Someone recently asked on Twitter, “Do you know the most important causes of your 10 closest friends and/or family?” The person’s point was that Facebook is a great place to showcase your cause, to promote awareness or fundraising opportunities, and that we tend to know more about what’s important to our friends and family in the age of social media. And this is SO VERY TRUE. Everyone around me knows my causes all relate to the LGBTQ community. I share information about the Trevor Project whenever there’s another story about an LGBTQ suicide, I post the GLAAD media sheet about transgender language whenever a new trans celebrity is making the news, I share the local resources for the LGBTQ teens in our community, I celebrate states and countries that make strides to push LGBTQ equality. And I do all of this on Facebook. There is no doubt what my cause is.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that, about my friends and family who promote their own causes on Facebook. Donnie and I both come from a long line of Catholics so I see a lot of Pro Life material cross my feed. I have several friend with family members who have Alzheimer’s so I see a lot of purple banners making me aware of fundraisers or news about advances in medicine. I have a friend whose Dad has ALS so I know about the walk she does every year.
And as I was kinda running down the list of people who use Facebook like I do – to raise awareness or promote their cause – I noticed a common thread. We all do it because the outcome of these causes have a direct effect on our lives. As an LGBTQ parent the equality train was something that I needed to keep on the tracks so I could see all of my kids have the same choices in their lives, no matter which one of them was straight or which one was gay. This has also made me acutely aware of the struggles in the community as we’ve seen teens who have been sent to reparation camps, or kids that have struggled with depression. Just like my friends promote the causes that will ensure their family has a better chance of surviving diseases they’ve been cursed with, I push awareness to issues in the LGBTQ community. We promote those things that touch or lives or our families’ lives directly.
And then I started thinking about the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
I started a Twitter List called “Ferguson” during the protests after the Michael Brown shooting because I wanted to keep up with what was going on. [SIDENOTE: Twitter is VITAL as a news source for me now. I’ve curated my Tweetdeck in different news categories and different users so I can always stay up to date on causes that are important to me. People question Twitter as a document of the mundane but as a news source, if you know how to curate it, it’s unbeatable.] This was the first time I was introduced to what the media calls “Black Twitter” and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I kept that Twitter list on my Tweetdeck so I could check in several times a day, and then Tamir Rice was killed and I wanted to be monitoring that, so the list stayed relevant as the same voices were discussing that tragedy. And then I wanted to be monitoring news around Eric Garner’s death…
Basically, there was always something tragic to be monitoring in this community and the name “Ferguson” was irrelevant so I now call it the #BlackLivesMatter Updates and it’s full of some amazing writers and activists whose words I read every day because I want to be aware of all that they’re fighting for and dealing with in their activism. Sometimes the words sting but they are words I need to read, voices I need to hear.
But you know what I don’t have to do? I don’t have to actually promote any of it because whether or not they’re successful in breaking down the systemic racism around them, won’t really effect my life directly because I’m a privileged white woman who can mouth off to the police officer pulling me over and probably not be threatened with a taser.
I have a choice to help raise awareness or draw attention to the #BlackLivesMatter movement and that – in and of itself – is a sign of the uphill battles they face because in order to really see change in our society and the way we treat people of color, white people need to change. Do you see the uphill battle there? The people who actually need to change (white people) are the people who also don’t see a need to pay attention to the movement because it doesn’t really affect their lives.
I remember when the SCOTUS ruling was announced and gay marriage was made legal across the land. I saw SO MANY PEOPLE on Facebook celebrating that I never knew were friendly to the cause. And I was 99% happy with this discovery, but 1% of me thought, “Why haven’t you been at the Pride Parade with me? Why haven’t you shared out links to Free2Be to make sure all of the LGBTQ kids in our community know there’s a place for them to go if they need help?”
For the same reason I don’t constantly promote the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Because it’s something I’m in tune with, I want to succeed, but it doesn’t really affect my life at all if it fails because when I teach my kids to be respectful of authority figures it’s because I don’t want them to come off as rude. Not because they might get shot otherwise.
If you can choose whether or not to support a cause, that is a luxury. If there is a cure for ALS discovered tomorrow, great! I’ll be happy. But if there’s not? My life continues on. But my friend has a little more invested in that. If her cause fails? Her family suffers. So she’s going to walk and fundraise and promote to do what she can.
