Beyond the Hashtag

Full disclosure: I am a privileged white woman. I grew up in an area with next to zero diversity, so the first time I was exposed to the deeply rooted, institutionalized racism in this country was during my sophomore year of high school while doing a research project on the Black Lives Matter movement. I hadn’t begun to understand the complexity and relevance of racism until this point in my life. It had been hard for me to accept the level of ignorance and passiveness many Americans have towards this issue of basic human rights.

People who respond with “all lives matter” are missing the point; this movement and moment aren’t about you. This saying stems from white insecurity and is said by those who feel threatened by the Black Lives Matter movement and want to turn the conversation back on themselves. While it is fair to say everyone possesses intrinsic value, not everyone is being oppressed and discriminated against. The priorities of white people have been at the forefront of American and global concerns for centuries, and to address this, we need to promote a dialog that includes people of color. This conversation right now should be centered around the unjust, brutal murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, and the hundreds of others who lost their life due to police brutality and white authoritarianism. 

I am reminded of a story told to me by an African American student named Brandon in my film class. During a discussion on the recent MSU Wharton Center incident where figure dolls of black leaders were displayed hanging from a tree in the gift shop, the professor opened up the conversation for students to share their stories. To retell this story accurately, I reached out to Brandon, who shared with me, “This was back in high school. I was on my way home from football practice and was walking home as usual with pads and helmet in hand. Bear in mind, I lived in a suburban neighborhood, too. So as I walked through a neighborhood, I walked past a parked car with a white woman in it. We made eye contact as I walked past and I heard all four car locks simultaneously click. It didn’t register immediately, but my heart dropped as soon as I realized this woman feared for her safety because of my presence. I started taking a different route home for the rest of the year.

White people feeling threatened by the mere presence of a person of color speaks to how instilled racism is in this country. The recent incident with Amy Cooper, the white woman who called the police in New York City on an African American man simply for him asking her to leash her dog in the park, shows the conscious manner in which white people will weaponize their privilege to their benefit.

Changing the narrative requires immediate and substantive action. Feeling as though you don’t know what to say or do is not an excuse not to act. Simply posting hashtags and tagging friends on your social media accounts does not constitute a meaningful act. Here are several resources to educate yourself on the issues, and to promote making donations to trustworthy places doing the real work.