Written by: Jen Luckhardt
Date: Tuesday, July 14, 2020
Let me begin with a story about myself.
I am one of eight children. Yes, eight. My family is pretty much a country of its own and we have had our fair share of social unrest.
I was fifth in the pecking order and, since I wasn’t as assertive as my older siblings, if I had something to complain about, you can be damn sure I didn’t complain about it while they were around, if at all. If they had been around, that kind of situation would go down something like this:
JEN: Mom, Ana hit me.
ANA: Mom, she’s lying! SHE hit ME!
Mom: Ana, that’s not nice. You shouldn’t hit your sister.
DEREK: Don’t be such a wuss, Jen.
ANA: You’re such a tattle tail.
Mom: Derek, you’re not even part of this, so butt out. Jen, what happened?
JEN: I was outside and—
ANA: She was playing with my cars without asking!
DEREK: Mom, I don’t know why you’re taking it so seriously. She only got hit. She doesn’t have a red mark and she’s not even crying. She’s fine.
JEN: I WAS crying! (beginning to lose my nerve)
ANA: Tattle tail!
ROBBY: Why are we even still talking about this? I’m trying to watch my show and you’re all too loud! BE QUIET!
Mom: Robby, your TV show can wait.
DEREK: Apparently all of LIFE can wait for this stupid fight to be over! They’re kids! They’re gonna hit each other!
JEN: *Silently looking at the ground*
Mom: I’m dealing with Jen right now, Aaron.
JEN: Never mind. It’s fine. *Walks Away*
When I was a kid, “filing a complaint” with my mom was something I always did with hesitation. I had 4-5 siblings at the time and I was second to last in the pecking order. I had only one sister, with enough of an age gap that we weren’t exactly friends, and I knew better than to have a spine where it came to my older brothers. They were big, they had 5-7 years on me, and they had strong opinions; one dare not have an opinion contrary to theirs, because, even if your case and your reasoning were sound, you would lose – even if you won.
If it wasn’t the forcefulness and volume of their combined voices, then it was the embarrassment and collective disdain of the tribe that mocked you thereafter. So, as you can imagine, my complaints, if they actually came to light, were often filed in private and were usually whittled down to smaller, less-grievous complaints.
This translated over to my school life, for similar reasons. I was short – very short. Not only did my height garner negative attention and teasing, but asserting myself meant the threat of verbal or physical harm from anyone bigger or more confident than I was. There were many, many children who I feared would overpower me if I spoke up or spoke out.
It was a lonely state of affairs that had me grow up insecure and afraid of my own opinions, constantly checking and re-checking the words that came out of my mouth to make sure they were either position-neutral or just enough on the side of the strong ones to render me relatively invisible or unworthy of too much attention.
But I don’t have to be invisible anymore, though I often choose to be. There have been some very intense discussions swirling around social media in the last few years; discussions about some very serious social unrest. Despite any intensity and passion inside of me about the issues, I have, in recent years, made it a point to take a seat and listen instead of respond unrestrained. And, even then, I have an openness and willingness to change my opinion if logical information is offered to me that is different than my own. Because, in order to understand an issue, one must be able and willing to see the issue from many perspectives; be able to put yourself in an array of different shoes.
Which brings me to today.
A few nights ago, I saw yet another post of a man holding up a sign, with a strong, wide stance and a set face, as if to say, “I’m strong and tough and my opinion holds ground because my body holds ground and my face looks serious.” The problem with holding a sign and choosing a strong-looking stance to back it up is that there is no discussion on the sign. And there are a great many people who have absolutely no desire to hear another’s opinion for fear that they might actually have to change their own, who will take one look at this strong-stanced, serious-faced picture and say, “See?? Strong, tough, smart people agree with me! My opinion is right.”
For context, his sign declaring the following:
Now, although there are many ways I can interpret this, I am going to take it for what it is:
Since he is not sitting down and discussing the issue with the government and, instead, doing the easy thing and holding a sign up that he made in two minutes, then snapped a photo and plastered it on social media, I can only assume that he doesn’t mean the government should stop making it about race.
That would mean he’s telling black people to stop making it about race.
There is the context of the photo as well as my interpretation of it.
This photo was posted on an old acquaintance’s wall, above which was declared, “Yes Yes!”, with a plethora of thumbs-ups.
Let me make a quick disclaimer before I continue:
I very much believe that all lives do matter.
Each and every one.
And that is exactly why
black lives matter.
There has been a lot going on across the United States – and across the world – about this issue. On the one hand, there is a group of people who share a physical likeness, sick and tired of how they feel they have been treated. I emphasize that I’m saying “how they FEEL they have been treated” on purpose here. That does not mean they have not actually been treated in the ways they have described simply because facts and feelings are separate. On the contrary, there are countless incidents that support their claims. But that is not the issue here.
The issue is that they “feel they have been treated” in such a way by the system that it demands an alteration in the system in order for them to feel they are being treated fairly once again.
Should we always give in to people’s demands because they “feel” a certain way? No, of course not. Use your head. But ignoring the way someone – or a group of someones – feels simply because we don’t feel the same way is tantamount to watching someone get smacked in the face and then ignoring it because, well, it didn’t hurt your face – or because it doesn’t in any way affect your life… and so it must not really be important.
For those of you who don’t want it to be (or would like to change the narrative about it being) a “race issue”, you are perfectly within your rights not to call it a “race issue”. Instead, you may call it discrimination… based on colour, status, class, etc. Or you may call it marginalization… based on colour, status, class, etc.
You’re not wrong that it isn’t about race – because “race” itself is a word made up to inspire division – as if my black-skinned friends are a different species than me.
