What does “Black Lives Matter” mean?
“Black Lives Matter” started as a movement to bring awareness and justice to police brutality and systemic racism experienced by Black people in our country. What was originally a hashtag in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman after the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2013, is now a slogan, straightforward statement of fact and a global organization with supporters all over the world.
At its most basic level, it calls for a shift in statistics that demonstrate Black people are more than twice as likely to be killed by a police officer while unarmed compared to White individuals. According to a Pew Research poll in June 2020 – 67% of Americans express support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Why is it problematic to say, “All Lives Matter”?
It’s a natural reaction to respond to one group centering its experience with, “but what about all lives?” or “isn’t my life important too?” But the truth is, Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by police violence and systematic racism in our country. While all lives are equally important, it is Black lives that are in peril due to decades of systematic violence and discrimination – which means to many that their lives have not mattered.
To illustrate, imagine that a single house in a neighborhood is on fire. While all of the houses in that neighborhood are important, the one in danger and requiring immediate attention is the one on fire. All lives do matter, but Black lives are the ones in danger.
Is White privilege even real?
Although White privilege is not a choice, it is an unfortunate power dynamic in today’s society, White privilege is the reality that White individuals are granted more rights or opportunities simply because they are White. Conversely, people of color often face barriers because of their skin color due to centuries-long, deep-rooted racism and oppression, stereotypes, and lack of representation. Because White citizens do not face these same obstacles due to their outward appearance, it may be difficult to recognize White privilege. However, it is real, and accepting it is the first step in moving toward racial equality.
White privilege can be compared to a foot race in which people of color are given a different starting line than their White counterparts. Though both people may have to overcome the same hurdles and obstacles, those of color are given an unfair disadvantage from the start and would have to work many times as hard to win the race.
Although White people may experience disadvantages and hardships due to a variety of reasons (class, illness, disability, age, etc.), they do not also experience racial disadvantage and hardship because of the color of their skin. Being White does not mean a person has not lived a difficult life; it means their life hasn’t been made more difficult by their race.
What does “divesting in the police” mean?
“Divesting in the Police” entails partially reallocating public funds from the police department and redirecting them to other government agencies. It does not mean abolishing the police force; instead, taxpayer dollars will be distributed more evenly and be directed to underfunded community needs that are essential to the vitality of a city.
We support strategically reallocating resources, funding, and responsibility to community-based models of safety, support, and prevention. The people who respond to crises in our community should be the people who are best equipped to deal with those crises.
We want to create space for more mental health service providers, social workers, victim/survivor advocates, religious leaders, etc.–all the people who really make up the fabric of a community–to look out for one another through programs like United Community and eventually through policy and advocacy. Crime isn’t random. Most of the time, it happens when someone has been unable to meet their basic needs through other means. By shifting investment toward services that meet those needs, we’ll be able to begin to shift toward a more equitable society.
If we “divest in the police” will crime rates go up?
While the police force itself may lose some funding, there are adjacent human and social service sectors that are better equipped to address certain community problems. With that, financing these agencies will allow police to respond to a more focused area of need and help eliminate unnecessary brutality and stigmatization that impact the safety of our community.
How have Black Americans been systematically oppressed?
Black Americans have been systematically oppressed, resulting in lingering gaps in education, wealth, and health attainment created by intentional policies that governed and continue to govern this nation.
For example, redlining is a common, unethical practice that disqualifies many Black citizens from asset procurement and services based on their race. Historically, lenders placed a line around particular areas of town in which they would not invest; these determinations were based on the racial demographics of neighborhoods alone. Although these practices were outlawed, discrimination still exists, and the effects reverberate decades later as residents of certain neighborhoods are still unable to acquire mortgage loans, student loans, or credit cards, extending redlining into new areas that prohibit individuals based on their race from having equal access to critical resources and opportunities.
How has this led to a racial wealth gap?
The racial wealth gap is largely a result of discriminatory government policies throughout history that provided Black individuals disproportionately fewer opportunities. These laws hindered individuals of color from acquiring assets, such as owning a home, and subsequently prevented them from building personal and generational wealth.
Metro United Way is working every day to ensure a stronger, more equitable community for all. It’s a process that is evolving every day and includes many community leaders, organizations, volunteers, nonprofits, foundations and experts – local and national.
