Was it politically correct or offensive? Does it appear insensitive or even racist? This kind of processing can be productive until it becomes self-absorption — where protecting our own reputations becomes the primary concern.
Despite our best intentions, it is important that we (as in white people) not look to our black friends and colleagues for absolution or understanding. We are unable to directly empathize, but we can sympathize. We cannot be spokespeople, but we can be allies.
This is not the time to recite all the black people we happen to know, nor the time to compare our struggles. This brings me to ‘white privilege.’ When speaking of ‘white privilege,’ it does not mean life has not been hard. It means only that your skin color is not what is making your life hard. Please, do not attempt to justify ignorance or perhaps blatant racism by saying, “what about ‘black-on-black crime?'” (What?!) I cannot fathom how this, or any disproportioned, skewed statistics are even used as an intended form of justification to what is occurring.
Then there’s “all lives matter.” No one said only black lives matter! Of course, all lives matter! Despite numerous metaphors used to describe BLM, there are still those who do not seem to get it. In fairness, some lack information, thus displaying unintentional ignorance. However, there are those who don’t want to get it. Then there are those that mask racism as patriotism. Yes, it is THAT deep.
As uncomfortable as this may be, we must not be intimidated. Rather, take the time to reflect on some of our own underlying assumptions. The truth of the matter is that history and the present are far more complicated than many of us even realized. There is no single, magical solution. But we have our voice, which is a powerful catalyst. We need to speak up about racial injustice and systemic racism. Furthermore, we can listen and simply show up and stand alongside those who have been fighting their whole lives and ask, “How can I help?”
But I said all of this to simply say this: Black lives matter.
Basia Adamczak is Youngstown’s 7th Ward councilwoman.