Dear Black Lives Matter,
Help me understand. For real….
I want to be a part of the solution to a problem that I have grossly underestimated. I want to heal the hearts of people I never knew were hurting. I want to know we are all truly equal, instead of living under the illusion that this is so.
The murder of George Floyd woke this country up, and me along with it.
But not for the reason it was supposed to, I think.
You see, I was outraged at the blatant and even smug act of a police officer slowly torturing and killing a man who pleaded for his life, while three other officers stood by or assisted him. I couldn’t watch the video. I just kept thinking of the man’s family watching this and what sheer and total hell that must be for them. I could not decide if it was disrespectful to them for it to be passed around so freely, or if it was going to serve a greater purpose.
But I did see pictures and I did read the articles. And still, my outrage overlooked the color of anyone’s skin. That doesn’t mean I didn’t see a white man and a black man in the center of it all. It just means I didn’t think – Why is that white man killing that black man?
I just thought – why is one man killing another?
How can anyone do such a thing, let alone a man who is supposed to be protecting citizens from this very evil?
It left me stunned and mad and sad all at once.
But I did not once view the victim as more or less worthy of those emotions because of the color of his skin.
Was I supposed to?
In fact, when I venture out into social media and see stories of people achieving massive success, or suffering major traumas, or committing crimes or inspiring others, the color of their skin doesn’t come into play for me in how I perceive the impact of that story -unless of course it is called out in the headline.
Is it supposed to?
The outrage and the protests made me stop to consider this. Is the fact that I place the same amount of attention on the color someone’s skin as I do the color of their hair, or their gender, or their height, or if they are in a wheelchair or missing a limb or they are bald or skinny or fat… does that make me a racist? Does the fact that I believe all lives matter also make me a racist?
I don’t think so, but it seems like you and those you represent -of all races – do, because I am constantly being told as much by people using your hashtags and holding up signs reading Black Lives Matter.
If you’re still reading this after I shared that, thank you. I hope you’ll keep reading.
I do understand that there are people in this country who are still unjustly treated because of the color of their skin: whether it is in the criminal justice system or applying for a job or a social snub, etc.
I hate that.
I do understand that there are people in uniform who are not what they are supposed to be. Rather than protecting citizens, they prey on them.
I hate that too.
I do stand for equal rights for every individual.
I do stand against discrimination on any level.
I do believe all people of all races and skin colors have a right to life and a right to be treated with respect.
And yet, I am confused, because it feels as though I am now being told that in order to truly stand for those things, I must first reverse the way I view a person’s skin color or race. I am being told I am supposed to pay attention to what color or race a person is and in this moment of time I am only permitted to acknowledge the rights of one.
It feels like I am being told I do not have the right to my own belief- the belief that placing the focus on all lives does by itself bar the exclusion of any. It feels like any pain, suffering, trauma, tragedy, unfairness, or inequality felt by anyone other than a person with black skin is being dismissed and woe be it to the individual who attempts to find common ground by making a reference to it.
I understand where that comes from. Really. Plenty of people said things to me in the wake of my husband’s murder that made me want to scream for how insensitive it was. There were the married women with devoted husbands who worked long hours, telling me they understand what it’s like to be me because they felt like a single mom, while I was faced with raising 4 little boys all alone.
There were the divorced moms telling me they, too, feel my pain because for 3 days a week, or every other week, or whatever custody agreement they have, they were alone in the home with their kids for those days, and that was hard for them.
There are the parents who say they understand my children’s pain because their kids’ grandma or grandpa -or even their dog – died.
There are the people who compare their loss to mine, noting that “I can always get a new husband while they will never be able to replace their child.”
And so on.
Today there are people who still insist on saying “Happy Memorial Day,” which has many military widows spitting fire. I used to spit fire along with them, but I’ve since found a new perspective.
It took time, but I finally understand that it is only when we acknowledge all people’s struggles and acknowledge all people’s pain, that we forge a common bond of the humanity beneath that pain. I realized how many times I’ve said something insensitive, like complaining to my friend battling cancer that I was laid out with the flu, or commenting how exhausting and overwhelming it is to raise 4 kids alone, to a family member who battled infertility for years.
I am glad they understood where I came from and had the grace to acknowledge my struggles.
So when someone today compares their pain or struggle to mine, or says something that is dismissive and insulting on the surface, I know to peek beneath that comment to find the intent behind it.
Can you do the same? Because I have to tell you, it feels like I am being told that unless I express my intent in the exact way I am told to do so, I am the reason racism exists.
When my husband’s killer – who was Puerto Rican – walked away a free man after confessing to killing my husband and another officer – both white men- there was no headline that read: Puerto Rican Man gets Away with Killing Two White Men!
In fact, after the initial headlines the world moved on to other tragedies and forgot all about my husband. But I didn’t. I researched and did my own investigations. I found out all the ways the military allowed other crimes to go unchecked and other criminals to run amuck in uniform. I found out that my husband didn’t have to die, and wouldn’t have, if only lessons had been learned from previous murders.
It made me furious.
Then I saw other cases continue to happen. Just from my own research I know that if lessons had been learned and reform had taken place in the military after my husband died, over 20 other men would still be alive today and dozens of others would have been spared horrific injuries.
Still, I can’t bring myself to blame every person in the military for the actions of a small percentage of them. In fact, I believe it is crucial to strengthen the military by protecting its members from the criminals within it.
I don’t know what it is like to be a black woman. I never will. But I do know what it is like to be persecuted, and harassed, and told to die. I even know what it is like to want to kill myself because of that, because that is what I experienced when I was just a young girl.
None of my story aligns perfectly with the call for racial equality. But it helps me remember what I felt like when it seemed no one cared about my pain, or nothing was ever going to change, and that my husband died for nothing while the people responsible laughed and walked away. It makes me remember how I felt when someone reached a hand out in support, even if they voiced that support in their own way. It makes me want to do the same for others.
I am confused.
It feels like I am being told that if I stand against the destruction of a business someone invested their entire life savings into, I don’t really support equality.
It feels like I am being told if I am outraged at the murder of innocent people- police officers and civilians- I don’t really support equality.
It feels like if I don’t condone violence on some in response to racism and violence on others, I don’t really support equality.
I don’t understand why it is considered acceptable to sell merchandise reading “Black Lives Matter Blue Lives Murder” but saying “All lives matter” is not.
I don’t understand why a just cause is being weaponized by unjust people and I don’t understand what those people would consider as “enough” to halt the hate and calls for violence and give this country time to prove it stands united in this cause. I don’t understand why Black Lives Matter is silent on that.
Can you help me understand your position on those things? Has Black Lives Matter issued a statement calling for an end to the rioting and violence in your name? Are you even aware that your organization’s name is being used as a rally call for those committing these acts? Are you aware that those acts water down the very important message you have?
As I write this, I can already hear the mockery and outrage coming my way from all corners of the country. I’m not excited about that but I’m also not going to let that prevent me from speaking up – because if I feel this way I know someone else does, too. And if this helps you understand where the gap lies, perhaps we can cross it together.