I would like to write my fellow non-Black East Oregonians as to why I feel we must engage in difficult conversations regarding race in America. No longer can small towns be tucked away only engaging in monologue. Now is the time for dialogue.
Why can’t “All Lives Matter” suffice? Simply put, because all lives will only truly matter when Black lives matter equally.
It’s important to know that, when people say Black Lives Matter, they are illuminating a painful reality that many non-black Americans ignore. African Americans experience severe health care disparities compared to white Americans. They experience poverty and homelessness at far greater rates than their non-Black counterparts. Our Black brothers and sisters are exponentially overrepresented in our prison system and experience racial profiling from police officers in ways that white Americans have never experienced.
If we can establish that, yes, it is true, that African Americans have been historically disadvantaged and these social inequalities remain as prevalent as ever, one must come to the conclusion that white Americans have then been historically advantaged.
One analogy that is helpful understanding why “All Lives Matter” is an insufficient and reactionary response: If I were to mention that breast cancer research matters, your first reaction wouldn’t be to say, “No it does not, because skin cancer also matters.” Now what if breast cancer was killing exponentially more Americans while its research for a cure was woefully underfunded? Wouldn’t it be important to raise a level of awareness around the crisis?
We have Breast Cancer Awareness Month because it’s a public health crisis and we need to address it. We don’t wear pink in October in spite of skin cancer, but because we know this is a means to bringing awareness to a cause that needs our collective support to save lives. Black Lives Matter is simply doing the same thing. Trying to save lives.
This brings me to my next point: protest. Protests aren’t intended to make us feel comfortable, they are made to shock those who systematic ills do not impact into consciousness and action. It comes from a deep place of privilege to think that there is not a crisis occurring simply because it doesn’t directly impact you personally. This is why we need protests, to call us into action.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
Did women just get the right to vote? Did our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters just get the right to marry? Did Black school children just get the right to learn in a classroom with white students?
No. It was demanded.
Now you might say, we are fine with protest, but not violence. I have heard, “It’s terrible that Black man died, but the burning, looting and destruction of property needs to stop.” I would counter that, “It’s horrible that property is being destroyed, but the killing of unarmed Black Americans needs to stop.” As white Americans, we must prioritize Black American life over property. Humans are more important than things. Period.
We as a society should not approve of riots and therefore we must not approve of the circumstances that lend to such desperation that people feel rioting is their only voice. Collectively, we must think critically about the centuries of failed social and economic systems that have disproportionately impacted Black Americans. We must ask ourselves uncomfortable questions about our past and how the intersectionality of racial, social and economic inequalities have contributed to the situation we are in today.
Now for my white brothers and sisters who feel they are already allies. It’s important to remember whose space we are in. One of the most important things is to understand that we do not speak on behalf of the African American community. We need to listen, support and follow directions. We cannot ever understand what it feels like to be Black in America, trust them. It’s OK to start small, every bit counts.
When we see injustice, don’t sit back, become engaged. Subscribe to podcasts, support bail funds, read books, watch documentaries that challenge our biases. Most importantly, join local organizations and vote for politicians who are serious about ending white supremacy and fixing a system that maintains institutional racism. This includes having a serious conversation about the militarization of our police force and the amount of funding they receive.
As a white American, I ask my fellow non-Black Americans to join the struggle of racial equity.
Black Lives Matter.
Mitch Thompson comes from Hermiston, has previously worked as a community organizer and now works in basketball.