Written by Meryem Abdu
Edited by Ummiamah Ahmed & Nura Mesoud
Black Lives Matter?
Have you ever thought twice about how your actions may be perceived because of the colour of your skin? Were you ever taught from as early as 6 years old that you have to be extra cautious because you are automatically seen as threatening? Welcome to the life of a black person living in the West. While protests against excessive force being used on black people by police have occurred previously, the past week can only be described as an uprising. A revolution by some.
The brutal murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota has been the last straw that broke the camels back. He was unarmed and DID NOT resist arrest. In a video that has been circulating, Floyd can be heard exclaiming, “I can’t breathe,” as a police officer kneeled on his neck, two others held him down and one watched. He heartbreakingly calls for his mother, as the officers ignore his pleas. The black community has lost too many innocent lives to the hands of racially fueled police brutality. We are angry. We are tired. We need change. The history of oppression of black people has been ongoing for centuries.
One arrest, one policy change or one new piece of legislature will no longer suffice, an entire system that disadvantages black people for simply being, needs to be dismantled. This is not a fight for the black community alone. This is not an issue of white vs. black. This is racists vs. people who want equal rights for all. Equal opportunities for all. For the colour of one's skin not to determine how one is treated.
Black Lives Matter is “a call to action in response to state-sanctioned violence and anti-Black racism” (BLM, 2015). Data compiled by Mapping Police Violence (MPV) in 2019 showed that Black Americans were 3 times more likely to die at the hands of police than White Americans. They also found that they were 1.5 times more likely to be unarmed before their death compared to their white counterparts.
O'Neil, L. (2016, July 10).How many black Americans have been killed by police? Deaths tracked online but official data lacking | CBC News. Retrieved from
The current uprising is not an overnight problem, nor is it solely about George Floyd. Rather, it is a response to the persisting brutality black people are experiencing, a response to a system that has been designed in favour of non-black people. We need to reform the deeply rooted anti-blackness in our societies. While I am particularly focusing on police brutality, it’s important to acknowledge anti-blackness is found in many different institutions (e.g. healthcare, higher education, the justice system). George Floyd’s murder was the tip of the iceberg, now we need to go deeper and fix the systems that have failed so many.
We need to address systemic racism. The term systemic racism refers to “intersecting, overlapping, and codependent racist institutions, policies, practices, ideas, and behaviours that give an unjust amount of resources, rights, and power to white people while denying them to people of colour (Cole, 2019).
While to your average non-black driver, a traffic stop is a minor inconvenience, it has proven to be life-threatening to black people. Police officers must tell you the reason they are pulling you over, they’ll ask for identification and might question you further. If you are being placed under arrest, you’ll be informed on why. Too many times, police officers escalate encounters with black people and react aggressively when black people rightfully question a police officer’s orders. Even when the law is on their side, black people who inform officers they are aware of their rights are seen as “resisting” arrest. Even with video evidence of such incidences, there are lack of convictions. This is a system that is not upholding justice for black victims. This is a system that supports continued oppression. The tragic story of Sandra Bland comes to mind. A 28-year old African-American woman who was pulled over for a minor traffic violation and ended up dying in jail 3 days later. I’ve attached an article with more detail regarding her story at the bottom, please read it and take a moment to reflect on how the system failed her.
How does this relate to you?
Your timeline might currently be flooded with the #BlackLivesMatter, with black boxes, with Instagram stories sharing petitions and fundraising links. You might see live feeds of ongoing protests. If you see all of this and wonder, why are all these people protesting? Let this be a wake-up call, there is a great deal of privilege in that way of thinking. While some can scroll through posts about racism and discrimination on their timelines and move on, others live it. Identifying your privilege is the first step, the next step is to educate yourself and those around you so that you can begin to take action. It is not enough to not be racist, we must all be anti-racist. This involves acting to oppose racism by educating others, attending protests, and donating time and/or money to the cause. Although it can be uncomfortable to challenge your way of thinking, your family's way of thinking and your communities, with stepping out of comfort zones comes growth. Having white privilege doesn’t mean your life has been easy, but you are not being oppressed based on your skin colour alone. Understand where people are coming from before challenging their experiences with your personal experiences. Educate yourself and don’t rely on people of colour to educate you. And remember, keeping silent only helps the side of the oppressor. Even within non-black people of colour and black communities, colourism is ingrained. I have personally experienced many instances where non-black people of colour have called me the N-word. Nobody gets a free pass, we all have work to do.
But don’t “All Lives Matter”?
Many people have taken issue with the saying “Black Lives Matter” and have countered that “All Lives Matter (ALM).” First of all, it’s pretty telling that people only say ALM once Black lives are put at the forefront, a method to dismiss the movement. Secondly, if “all lives matter”, the issue at hand has not changed. What are these people doing to help black people being murdered by police at a disproportionate rate other than dismissing their very real problem? Look no further than the cartoon below which illustrates why saying Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean all lives don’t matter. It simply means Black lives matter too.
Straub , K. (2016, July 7). Chainsawsuit – now that's what I call content. Retrieved from https://chainsawsuit.com/comic/2016/07/07/all-houses-matter-the-extended-cut/
We’d be mistaken to think this is only an issue in the USA, Canada is just as guilty. With similar cases of police brutality towards black and indigenous lives, we can’t brush this off. Just last week in Toronto, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, an indigenous black Canadian woman, fell to her death after police were called to assist transporting her to the Center for Addiction and Mental Health. Another life lost, and so many questions left unanswered. There’s only so much I can cover in this blog post, there is so much more to the Black Lives Matter movement. Let’s continuously keep ourselves, and each other in check to make sure we fight ignorance with knowledge.
What Might this Mean for You?
Take some classes: sociology classes, classes that discuss race, indigenous studies, history classes
Watch YouTube videos, documentaries and movies that tackle racism*
Read books or listen to podcasts*
Diversify your friend group
Understand and stop using microaggressive compliments and greetings
Keep an open mind and most importantly an open heart.
*Some titles listed below.
We all need to reflect. We have to ask ourselves the hard questions…Can I be doing more for the cause? Will I stand up for the cause when no one is watching? Please remember that Black Lives Matter is not a one time trend. It is not a hashtag that will be forgotten. It is the legacy of innocent black people who lost their lives too early. Say their names. If deep down you know you won’t be asking yourself those hard questions, ask yourself Why?
List compiled by twitter user: @HYUCKHE1SM
Article on Sandra Bland Case: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/05/07/open-up-case-period-sandra-blands-family-demands-answers-over-new-video-her-arrest/
Documentaries and movies: 13th, Slavery by Another Name, When They See Us, I Am Not Your Negro, Just Mercy, Dark Girls, Freedom Riders, Whose Streets?, Teach us All, The Hate you Give
Podcasts: About Race, It’s Not a Race, Code Sw!tch, The Stoop, The Nod, Good Ancestor Podcast
Books: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? An Other Conversations About Race, The End of Policing, Survival Math, How We Fight for Our Lives