We encourage you to be part of our Racial Wealth Gap Simulation that explores these policies and why White Americans have 13 times the wealth of Black Americans. It’s a good first step for people unaware of structural inequality, a support tool for those who want a deeper understanding of systemic inequality and a source of information for experts who want to know the quantifiable economic impact of each policy that has widened today’s racial health, income and wealth divides.
Where are racial disparities present locally?
In our community, Black citizens experience higher unemployment rates and lower median earnings than White Louisvillians at every level of educational attainment.
- The top 10% of Louisville households have seen a 32% increase in income since 1980, while the lower 10% – where many Black households fall – have only seen a 20% growth in income over the same time period.
- More than 75% of Louisville’s Black population lives on less than 5% of the land.
- The rate of homeownership for Black households in Louisville is 36% compared to 71% for White households.
- 30% of Louisville’s Black households make less than $25,000. Louisville is short more than 31,000 units needed to affordably house community members with low incomes.
- COVID-19 Compounding—57.6% of Black Kentucky renters have slight to no confidence that they will be able to pay next month’s rent, compared to 26.1% of all Kentucky renters.
“War on Drugs*” and Life after incarceration
- Though only comprising 30% of the under-17 population, 77% of the children detained at the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center are Black.
- Youth in the juvenile justice system are at a much higher risk for suicide attempts.
- Though only 8% of Kentucky’s population, Black adults make up 22% of the state’s prison population.*The War on Drugs and crack epidemic devastated urban and Black communities and constructed a narrative centering on gangs and “thugs” that deserved to be punished and, as a result, led to mass incarceration. In contrast, the story of opioid abuse is mostly one of rural and suburban White Americans preyed upon by pharmaceutical companies.
How do I respond to frequent rebuttals to anti-racism?
“White privilege isn’t real.”
Again, benefiting from White privilege doesn’t mean you were born rich and didn’t overcome obstacles. It means you didn’t face barriers because of your skin color. In essence, White is seen as the default “normal.” White people often receive the benefit of the doubt in ways people of color don’t because of centuries of history rooted in racism and oppression and the resulting stereotyping.
“What about Black on Black crime?”
We’re discussing racism. Black people don’t kill each other because they’re Black. If you compare White and Black neighborhoods with similar income levels, you see similar rates of crime. Poor people commit more crimes because economic insecurity leads to those crimes. Because of the enduring consequences of America’s racism, racism, Black people are still at an economic disadvantage.
“This is all sad, but I can’t support the rioting and the looting!”
The majority of protests are entirely peaceful. Others are peaceful until they are turned into riots with tear gas and “non-lethal” bullets from authorities. That can lead to others taking advantage with chaos/looting, often detracting from the goals of the movement. It’s important to not focus on the property loss at the expense of the repeated loss of life that’s been occurring for years. Not only have peaceful protestors been shot at and tear gassed, but arrested as well. Colin Kaepernick was fired and lost his NFL career despite the peaceful nature of his protest. Martin Luther King, Jr. consistently protested peacefully and was assassinated.
“If they just followed the law, they’d be fine.”
Even if someone did commit a crime, that doesn’t warrant a death sentence without trial. Innocent people have been killed for “fitting a description.”
“The problem is Black people commit more crime.”
This is not true. Crimes committed by Black people are more reported and over- attributed in a corrupt system. As part of gentrification, there is often a higher police presence in diverse neighborhoods than in White neighborhoods. This means more police surveillance in general as well as more instances of new White residents calling law enforcement on people of color for perceived wrongdoing.
“Many of the people killed had criminal histories.”
That doesn’t matter and isn’t relevant in the moment an arrest is being made. A past criminal record doesn’t justify the use of excessive force or murder, especially if someone is subdued. The police are not judge, jury, and executioner. Also, many of the police officers who are killing people have prior “on the job” offenses or murders on their records, yet they’re still on duty causing harm.
“Not all police brutalize and kill people.” and/or “It’s just a few bad ones.”
Police officers who do kill and brutalize rarely face true consequences because the system is broken. When someone says, “we must end corrupt policing,” it doesn’t mean no good person has ever become or is a police officer. What it does mean is that American policing is set up as a system that doesn’t allow individual behavior and decision-making to overcome inherent inequities and universally damaging outcomes.
“Don’t blame me. I never owned slaves.”
