By Alessandra Cannon, Big Brothers Big Sisters Parent/Youth Manager
The past few weeks have been difficult, no let me rephrase that, the past few years have been difficult. Ever since the start of the Black Lives Matter movement that was founded in July of 2013, the blanket of social equality that people believe covers us all was ripped off. Let’s be honest though. A lot of us know that we were never under that blanket.
I’m tired of seeing people of my skin tone or darker being wrongfully murdered by those that are supposed to serve and protect only to be vilified so their death is justified in the court of public opinion. Hearing and watching the videos of these senseless murders happening takes its toll on people. I see headlines about riots, looting, and protests, I hear the comments of “Looting and rioting isn’t going to get the point across” and “There are better ways to do this”. I think it is ironic because Black Americans have been protesting peacefully. Remember Colin Kaepernick peacefully protested for a whole football season and discussed what kneeling meant to him but white Americans didn’t want to listen. They saw it as him being disrespectful to the country and its servicemen and women. Those same white people became outraged and made their opinions about police brutality and racism in America not existing; Arguments that if those killed would have followed the directions of the police, they wouldn’t have died. George Floyd was already in handcuffs and wasn’t resisting, Breonna Taylor was asleep in her bed. Tamir Rice was a child playing with a toy gun. The power of judge, jury and executioner is far too great a power for one person to take into their own hands.
Another frustrating thing is the Black Lives Matter versus the problematic All Lives Matter argument. The reason All Lives Matter is problematic is that those same people who chant that also chant: “Build the wall” and “No refugees”. If all lives mattered then that means the lives of refugees who come to our country seeking asylum, the people in ICE detainment centers who are living in deplorable conditions, and the lives of all minorities would matter. If all lives mattered there wouldn’t be this disproportionate mistreatment of Black Americans by the police. If we are being honest the ALM movement is a way to vilify the BLM movement and continue this rhetoric that if you’re not white your life is not as important. The BLM movement isn’t to say that Black lives matter more than other lives. No, it’s to say we value our lives just like yours.
White lives mattering is never a question, they have always mattered above all others since the first explorer stepped foot and claimed a land that was never theirs to claim. Brock Turner was convicted of raping a woman but managed to get off with minimal sentencing, six months in jail but only served three of those months. Though the “Central Park Five” were 5 young men were accused and convicted of rape among other charges and they ended up serving 7 years for a crime they never committed but were somehow convicted of with no substantial physical evidence that linked them to the crime. The only reason they were cleared is because the true rapist came forward and admitted to the crime and his DNA matched. Dylan Roof went into a Black church wanting to start a race war and killed unarmed people but was not only taken into custody without force but the officers bought him a meal before taking him in. James Holmes after killing and injuring many in Aurora, CO was also arrested without force. Excessive force and brutality wasn’t used in the arrest of these suspects and both are still alive, but for some reason when dealing with Black suspects excessive force and brutality is needed because the officers “feared for their lives”.
There are tons of instances where white lives matter more than those non-white, even outside of law enforcement. Black women are dying at an increasing rate during childbirth partly because doctors and nurses have this notion that Black women are strong and that our pain isn’t real. The same with going to the ER while Black. There’s a high chance that the medical professional will not believe your pain or symptoms and that can cost you your life. It’s as if Blackness is a preexisting condition. Why does being black predispose Americans to a risk of losing their lives in various experiences of life established to protect and preserve life? While vehemently denying white privilege exists, supremacist ideology is at odds with a country that prides itself on being a melting pot in the land of opportunity, where those who espouse it want to build walls, keep kids in cages, continue to economically segregate the south and demand everyone speak English or else, “Go back to your country!”
I know that without a shadow of a doubt I am judged based on the color of my skin. I’ve witnessed it countless times especially in the workforce. One example I had a partial phone interview for a job, they wanted me to come in later that week for the second part in person. When I arrived I was told to my face “You’re not what I was expecting”. Mind you this happened shortly after shaking hands. My name in origin is Italian and it isn’t a “traditional black name” (code for ghetto name). I can put on my “white woman’s voice” and “code switch” while on the phone with the disembodied voice with the power to hire me.
No matter the job setting I am very aware of my skin color and how others may perceive me. This feeling of examination and incessant scrutiny of all of my actions make me feel like 90% of the time I am not allowed to be myself. My colleagues get to work with the version of myself that has assimilated to what is acceptable in the workplace while avoiding all the pitfalls and stereotypes that exist for Black women. I know that I have to word things differently and tip toe around things to not be seen as the “angry black woman” when upset. I also know that I have to give 120% just to measure up to my white co-workers 80% so that I’m not seen as a “lazy black worker”. The notion that as a Black person I have to do way more to be seen the way white people are has been a part of my life since I was in school.
This is further complicated by the discord within the Black community. I can’t count how many times I’ve been told “you speak white” or “you’re an Oreo: black on the outside white on the inside” all because I was raised to speak what would be considered proper and to annunciate. To be Black in America is to constantly be told you are not good enough and the never ending challenges to prove otherwise. Though this isn’t a pity party I was raised better than that, I’m a fighter through and through and I know my worth. I know that the fight is far from over when it comes to equality for all. The Civil Rights Movement started in July of 1948 and lasted until April of 1968. Not only did it take 20 years for desegregation to happen and for “colored” people to be treated better but that was only 52 years ago and there is still a lot left to change and make better. I hope that in my coming years I can continue to help support my community and keep our voices heard.