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The Discomfort of White People and #BlackLivesMatter

Dec. 6, 2016
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I’ve noticed that when the subjects of Black Lives Matter, Colin Kaepernick, and/or police brutality come up, a lot of my white friends become very uncomfortable. Many of them often put their foot in their mouth and don’t even realize it until it’s too late. Is it because they really just don’t understand? Or is it just easier to ignore a problem that they do not believe really affects them? I recently had very interesting conversations with some of my white friends and was a bit surprised by what I discovered about them and their feelings on the whole BLM movement and recent incidents of police brutality.

A friend of mine (a white woman – let’s call her Laura) recently posted on Facebook something to the effect of “Colin Kaepernick is a jerk for not standing up for the national anthem. He has no respect for his country.” Many of her white friends chimed in in agreement. It was a bit awkward for me, because we use to be coworkers, soon became friends, and have a lot of friends in common who are black. It was strange to me that none of our black friends were chiming in. Being the person that I am, I was the first to speak up. In my heart, I don’t believe my friend Laura to be a racist. I took into consideration that she may not know the reason why Kaepernick was protesting in this way. I politely advised Laura of the reason why he was choosing to sit or take a knee during the national anthem. My response to her post was as follows:

"Colin Kaepernick is not sitting during the national anthem as a sign of disrespect to our country. He is doing it as a form of peaceful protest for all of the murders of African Americans at the hands of the police. He is using his platform as a way to bring attention and awareness to the cause. We often complain that celebrities make a lot of money, have a lot of perks, but do not use their celebrity status to make a difference – but Colin is doing just that, so why are you mad? We live in a country where we are fortunate to have the freedom to peacefully protest – that is a civil liberty and part of the very foundation of America. So if that is the type of freedom that our soldiers are fighting for, why is it disrespectful of Colin to exercise this freedom? Freedom of speech does not only apply to subjects that we want to talk about or feel comfortable talking about."

Well…needless to say my friend was not expecting that response. I believe that Laura was expecting everyone to agree with her. I also do not believe that our black friends intended to say anything until I spoke up; mostly likely because it can be an uncomfortable subject to address with those who oppose. Or maybe it was because they were afraid of hurting her feelings. However, shortly after I posted my comment, many of our black friends began to comment in agreement with me. Most responded in a respectful way, attempting to educate Laura on what exactly was happening with Kaepernick and why. Laura legitimately seemed ignorant to the entire situation. She stated that she was aware of all the tensions between the police and the African American community, but she did not understand what that had to do with Kaepernick’s protest. She just didn’t feel like it was the time or the place for a protest, and she found it disrespectful to our country and our soldiers/veterans.

After a healthy debate on the subject, Laura sent me a private message apologizing. She told me she had no idea that the subject ran so deep and that she did not mean to sound as if she had no empathy or compassion for the African American community. She also told me that she received a few nasty messages from some of our black friends who were angry with her for her post (I don’t condone that, and I told her so). I couldn’t be too upset with her – how I could I expect a 30-something year old white woman to truly understand the struggle? At the same time, you don’t have to be black to know right is right and wrong is wrong. We all see what has been going on around us. Sure, it may be easy to ignore the current state of affairs if it does not impact you. But compassion and empathy are supposed to be part of human nature. We all sympathize and empathize with people of different countries when there is a terrorist attack or a natural disaster in their native land. Why is it so difficult to sympathize and empathize with your very own friends who live right here with you?

Black oppression in this country is a subject that is uncomfortable, I get that. However, ignoring the problem, telling black people to ‘just get over it’, or pretending that it does not and has never existed are not productive solutions. When black people talk about subjects concerning black oppression, it is not to guilt our white brothers and sisters. It is because it is a deep rooted problem that has a long history in this country and it is still going on now. When we talk about it, it is to help us heal; it is because we are seeking solutions; it is because we are seeking understanding; most importantly, it is because we want it to end.

To my white friends, I have some sage advice: if you don’t know what to say about the topic, don’t be afraid to just ask questions. Ask your black friends/coworkers/family members how they feel on the subject and why. Become educated on the issues plaguing the black community such as police brutality, racial profiling, etc. Dialogue is necessary in order to find some common ground and gain a better understanding about subjects that you just may not understand or relate to. Don’t be afraid to put yourself in our shoes, because that is the best way to learn what someone else’s life is like. There is nothing wrong with being a ‘woke’ white person – believe me, we need more of you.

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