I Think I Know Why “Black Lives Matter” Upsets You
I have a friend I know works very hard to be an ally. Not just to people of color, but also to LGBTQ+, mental health, neuro-divergent anything you can think of, if you need it, they are there trying to listen, learn and lift up. When I think “racist” they are the last person I would think of.
Recently they confessed that when the “Black Lives Matter” movement started, their first, knee-jerk reaction was to say ALL lives matter.
“I now realize I was wrong to do so. That I was reacting out of anger because I felt dismissed and I felt as though it was a personal affront.”
I was nodding as I read those words. I knew that feeling they were talking about. It is a very jarring feeling. If you’ve never had to sit with it before, you’re going to react with anger. This is exactly why “equality feels like oppression to the privileged” became its own slogan.
The privilege in this case is very much created from racism. It’s white-privilege, I know that. But when you’re privileged it is hard to realize you are privileged on your own. You don’t ask for it, it’s just handed to you from outside — from birth in most cases. For all you know it’s just normal. And somewhere along the line, as you grow up and grow more aware of the world, this privilege that’s handed to you gets divorced in your mind from the thing that created it.
That’s how I got to have a friend who’s not racist (at least, not more racist than the racism every person who was raised in our society has to deal with. You know that game/study where they can show it’s easier to subconsciously associate negative words with black faces? Yeah, that) and still bristled at the phrase “Black Lives Matter”.
Let me tell you a story to back up why I think the anger felt about this phrase is not necessarily connected to racism. I am a very privileged person. Privileged enough to have felt this jarring anger at the sudden removal of it at a very young age. I can’t remember most of what happened when I was 8 years old, but this incident, this feeling, is still very clear in my mind.
My school did a lot of art. Lots of drawing, lots of crafts, lots of plays. And I was the best at it. Often our class would put on little exhibitions where we would show off our art to parents. They would come in and wander around the classroom and look at everything we created. Any time that happened I, as the best artist of the group, got to draw something on the blackboard. This was my privilege. I didn’t go around thinking that made me a better person than any of my class mates. And my class mates didn’t seem to begrudge my blackboard drawings. In my short school career, that was just the way it was.
Then one day a new girl came to school and she was just as good at drawing and crafting as I was. When the art show came around the teacher asked both me and the new girl to draw on the blackboard.
I honestly didn’t mind sharing the blackboard. The girl seemed nice and I thought her drawings were pretty good. Just as good as mine. Also, it was a big blackboard. Room enough for both of us.
But when the parents started coming in, they all started telling this new girl how creative she was. I didn’t like that at all. Every time an adult said she was so creative, I felt like yelling “WE are so creative! I’m here too! Look I have a drawing on the blackboard right here!”
The adults used to tell me how creative I was. Now they were telling it to her and forgot to tell it to me. I felt dismissed, overlooked…Forgotten. I was angry. I didn’t think in these words because I didn’t know the word, but the sentiment I felt can best be described as: “Fuck that girl.”
I want to end this story with “and then we became best friends.” That’s not what happened though. No, I kept low key disliking this girl for a while and then we moved away.
I never confessed how angry I felt about the girl to anyone. Because I didn’t think people would understand. Yes, I was jealous. But I was not jealous about the girl getting a spot at the blackboard. I wasn’t jealous she could draw. I was jealous because adults stopped telling me how special I was. It had nothing really to do with this other girl. She could have been anyone. She was just someone to focus this icky feeling on. Someone to blame. It was about me. I wanted to be told I was special.
I feel lucky that this anger at feeling dismissed happened to me as a child and that it was so uncomfortable that it has stayed with me for so long. Because I had to start to deal with it very early. And it took me some years, but I did eventually come to the conclusion that no one thought I was any less creative just because they told someone else, someone who hadn’t heard it before, that they were creative.
I feel lucky I went through my anger alone. I didn’t have friends who felt the same indignation. No one told me my feeling was right because they had that too. Had I not been alone, I might have never gotten to the conclusion I did. Had I not been alone my anger might have turned into an injustice in my mind.
I feel lucky because when Black Lives Matter got plastered all over social media and I felt that little twinge of hurt, I knew what that feeling was. I had sat with it before. I knew it was basically nonsense. I knew that the words Black Lives Matter says nothing about me, my life or my worth.
I feel like I need to repeat myself; the hurt white people feel when hearing Black Lives Matter stems from racism. It absolutely does. Just like the adults who told me explicitly I was creative, white people have been told all their live that they matter. The message might have been more implicit — like seeing only white people in movies, on T.V., in magazines and billboards, or working the high paying jobs — but the message has been loud and clear. And the message is racist.
But the hurt doesn’t have to feel connected to race. Just like I didn’t care the other girl got to draw on the black board, when you say “All Lives Matter” you probably do want black people to get the same rights, opportunities and treatment you get. You just want to keep hearing the message you matter. You don’t want to be excluded. You want to be told you are special. You guys, privilege feels good. Suddenly not getting the privilege feels bad.
It’s an ugly feeling to have It is a jarring feeling to have. I am a little ashamed to use this word, but when I can at any moment transport myself back to this classroom 33 years ago, I think I am not incorrect to say it’s a traumatic feeling to have. I know it’s nowhere near the trauma black people need to endure. I don’t want to marginalize what anyone went through. I just think I need to be honest and admit that, yeah, I’m that privileged. Thinking it was removed was traumatic.
It must be much harder to realize this feeling is about you and something you need to deal with, when there’s so many people saying the same thing. When you hear your own anger echoed in your community, it’s easy to feel it’s justified.
It’s really not.
You’re better than the anger you feel right now. Don’t ask people of color to ease your discomfort, they have enough on their plate. Come sit with me. I’m not going to judge you for wanting to matter. It’s okay. You didn’t ask to feel like this. You do matter.
Lets feel a little silly and a little ashamed about our privilege induced trauma together. Lets sit with this feeling until we can turn around, say it and mean it.
Black Lives Matter.