Why say anything?

After reading the article “The Real Reason White People Say ‘All Lives Matter’” on the Huffington Post by John Halstead (2016) I can say I agree with him and that I see the same phenomenon happening in the Netherlands.

The Black Lives Matter movement was founded in 2012 after Trayvon Martin was murdered. George Zimmerman who was part of the neighbourhood watch shot him, he was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon and Trayvon himself was posthumously placed on trial for his own murder. The Black Lives Matter movement argues that black people are treated as second grade citizens, are often victim of police brutality and are guilty unless they’re eventually proven innocent, not the other way around. The movement is a cry for liberation and equality and strives for a world in which black people aren’t intentionally and systematically targeted for demise. It empowers the contribution of black people in society, it illustrates the resilience during time of oppression and reaffirms their humanity (Black Lives Matter, n.d.).

The article on the Huffington post is about the Black Lives Matter movement and how the All Lives Matter movement is a negative reaction on it. The author explains why the seemingly positive message of All Lives Matter has a negative impact. He explains that saying All Lives Matter is similar to saying All Cancer Patients Matter at a Breast Cancer Awareness rally, it is pointless. Trying to get support for one subject does not imply that you dismiss another subject. The author therefor argues that people have an alternate reason for saying All Lives Matter in response to Black Lives Matter.

He goes on by explaining why the word “black” makes us (white people) feel unease, that it challenges our idea that race isn’t a factor and that it reminds us of our whiteness. He explains how we use colour-blindness as a coping mechanism. Because if race isn’t a factor, we don’t have to deal with concepts like ‘white privilege’. Racism has become more and more subtle over the years and is more connected to daily life then we realize. On top of the blunt racism of organizations like the Klu Klux Klan we now experience institutionalized racism, in which a lot of well-meaning people who are not intentionally or consciously racist take part in. Stating that you do not condone racism, do not use the n-word and detest organizations like the KKK does not mean that you do not participate in institutionalized racism. Halstead (2016) concludes that by the saying the phrase “All Lives Matter”, you’re denying that “Black Lives Matter”. He recommends that we accept and embrace the discomfort, that we recognize that we’re not colour-blind, that we work on our biases and spend time with black people in a black setting, talk to other white people, discuss institutional racism and use the phrase “Black Lives Matter” (Halstead, 2016).

Slavery is part of the history of America, just as it is part of Dutch history. Racism is often trivialized in the Netherlands and a lot of white people don’t want to be associated with that negativity. It hurts their perception of who they are and their self-representation. If I compare this phenomenon to the current relations between white and black communities in Netherlands, I think that the perspective from where we see the world is imminent to understand each other. The Story of the World theory states that our ‘cognitive schemata’ and ‘story of the world’ resides within our ‘cognitive behavioural triangle’. This means that our upbringing, believes and values, community and personal characteristics greatly influence the way we perceive, interpret and respond to certain situations

(Gast & Patmore, 2012). Our story of the world has been one sided. We live in a society where white is still the standard, the norm, the default and it’s because of this that we feel like race isn’t a factor. We use colour-blindness as a coping mechanism to keep the status quo, but mostly to not feel bad about being white. Not being aware of our own whiteness is part of ‘white privilege’. As Peggy McIntosh (White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, 1989) describes: “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.” She goes on stating that her education never trained her in seeing herself as unfairly advantaged, possible oppressor or participant in an unequal culture. Rather as an individual who, if she relied on her own moral will, could amount to anything (McIntosh, 1989).

So the way we see ourselves, our story of the world, might need an adjustment. Gloria Wekker (White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race, 2016) also describes the White Dutch self-representation as one of the most damaging factors of Dutch culture. In chapter two “The house that race build” she mentions the race critical theory. This theory exposes how colour-blindness, claims of race neutrality and the discourse of tolerance obscures the way institutionalized racism hurts society (Wekker, 2016).

I believe that all of us have a responsibility to help better the world and make it a more equal place for everyone. I also believe that a social worker has an even larger responsibility. Gast & Patmore (2012) describe social workers as the ‘gatekeepers’ to services, they have the power give access to resources or to deny that access. A social worker needs to be aware of his or her position in relation to the client as well as his or her own position in society. To which group do you belong? What are your privileges? What is your story of the world?

Another thing I realized while I was writing this opinionated article is that the author of the article on the Huffington Post is a white man writing about racism. This made me wonder if the article would have the same value if it was written by a black author, would it be taken seriously, would it be posted online at all? The same goes for my reaction on it, do my words have more value because I’m a white male? The preferred answer would be no, but I imagine yes is closer to the truth. So if I’m ever asked to write something about racism and there is a black man or woman who can do the job just as well I wish to collaborate where possible or step aside if necessary.

 

References

Black Lives Matter. (n.d.). Who we are: About the Black Lives Matter Network. Consulted on 31 October 2016, http://blacklivesmatter.com/about/

Gast, L, & Patmore, A. (2012). Mastering approaches in Social Work. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Halstead, J. (2016). The Huffington post, Voices, The Real Reason White People Say ‘All Lives Matter’. Consulted on 31 October 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-halstead/dear-fellow-white-people-_b_11109842.html

McIntosh, P. (1989). White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Consulted on 2 October 2016, http://nationalseedproject.org/images/documents/Knapsack_plus_Notes-Peggy_McIntosh.pdf

Wekker, G. (2016). White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

 

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