No, you don’t have to call it race. You may call it “colour”, because if it weren’t for the fact that this group of people had a different skin colour, it could be possible that their genetic similarity could have been something like exceptionally small ears… which could have also been used as an excuse to discriminate.
Discrimination is discrimination is discrimination.
In fact, in South Korea – a country where everyone is SO genetically similar that they would be hard-pressed to actually find blatant physical differences to use against each other (at least, that’s how us in the West would see it) – they use, get this, the SIZE OF THEIR FACE, THEIR EYELIDS, THEIR NOSES, and THEIR WEIGHT to marginalize each other. Silly. Ridiculous, even.
Except that our society is doing the same thing.
The fact that it is colour does not matter as much as the fact that it is SOMETHING VISIBLY genetically similar amongst a group that is being treated differently – perhaps not on the basis of their colour – but rather their colour has become a distinguishing MARKER that wider society has linked with mistrust, misdeeds, laziness, drugs, irresponsibility… and the list goes on. You may disagree and use the un/popular moniker, “Colour Blind”, citing that you don’t treat people differently based on the colour of their skin.
But that just isn’t true.
WE ALL HAVE BIASES
When I was a child, I knew a number of people named Jason and Kevin, none of whom I particularly liked, some of which I reeeeally didn’t like. Since my childhood, the moment I hear someone’s name is Kevin or Jason, my brain immediately pulls up a list of attributes this person named “Jason” or “Kevin” must possess, simply because of their name. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be true, I am always passively on the lookout for personal traits I would find to be negative to unconsciously check off my “Kevin List” or “Jason List”. This is not something people always do consciously. Often, we aren’t actively aware of our biases until we know to look out for them.
Does being aware of these biases make me able to stop them, prevent them, or reverse them? Well, I’m 30 years old and I still haven’t been able to shake the negative associations I have made with “Kevin” and “Jason”. Does that make me a bad person?
No. Because everyone is doing it.
Including my black-skinned friends, brown-skinned friends, Asian friends, etc etc etc. They are all making similar judgments – though of different people and things – even, and sometimes especially, about white people. And they may to some degree for the rest of their lives, just as everyone else will. It doesn’t make them terrible, nor does it make white people terrible for doing the same to black people. That sort of thing is not always largely in our control and is often the fault of negative experiences or influences – whether we remember them, are aware of them, or not. Problems arise when those inclinations hit the surface and we don’t stop in our tracks and question them, consider the irrational feelings or prejudgments, and replace them with logic, rationality, dignity, and respect.
So, if we can’t change our unconscious stereotypes, what CAN we do?
We can LISTEN to the black lives who are telling us they matter. Everyone’s complaints deserve to be heard, validated, and resolved in light of, in SPITE of, and independent of ALL THE OTHER LIVES that matter.
When the young version of me stood amid my intimidating, forceful, and much-more-powerful older siblings and brought up my concerns to my mother, at least my mother listened and validated my feelings, despite all the scary noise around me telling me to stop being a baby, toughen up, and go cry to someone who cares. Not only that, but she made sure, as much as she possibly could, to see that my concerns – and those of my siblings – were taken seriously and dealt with.
There are many who are uncomfortable with the possibility of societal change. I cannot bash them, because some people are simply not good at handling change. There are also some who are unhappy about the unfortunate – and often unnecessary – casualties. I feel for these people, as well as all those negatively impacted by the stupidity of the opportunists taking advantage of the demonstrations and protests to lash out and grab up what they think is “power”, but what is actually just their version of poorly-aimed and immature acts of revenge.
It’s not okay and I would never condone it.
But we cannot simply STOP the absolute necessity that is system reform in light of these things. I can’t stand by the bad, but I also can’t abandon the good. Though I understand entirely that there are “better” ways to go about social change, let’s get real. These “better ways” have either done NOTHING in my 30 years of life, or they are moving forward so sluggishly, that they aren’t actually keeping up with the times.
So, to those of you unhappy about the protests and constant barrage of “Black Lives Matter” all over social media, the streets, and the news, I feel for you. Sometimes it’s difficult to deal with the one group when everyone else is screaming at that one group to stop being a baby and a tattle tail.
No one likes this much negativity surrounding them and their social media and their society all the time – and that goes for the black community who feels, as a whole, negativity in day-to-day life in ways most of us never have.
In summary, I do agree that all lives matter. Every single one. And that includes every single black life. Sometimes it takes one very visibly-marginalized community to put in place the systemic changes necessary for all the other lives that matter. Or at least get the ball rolling. And I’m sure that, one day, the black community will be thanked by many, many others for their tenacity and bravery rather than slandered for standing up at all.
You do not ignore one child’s problems simply because the other seven children aren’t complaining about the same thing, or because the other seven think the one’s feelings are stupid or not worthy of listening to. If we waited for every single person to get on board before we listened, we would be waiting forever. Trust me when I say, living amongst seven other children, that day is not likely to come.
One child’s feelings should be valued FOR THEIR OWN SAKE – not only if they are teamed up with a larger, more powerful, or more diverse or affected group of children.
On the same token, black lives DO matter. So do all the others. But right now, there is one group that is asking, pleading, and BEGGING to be heard, valued, and taken seriously, as individuals united in their suffering. And I don’t know any reason why they shouldn’t be listened to and dealt with like the friends, classmates, teachers, colleagues, and human beings that they are.
My mother taught me respect by listening to me when those around me tried to stop her, and I will carry her lesson forward and listen if people sincerely ask me to, ESPECIALLY when everyone around them is telling me not to.
I will listen.