Black Lives Matter. It is an impactful phrase. It was created to show the importance of black lives. It is not to say, “only” black lives matter. It is to say when thinking about laws and policies, education, social programs, economics, and everything else, to think about and include black lives. It is difficult to think and understand another’s perspective, especially when it comes to experience so large as the black experience.
It is difficult to go through life and think about how your experience is not like someone else’s experience. Have you ever gone to a hair salon and wondered if they would know how to do a certain hairstyle or have the correct products? Have you ever been stared at while walking around a store?
Have you ever had to think about where your hands are at any given moment, and what might be in or around them, that could look like a weapon? It is hard to comprehend what that experience is like, especially when we are surrounded by white stories.
When thinking of the authors you read, or the directors you watch, or music you listen to, or the plays you see, how many people of color are in the narratives or stories? How many people of color are the authors, directors, or musicians you consume?
This is where white privilege comes in. It is not saying that you have a higher socio-economic level. It is not saying you are wealthy, or you never have struggles. But you can see yourself in any profession. You can turn on the TV and see people who look like you, who share similarities with you. When you go shopping, your food is not in the “ethnic” aisle because you are not “ethnic” you are “normal.”
When discussing all of these privileges, it is hard to wrap your head around it. The classic article to look at is called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh. This article was written in 1989. Peggy MacIntosh discusses what white privilege is and the different things carried around that are a part of that privilege.
The article touches on systemic racism. This racism is not as overt as a person yelling racial slurs or refusing to serve someone on the basis of their skin. This is the racism that makes this behavior acceptable. A person does not need to refuse service openly if there are laws in place that prohibit it. A person of color, especially a black individual, is more likely to be convicted of the same crime as a white person. A police officer is more likely to be patrolling a black neighborhood than a white one. These feelings and ideas are built into the systems, systems like government, policy, police, education, and economics.
To see these experiences helps show the importance of Black Lives Matter. It helps people to see the differences. It is not about understanding. How can you understand a person’s lived experience without living it? But watching movies and reading books helps open ourselves up to what can
be seen and learned about the black experience.
Watching a movie like Do The Right Thing by Spike Lee helps to show what gentrification looks like. Watching movies like I am Not Your Negro, Selma, Just Mercy, and 13th help give a history lesson of how we got here. The Hate U Give gives a very modern lens of what is happening now. It is eye-opening to read the book and watch the movie and compare it to what is happening now.
Reading books can help us understand where we were, and where we want to go. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo is the big book now to talk
about the blindspots in people’s privilege. It helps go further into white privilege and what it means. How to be an Antiracist; Stamped: Racism,
Resources to See a Different Experience by Michael Sorenson
Black Lives Matter. It is not to say, “only” black lives matter. It is to say when thinking about laws and policies, education, social programs, economics, and everything else, to think about and include black lives.
Anti Racism, and You: A Remix (and Jason Reynolds); and Stamped from the Beginning all by Ibram X. Kendi give an overview of how our
society got to now, and where we can go. Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad helps you to understand your place in our society. Talking
to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell shows the importance of communication when discussing these topics. So You Want to Talk About Race
by Ijeoma Oluo is important when it comes to communication and what our current context is. Finally, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
helps to show one part of the new systemic racism that was put in place.
These books give a deeper understanding.
They are all important books, but very heavy books. These are not light topics to delve into. They take time, though, patience, and an understanding that these were written as a response to lived experience. These are not fantasies or fictional. These are important books that move us
to the future.
For lighter books to delve more into the lived experience, Young Adult books have really paved the way. These are all fictional books written from the black experience. The Hate U Give is probably the most popular. As discussed earlier, it gives a current example of the feelings of a young girl in a black neighborhood going to a white private school. It helps show her perspective of living in two very different worlds. Dear Martin by Nic Stone is about the struggles of a young man as he goes into white spaces where he does not belong. Ghost by Jason Reynolds is about the story of a young man who tries to navigate a path out of poverty through sport. Finally,
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison is a powerful book on what it was like to grow up a black girl in a white society.
For those not as inclined to read, there are audiobooks for the above but also some good podcasts. The two biggest ones are the
1619 Project from the New York Times and Scene on Radio: Seeing White. Both of these podcasts delve into the historical context around racism and how it developed over time.
No matter how you choose your time, watching movies, reading books, listening to podcasts, it is important to educate yourself on those around you. Without an openness to hearing the lived experiences of people who do not look like you, it is hard to understand these big topics of why Black Lives Matter; and what is white privilege and systemic racism. Listening to others’ stories is important. For those who might not have friends who are willing to talk and be the voice of their race, or people who might be
uncomfortable hearing these stories, these resources help. They are not a definitive list of what to read, watch, or listen to, but this is a list of courageous people willing to share their stories. Also, these resources are not here to say, “Oh, now I understand,” and “Oh, you must be feeling this because that is how Starr felt in The Hate U Give.” Instead, this is just a way to get a peek into the lived experiences of people around you.