I’m just suddenly becoming keenly aware of the luxury that choice gives me. I’ll see these amazing articles discussing the #BlackLivesMatter movement on Twitter and I’ll read every word and I often discuss them with my kids but it ends there. Up until this week I’ve not really been using Facebook to promote the movement because most days my Facebook feed has a peppering of conservative postings from Fox News discussing that President Obama is THE WORST EVER and our country is IN THE TOILET because of him! It’s hard to share #BlackLivesMatter stuff out in that environment.
But then Sandra Bland died. Maybe she committed suicide, maybe she didn’t, but the issue is that the events leading up to her death would not have happened had she been me. Period. My Freshmen year of college I had an incident where I mouthed off to a cop who asked me to put out my cigarette and you know what didn’t happen? I didn’t end up being threatened with a tazer nor did I end up arrested. It was hard to see her name all over my Twitter feed and not feel incredibly ashamed of my skin color. The cop basically rolled his eyes at me. He told me to go home. Quit loitering. And then he probably got in his car and laughed at me and my badass attitude with his partner.
If systemic racism persists in our country no one in my family will be hurt in any way. We (“we” being “white people”) can look at stories like Sandra Bland’s and say, “Well, my kid knows not to talk to the police like that.” Or we can say about ourselves, “I would have just put out my cigarette,” and we can go on with our lives blaming her mistreatment on her own actions.
But that is our luxury. Because my same actions don’t lead to the same results.
I should point out that growing up hanging out with tattooed and pierced punks also meant we saw our fair share of mistreatment based on appearances, but obviously nothing like the systemic issues the black community faces.
Our luxury is knowing that if our kids ignore our lessons and are rude to police officers, or if they get pulled over for changing lanes without a signal, or if they’re loitering where they shouldn’t be, that they’ll still come out of the incident alive. So if the #BlackLivesMatter movement fails to make any progress, our lives can go on as they are now.
But I’ve read the words and heard the voices of the people in that community for months now and I need to do something. Here’s something powerful I read this week (click through to the source and see the included links if you’d like.)
If you haven’t watched the video of her arrest, you should (and don’t miss the vids of her alive and vibrant, speaking out against police brutality, remembering while you watch that she’s dead because of it).
If you haven’t watched Walter Scott being shot in the back; or Freddie Gray having his neck broken; or the unambiguous assault and harassment—first by grown adults and then by a police officer—of children (let’s not get that point twisted) who did nothing more than attend an end-of-school pool party; if you have chosen to avert your eyes because it hurts too much, I invite you to get up and over yourself and schedule a date night with YouTube.
Such videos are calamitous but crucial in helping deniers, dismissers and apologists acknowledge as real the experiences of black people. We must then become allies or—as adoption- and anti-racist activist Dr. JaeRan Kim recently framed it—interrupters.
If all of my white friends would read Shaun King or Ta-Nehisi Coates or Brittney Cooper for a few months (I follow all on Twitter as well) to see their reporting and writing about events in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, then the cause will start to feel more personal, harder to ignore.
I want to do better about promoting causes that may not directly effect my family, but directly changes the shape of the world that I want to live in. And that’s what I need to remember. And this cause requires a change in perspective and attitude and action from people of MY skin color, but people of MY skin color aren’t seeing a requirement for change because their lives aren’t negatively impacted by the systemic racism that exists.
And people wonder why Black America is so angry.
So I’m going to try to use my voice for more than just causes that directly effect my family and my life. I’m going to acknowledge that it’s a luxury that I can CHOOSE to make this a cause I support, because my skin color doesn’t choose it for me. I’m going to remember the millions of Americans that don’t have that choice, it’s a cause that peppers every moment of every one of their days. I can CHOOSE to promote fundraisers to fund research for ALS and Alzheimers because none of it directly effects my family. I can CHOOSE to donate…and I SHOULD choose to do more because my world is much bigger than my home and my street.
We should all continue to promote those things that directly effect our lives, without a doubt. But maybe we can envision the future a little bit and think bigger. I’d love it if the black children in my kid’s school could grow up and NOT have to be taught to be scared of the police in our community. I’d love it if they would know they’d be treated the same at a traffic stop as my kids will be. But that’s not going to just happen naturally, not when it’s people of our skin color that actually need to change our outlook. Racism doesn’t end until a white person admits it exists.
Edited to add: please watch the extended interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates from The Daily Show last night. It’s fantastic. I’ll be buying his book today.