Op-ed: White people must not leave Black Lives Matter movement to others

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

A little over a year and a half ago, my college campus was abuzz with Black Lives Matter dialogue following Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson and the shooting of Tamir Rice. As a young, white woman with an upper-middle class background whose parents were paying for her private, liberal arts college education, I was at a loss for words and unsure of what to say. I was (and continue to be) the definition of privilege and was scared of overstepping or saying the wrong thing. I found myself thinking it would be best to step back from the discussion under the guise that it was not my fight. I would leave it to voices I deemed more appropriate.

As of late, “divided” and “heartbreaking” are words I would use to describe the news — especially on Facebook, where everybody seems to have an opinion. Recently, policemen murdered two black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Within the week, a sniper — targeting white officers — killed five in Dallas, and more reports of police deaths have emerged. Such news has become unfortunately commonplace, and the reactions expected and divided. And yet again, I am left lost for words and unsure of what to say.

Slowly, but surely, I have come to realize what a privilege it is that I can reflect on recent events without engaging in conversation or taking action. Because of the color of their skin, I have never worried my dad or little brother will be victims of police brutality or senselessly murdered. This lack of urgency has allowed me to remain complacent.

I will not pretend to be any sort of expert in determining the role white people like myself should play in the Black Lives Matter movement, but complacency is hardly the answer. The choice to engage or detach ourselves is a reflection of privilege. In these moments, it is important for white people to engage and speak up as allies reminding those around us that Black Lives Matter. The black community has faced racism and systematic oppression throughout America’s entire history — especially those further marginalized groups within the black community such as women and the LGBT community. Feeling lost for words or fearing what to say only continues the cycle.

As a white woman claiming black lives matter, I am simply acknowledging the importance of coming together to support those in the black community, whose voices have been overshadowed by a system working against them. We in the white community can voice our support for the black community and express love without commandeering the discussion. We can elevate their voices while also listening and learning. Having the privilege of extricating ourselves from the conversation and claiming this is not our fight does not work toward a solution. Continuing the conversation, the dialogue, and continuing to press the agenda maintains a clamor so people have to pay attention.

Black lives matter.

Madison Hayes is the content manager for Alliance for a Better Utah.

Read The Salt Lake Tribune article here.

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