We’ve all seen the Facebook posts, or heard the arguments from our friends and family: the phrase “All lives matter” is starting to overshadow the phrase “black lives matter,” as (mostly white) people come out against the group #BlackLivesMatter. To the less-initiated, that message sounds like it comes from a place of love… until you realize that those people have no idea what #BlackLivesMatter actually means, because none of the people from the “all lives matter” crowd took a few seconds to comprehend the message of #BLM.
Supporting #BlackLivesMatter does not mean that a person believes black lives matter more than any other life. It’s not an attempt to say that black Americans are somehow “better” than white Americans or anyone else, or superior to anyone else. It’s not meant to insult your race or call you a racist. If you think any of these things are true, it’s a sign that you’re superimposing your own views, or perhaps your own guilt or even your own hate, into a message where it was never otherwise implied.
The real message behind #BlackLivesMatter is simple: Black lives should matter as much in and to our society as any other life, but they unfortunately do not. Black Americans should not be presented with a vastly greater risk during encounters with law enforcement than any other race, but they are. Black Americans should not be incarcerated at a greater rate than any other race, despite statistically not being more criminally-inclined than any other race, but again, they are.
Need all of this summed up? #BlackLivesMatter is intended to mean “black lives should be equal with every other life, but they are not equal in the eyes of society or the law.”
We see this same naivety applied to the phrase “white privilege” all of the time. To a person who never attempts to grasp what white privilege is, it sounds like someone is saying that white people are given things for free all of the time, simply on the grounds of their skin color; that nothing bad can ever happen to a white person, because they’re white. But again, this is not what white privilege is or what it means.
What the phrase “white privilege” actually means is that a white person of the same socioeconomic standing as a black person is not likely to encounter the same adversities as that black person in most applicable situations, and is more likely to receive preferential treatment. That’s not to say the white person is guaranteed preferential treatment, however.
White privilege doesn’t mean a white person and a black person can’t both be equally poor. It does however mean that a white person can typically escape that poverty easier than a black person can. It doesn’t mean a white person can’t be arrested for a crime or treated poorly while in police custody, but it does mean that a black person arrested for that same crime is more likely to be treated as a threat by the arresting officers than the white person, based purely on the color of their skin.
Let’s take a look at two arrests that perfectly highlight what white privilege is, and the point of what #BlackLivesMatter stands for and the message that they’re trying to get across to the American public:
Joseph Parker of Wakefield, Massachusetts, was arrested in August after he was pulled over for speeding. Parker, an ex-convict, violently assaulted seven police officers during the ordeal, rendering one officer unconscious, which prompted his arrest in what would have otherwise most likely been a traffic ticket. Parker escaped the arrest with only mild injuries. Joseph Parker is white.
Eric Garner of New York City was killed by police in July of 2014. His crime? Selling untaxed cigarettes. Like Parker, Garner resisted arrest, considerably less violently than Joseph Parker did, but eventually gave in to the NYPD. But after Garner had already surrendered, officers continued their violent choke hold, despite Garner famously saying “I can’t breathe.” Those three words proved to be his last. Eric Garner was black.
You might still be on the fence with regards to white privilege, but science increasingly is not. According to a study by Princeton University, a white person convicted of a crime is equally as likely to get a job, if not 5% more likely, than a black person with no criminal record applying for that same job. Meanwhile, a study conducted earlier this year with over 1,500 observations found that white bus riders were 72% more likely to receive a free bus ride than black riders, particularly when there were fewer witnesses to see the white person receive that preferential treatment.
If you attempt to label #BlackLivesMatter as a hate group, or try to shut someone out when they bring up that white privilege exists, then there are no two ways about it: you’re a part of the problem. And if you’re going to argue against #BlackLivesMatter or the existence of white privilege, you should probably aspire to not be the walking, talking embodiment of those problems.