Thinking through and writing about issues that rouse
Defending the Democratic Party
I used to write letters to the editor of my local paper when I was a teacher. I called myself an education activist. When I retired, I retired from being an activist too, disillusioned. But, as you know, I started up again recently. We must do what we can. Here's a letter I wrote that was published today. Follow the link or read here.
What not taking a stand says about you and your business
Show of Support for Black Lives Matter
I get a lot of email. I am on various lists that reflect my interests and politics. Of course, all my political groups were quick to send out denunciation messages concerning the George Floyd and other recent racist occurrences. Because I am a liberal, thatʻs not surprising. What I didnʻt expect was so many of my other interest groups that I would consider a-political, were also sending me messages. I wondered what it said about the groups who hadnʻt.
When the protests started last week a “radical” (in air quotes on purpose) post appeared on a Facebook group I belong to, iPhone Photography Academy. The radical post was — a photo of the phrase Black Lives Matter scrawled on the sidewalk in blue chalk (above). Of course, there had to be someone (actually two) who had to reply: All Lives Matter. I felt compelled to educate — “If all lives matter, then black lives should matter TOO!”
She called me a racist. Yes, I guess that is the way they “think” (also air quotes). Identifying race is racist. I appealed to her to have empathy, to live in their skin. She replied: “Then why do we have to point out black lives?”
I was not the only one trying to educate this woman, she was definitely in the minority but hung on to her view like white on rice. (Sorry — not sorry — for weak idiom, but couldnʻt resist.) Samples from the thread:
“Youʻre part of the problem, unfortunately.”
“I think the overall consensus would agree that your oblivious demeanor and failure to comprehend the real issue at hand … our black brothers and sisters are not treated with the same respect and dignity as you.”
“… saying “All lives matter” as a response to “black lives matter” is like saying the fire dept. should spray down all the houses in the neighborhood even though only one house is on fire… because all houses matter. Yes, your house matters too, but your house is not on fire. ”
There were other commenters who had to tell us to not talk about politics on this forum, asking for the administrators to intervene. Soon, commenting on the thread was blocked and we were not allowed to comment anymore.
There was another ALM commenter on this same photo. I participated in both threads but this second one hadnʻt replied to me personally, so I interacted with the one who did. This second ALM womanʻs point was that if we want to improve the world, we need to treat everyone equally, thus all lives matter. After a lot of back and forth and resistance on her part, this second one had actually been convinced and she posted, in caps: IN THE SPIRIT OF BRINGING A RAY OF LIGHT INTO THIS DARK AND PAINFUL DAY, I WILL START OVER…GREAT CAPTURE! BLACK LIVES MATTER AND I PRAY FOR THE DAY WHEN WE WON’T NEED TO SAY SO.
I wanted to express my thanks to her for being brave enough to change her mind publicly, but the comment function on this post was disabled.
This is one of the few groups I belong to that did not make a public statement about Black Lives Matter. I was hoping that the founder of the company, iPhone Photography Academy, would do so, but he has not. He is European, but that is no excuse considering the worldwide impact this has had. He has an opportunity to be an ally. But no. as of this writing, didnʻt happen. I doubt if I will purchase another class from him.
You are your email subscriptions
Thereʻs this quote attributed to Confucius, but found in many cultures: Tell me who your friends are and Iʻll tell you who you are. In these times, I paraphrase to say: Tell me your email subscriptions and Iʻll tell you who you are. Though these interests of mine are not necessarily related to politics, it turns out that we are on the same page when it comes to racism and black lives matter.
In my feed, I received Black Lives Matter anti-racist messages from: Afar(travel) Passion Passport (travel), Barnes and Noble (books), BookBub(books), Skillshare (art), Lauren Hom (art), Lilla Rogers (art), Fender (music), BMI (music), Bandcamp (music), Aloha Theatre (Kona, Hawaii) , Kumu Kahua Theatre (Honolulu, Hawaii) , Morning Smile (positive news), National Geographic (journalism), WIDA (education), Great Courses (education), Bioneers (environment), Motley Fool (investment advice), MindValley (self-development), TED (you know TED). Maybe my interests are typical of liberal-minded folks like me, but I donʻt think these interests listed above are necessarily political. But maybe. Something to think about. What do you think? Are people interested in what I’m interested in typically liberal, so my groups were not necessarily taking a risk, but speaking to the choir?
