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Black Lives Matter – and all must back movement

More white people need to make an effort towards unity, our contributor writes (Photograph by Thomas Wells/The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal/AP)

This is really targeting the nice white people I’m surrounded by who don’t realise that they need to make an effort towards unity and speaking up for travesties that our country and system are inflicting on primarily black people.

I’m in Utah — for a university course — and there’s no racism here because, statistically, there is only one race here.

So many white communities in bordering states are likewise as homogeneous and this distances white people completely from being aware of the vastly different experience blacks and other minorities have of their country. So there is no tolerance or understanding, let alone support, for Black Lives Matter and they see their counter of “All Lives Matter” as completely reasonable because the context escapes them.

They don’t consider themselves racist at all — racism is not sanctioned — but they fail to realise that their denial of white privilege and institutional racism, and their own lack of exposure to other races or cultures engenders a latent, unconscious bias that just “is”.

The existence and extent of this bias can be tested using the Harvard implicit bias tests — everyone should take these to see how their biases could affect their work (as well as race bias, gender, sexuality, age, people with disabilities — all potential biases can be assessed). Anyway, here it is.

Black Lives Matter: one would have thought that this simple but powerful phrase, with its positive message, would have been adopted nationwide by citizens of all races in response to an unprecedented and continuing pattern of police exerting deadly force on black males, and females, without apparent just cause.

Ever since 2012, when young Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Florida by an aggressive and unrepentant neighbourhood watch vigilante named George Zimmerman, there has been a progression of incidents culminating in more deaths of black men by primarily white police officers.

The Trayvon Martin case was mishandled from the start by a police department too small to have a homicide unit. Vital evidence that procedure dictated must be preserved immediately went uncollected, leaving no evidence to challenge Zimmerman’s questionable testimony of self-defence.

The prosecutor could not support any charges to disprove self-defence. This served only to fuel the protests, as there remained too many unanswered questions: certain of Zimmerman’s statements seemed contrived and unsupported by his injuries.

As far as the black community was concerned, this was justice denied. At worst, the police department was racist and was protecting Zimmerman. At best, the local police lacked the homicide expertise to properly conduct a thorough investigation and they didn’t bring in additional resources for a black victim. Either way, it’s symptomatic.

The uproar led to the Governor of Florida stepping in to remove the state attorney and appoint another who brought the weakly supported charge of second degree murder, which did not stick, against Zimmerman. The “not guilty” verdict birthed the slogan “Black Lives Matter”, which picked up a hashtag throughout social media.

There is a rebuttal slogan — “All Lives Matter” — that epitomises a large gap in understanding in what black people mean and what white people interpret with respect to “Black Lives Matter”.

“All Lives Matter”, and even “Blue Lives Matter”, which seems as obtuse as the #EpicFail “Heterosexual Pride”, have been put to use as an alternative to really consider what circumstances have fostered this movement, and is the BLM platform the most effective and reasonable response. Taken at face value, absent of all context, “All Lives Matter” embodies the American ethos, but just add context and the reverse is true.

One month a year is earmarked as Black History Month — the other 11 remain as white history months. Chanting “All Lives Matter” is akin to adding “white” to US history classes. It is also meaningless because “All” lives have not been treated the same; there is too much statistical evidence to refute. Blacks make up 13 per cent of the US population, yet 38 per cent of the inmate totals. Britain has spawned a branch of BLM because it, too, has a disproportionate number of blacks, and other ethnic minorities, being stopped and searched, and over-contributing to inmate totals. In Britain, blacks represent 10 per cent of inmates, yet only 3.5 per cent of the population.

“All Lives Matter” is exactly where we want to be, but anyone truly behind this mantra now is part of the problem because we are not, as a society, living “All Lives Matter”. BLM is the only legitimate response to counter the past four years of “Black Lives Don’t Matter”.

Too many police departments retain a culture rife with racial slurs and statistics show that blacks are shot at 2½ times the rate of whites, even when whites are armed. The judicial system acts like black lives do not matter by handing down more severe sentences to blacks than whites who commit the same crimes. Black Lives Matter’s platform identifies related policy shortfalls and puts forward reforms. To move towards “All Lives Matter” as a reality, supporters need to join those of us standing behind the BLM movement.

The racism prevalent today, which allows the injustices and inequalities to occur, is quite insidious and arises more from omissions than acts. This manifests in many denying the existence of institutionalised racism while benefiting from it. Most whites who are affected by this more subtle form of racism would be shocked to be considered racist on any level.

The overt racism of the 1960s is simply not acceptable in most communities. However, the more segregated and homogeneous a community, the greater the unconscious racial bias and denial of white privilege. People responding with “All Lives Matter” are essentially denying black reality and/or blame the black community for its victimhood.

This is an endorsement of the status quo that oppresses blacks — ergo, it’s racist. As mentioned, extensive studies have shown inherent racial bias in all of us to a greater or lesser extent. To see where yours may lie, visit the Harvard implicit bias testing website and take the tests on race and skin tone. The results will identify the level of ingrained cultural bias that affects you on an unconscious level.

Just as we could not sit by, as a nation, and do nothing in the face of South Africa’s apartheid, and just as quite a few white Americans supported Martin Luther King Jr, but even fewer came out and marched by his side, we have a duty now to do the right thing.

Most whites today agree that Dr King was a hero and they fully support his dream of equality, but while Dr King’s civil rights movement was under way, it lacked popularity with whites and there was little visible white support.

Dr King’s dream was simply to petition to apply the Constitution to all men, just as it stated — a faultless goal ideologically. Practical implementation caused anxiety. So the civil rights movement of the 1960s, which no right-minded individual would not support today, made whites as uncomfortable in the 1960s as BLM does today.

Both movements were equally unpopular and viewed suspiciously, and the leaders were falsely accused of having alternate motives. BLM wants equality just as Dr King did 50 years ago, and 50 years ago we had to dismantle systems and structures — the tangibles that legitimised inequality based on race; now we need to implement processes and initiatives to provide funding to dismantle the intangibles — the thoughts that influence the actions that discriminate.

The Black Lives Matter Movement is making whites uncomfortable, too. So history is repeating itself; we have a chance to learn from it and to adjust — surely as a nation, we have evolved in the past 50 years? We have an opportunity to join the second civil rights movement.

Those of us who have benefited from white privilege from birth, in a way that the vast majority of blacks have not, owe this our support. Just as it was unequivocally and ethically correct to oppose human rights violations worldwide, so it is to use our whiteness to reach other whites to educate them as to their implicit bias and institutional racism; to open their eyes to see the barriers to true meritocracy; to put ourselves in the shoes of black people to “overstand” their experiences and perceptions; to understand how being white has shaped our environment and perceptions that we take for granted.

Once enlightened, any former objections to and fear of the BLM movement disappear — it’s getting people to envision experiences outside of their social environment and prejudices that is the key. Whites who need this enlightenment will likely listen only to other whites on this subject, at least initially.

That is where we need to speak up. And then we must support our brothers and sisters, to allow them a voice that is heard, that is listened to and worked with to effect positive change. #Black LivesMatter

Nicolette Reiss is a qualified and licensed certified public accountant and chartered property casualty underwriter with operational and technical experience in reinsurance/insurance and financial services