People aren’t asking you to accept blame. People are asking you to see how all of us are connected in society. And one person’s disadvantage is, on the other side, one person’s advantage unfairly earned. So, it’s important to understand how the system is disadvantaged and take responsibility for working for a more just society for all.
“More White people are killed by police than Black people”
There are 6 times more White people in American than Black people, so yes, by sheer numbers, White people are killed by police more often., However, Black people are killed by police at a rate 4 times higher than White people.
“White people have been oppressed too!”
White people may be oppressed for reasons unrelated to their skin color, such as sexuality, gender identity or economic status. However, that’s a different conversation- and racial oppression is currently what we’re discussing.
“Blue Lives Matter.”
Being a police officer is a choice; being Black isn’t. Law enforcement is a profession, not a race. White people can stop being police by simply taking off their uniforms for the day (or changing careers) to remove themselves from danger. Black people can’t stop being Black or experiencing the repercussions of racism, hence necessary activism. Police being hurt or killed while on the clock is an unfortunate occupational hazard that accompanies the job and is something we mourn as a community when it occurs. Black people didn’t sign up for living with those real fears, nor can they escape them.
“All Lives Matter.”
All lives cannot matter until Black lives do. Saying “Black Lives Matter” is not saying they matter more, just that they matter just as much as other lives.
“Why isn’t there a White History Month?” Or “White Miss America?”
White history is celebrated significantly more than that of any other race. It’s more frequently recognized in books and textbooks, print and digital media, music and other forms of creative expression. Black history has been marginalized and underrepresented in entertainment, education and society in general. Therefore, February is dedicated to lifting up the history other mediums do not frequently recognize.
The first Miss America pageant was held in 1920, and Black women were not allowed to participate. The first Black woman entered the competition in 1971 and required security detail to keep her safe. Because racism hindered Black women from the beginning, Miss Black USA and Miss Black America pageants began to validate Black beauty.
“I’m not racist – I don’t see color.”
This statement, although possibly well-intended, is problematic because it doesn’t acknowledge the distinct beauty in being Black and could possibly make one feel as if there’s no desire to understand the Black experience. It also doesn’t acknowledge the structural inequity that White supremacy and systemic oppression have placed on Black Americans – it literally turns a blind eye to it.
“I’m not racist – I have Black friends.” Or “family members.”
It is a myth that proximity to blackness immunizes White people from racist beliefs and actions. Personal relationships with Black people don’t automatically prevent racist tendencies nor do they end the systematic racism Black people face. It takes more. Listen, learn, and don’t just talk about not being racist – be about it.
“Why do we have to make everything about race?”
Usually those that say this are those that don’t have to consider their own race every day. Black safety must be put ahead of White discomfort and that means taking action against racism, hate and bigotry. White people can be complicit in racist systems without recognizing their own racism.
“BLM is a Marxist organization…or terrorist organization.”
When we say “Black Lives Matter,” we are referring to the ideology that Black lives matter just as much as other lives. BLM is a fluid movement with millions of followers around the world that include those with liberal, Marxist, socialist and capitalist views, which has been the case in every single social movement in the 20th century. That doesn’t make the movement a Marxist movement. It is a mass movement. The New York Times reported in July that the BLM movement may be the largest movement in U.S. history, as 15 – 26 million people have participated in demonstrations over the death of George Floyd.
BLM is not a terrorist organization either. Several sources have stated that BLM does not fit the federal definition of a terrorist organization nor does it appear as a terrorist group on an extensive database that tracks terrorism attacks globally.
Responses like this distract from the BLM movement itself and those that are seeking justice for the Black community by stating the fundamental truth that Black lives do matter.
Why are Metro United Way and others talking about equity so much and what are they doing?
We believe in improving lives by advancing equity & opportunity—two change mechanisms rooted in the highest levels of influence.
So, what’s the solution?
Emphasis must be placed on shifting from transactional supports to transformational supports aimed at eradicating the root causes of the inequities present in our community. Continued education and advocacy on these issues along with sustained, targeted investment in those most effective interventions and strategies and policy changes is critical in addressing and overcoming these challenges. A shift from a charity frame to a social justice frame is a must.
You can find out more and get involved with our diversity, equity and inclusion work visit https://metrounitedway.org/diversity-equity-and-inclusion/
For resources about racial equity visit: https://metrounitedway.org/equity-and-justice/