Choose — racist or anti-racist?
On a recent podcast, Unlocking Us, Brené Brown interviewed Ibram X. Kindi, author of How to Be an Anti-Racist. In his work, he writes that the opposite of racist is not “not racist” it is anti-racist. There is no in-between. You have to choose. You are either for equality or not, for justice or not, against racism or for racism. When you decide you are not racist, you need to have actions that reflect that. A Facebook friend thought she had a great idea to change #blacklivesmatter to #goodblacklivesmatter and posted pictures of “good” blacks and “ bad” — looters. I responded to her that it was a terrible idea and tried to explain why. She responded that sheʻs treating good and bad equally, and so she’s not racist. Well, she is, even if she won’t admit it.
When people react to Black Lives Matter with All Lives Matter, or in my friend’s case — Good Black Lives Matter (ugh, I hated typing that) it is not a neutral statement (or positive). It is racist because they are minimizing the issue, ignoring the injustice, turning a blind eye to the racism. Saying Black Lives Matter is recognizing that black people have been subject to racist policies for centuries in this country. It is most clearly manifested in police brutality. If we can prove by data that black people are disproportionately victims of police brutality (among other indicators), then we can agree that this is racist policy. If you disagree, and cannot present data disproving this claim, then you are racist.
By not taking a stand against racism, FOR Black Lives Matter, you are not being neutral, you are being racist. That may be hard to take, you may believe you are taking the higher road by not taking sides. It is, however, the lower road because you are taking a side of the racists by keeping silent, or saying All Lives Matter. It is the side that promotes oppression of certain groups. This countryʻs history is a mixed bag, with much to be ashamed of. We have a LOT of atoning to do, starting with the near genocide of Native people and the theft of their lands and then moving on to the slave trade and the repercussions of that, which we are experiencing now. Taking a neutral stand is cowardly and selfish. In reality, I know my “neutral” friends and family would not admit to being racist and also would not be on board to become an anti-racist. If this is the case, hey then— donʻt be racist! Donʻt say All Lives Matter because that is racist. Donʻt get in the way of police reform because continuing brutality is racist. Donʻt vote for people who perpetuate racism and are willing to use the military against people protesting against racism because that is racist. And fascist.
As Bob Dylan said, “Your old road is rapidly aginʻ, please get out of the new one if you canʻt lend a hand, for the times they are are changin.”
Putting my money where my values are
I am going to remember the organizations, businesses, and groups who took a stand. I donʻt mind that Iʻm being “marketed” to. We agree on this pressing issue. I want to continue to do business with you, be part of your non-profit, your community. I want to buy a Fender guitar. I ordered How to Be an Anti-racist from Barnes and Noble. I signed up for Skillshare.
In this vein, I was so excited that Just Mercy was being offered for free in June on many streaming services to provide a perspective into the reality of systemic racism. I found out that Netflix is not one the streaming services offering this. There was no explanation. I had been thinking about cancelling in the past when I found out that the CEO Reed Hastings was an ardent advocate for charter schools, which bothers me, as a public school advocate. I recently restarted Amazon Prime, and having both is too much for me. Amazon had Just Mercy, and Netflix did not. Though Amazon also has its issues, I decided to cancel my Netflix subscription. They asked why and I gave the reason — You didnʻt offer Just Mercy as the other services did, and I think that says something about you.
Choice Defines You
Especially in contentious issues like racism, choice defines you. Even being neutral is a choice. But whether or not you make a conscious choice, you are defining who you are and what you stand for. For businesses and organizations, it is an opportunity to be a bridge between the heart and soul of your organization and your ideal target audience. If you want someone like me, a lover of the arts, an educator and a creative person who wants to contribute to the healing of the world, you will take a stand. If you want someone like me, who has a little bit of disposable income to support the arts, environmental, and humanitarian causes, you will take the side of justice and against racism. And I’ll be there with you.
Diane Aoki is a writer who explores other modes of creativity as her intuition leads her.