Black Lives Matter is not about white people

[Image: The sun sets over the water in Seattle, with a lone sailboat visible.]

The latest thing white self-appointed allies are upset about is that some uppity black people dared to interrupt a rally for their pet presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, in Seattle. The group put out a press release on Facebook and on their blog. A video of the protest is below.

Horrified whites are now saying, amongst other less tactfully stated things,  that they are no longer going to support Black Lives Matter because of this “disrespectful behavior,” that they can’t believe black people would turn against our “natural ally,” and that we should interrupt the speeches of conservative candidates instead.

Here’s the thing. If you’re white, you have no business telling black people who or how to protest, which candidates to support, or who our allies are. This is not about whether these protesters were “right” or not, or whether or not it’s permissible to criticize black people in general. This is about white people asserting and imposing their unasked-for opinions about what’s best for us, again and again and again.

White people, Black Lives Matter is not about you. Black Lives Matter was created by queer black women to bring attention to systemic oppression and violence against black people in the USA. It is not for you to decide for us whether Bernie Sanders or any other political candidate is the best person to fix this oppression. We can and will decide that for ourselves.

It is also not your place to tell black people how to protest. A lot of us are tired of quietly asking for our rights to be respected whenever it’s convenient for you all to get around to it. As I’ve learned from my participation in animal rights activism, direct action is necessary for social change.  If you only support black people when we speak quietly and deferentially, you are no ally at all. You are merely a tool of white supremacy.

For the record, I support no political candidates, and am currently registered with no political party. I vote on local ballot measures and nonpartisan offices only. This post is not about whether or not you should support Bernie Sanders, it’s about my disgust with white supremacy and my own role in it during my years of performing whiteness. I am fed up with respectability politics and with white people imposing themselves on black people (and likewise with cis and trans people).

White people, not everything needs to be about you. Take a damn seat.

  1. Sitting.

    I had no idea you had such cogent writing on your blog. I’ve become pretty concerned about racism over the last few years as it’s dawned on me just how pervasive it is and how many subtle and insideous forms white supremacy takes. If I hadn’t already, the seemingly deliberately spiteful misapprehension of what BLM is about, not just in the media but among my own circle of acquaintances, absolutely cemented my position of support for it.

    I am a Bernie Sanders supporter, but I understand the action those to women took. I don’t think it was ultimately productive, and I think that should have been predictable, but I understand that in the ’50s, taking a seat at the wrong lunch counter or in the front of the bus was probably viewed the same way, perhaps even moreso. And I totally get that it’s not even for me to judge, I’m just stating my private opinion by way of background to a question. All in all, all the misguided complaints about #BLM… Well, I hear them, and I shake my head and think to myself, “All this verbiage, just to avoid actually saying the word ‘uppity’.” Honestly, it sickens me that we’ve made so little progress. It’s disgusting that the choice for POC is either accept the racist society, or be labeled racist for pointing it out. People don’t even realize when they’re engaging in white supremacy… I’m especially disgusted by “#AllLivesMatter” and “#CopLivesMatter” and can explain in terms even my most clueless friend will understand exactly why they are not the supposedly benign statements they appear to be if you don’t scratch the surface. And, in fomenting the #BLM backlash, Fox News has finally lowered itself from mere propaganda machine to outright white supremacy organization, on a moral par with the KKK, and no more acceptable to support than them.

    Let me ask you something, if you have the time & inclination to answer: What can I, as a nominal white person (I don’t consider myself white for the simple reason that as a Jew I have to fear white supremacy; but, most other people do, so I’ll accept the label), do, other than useless clicktivism like occasionally tweeting “#BlackLivesMatter”, and trying to educate my family & friends who don’t get it as well as I do? I’m receptive to the message, and the problems being complained about bother me even though I’m not their direct victim. And I think you’re right, it’s not about me, obviously. But I sure would like to help if I can, because the problems are real, and troubling to me as a human being. Ideas?

    • What can you do? Elevate the voices of black activists by sharing our words. Call out racist comments whenever you hear them, even if they’re coming from close friends. Have articles and videos (preferably produced by black folks) handy to answer people who say things like “All Lives Matter”. Everyday Feminism has a lot of good educational material in that regard.

  2. BTW as a supporter, I feel obligated to point out that, once interrupted, Bernie Sanders sat back and let them talk, and listened to what they had to say, and he spent the next few days educating himself on the issues, and then hired an advisor on race issues from within the #BLM movement. How many politicians, when faced with adversity, listen? It’s not the only time I’ve seen him listen, and it’s one of the things I like about him.

    I’m not trying to persuade you to vote for him, but I think his response was admirable and exceptional and in fairness to him should be mentioned.

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