White Discomfort Does Not Trump Black Lives

by Corrigan Vaughan
Originally Published: 
Yana Paskova / Getty Images

Before you respond to this video by lecturing me on how #bluelivesmatter or #alllivesmatter or whatever else, take a second to imagine this reality. Imagine actually living it. Yes, all people’s lives DO matter, and no one is disputing that, but there are groups of people in this country who have to fight to be treated that way.

On many occasions, I’ve tried to strategize what I would do instead of calling the police if I were in certain situations like a home invasion or a mugging. I think about how I’d try to get far away before calling if it was absolutely necessary, so I don’t get mistaken for the bad guy, or just shot because I moved too fast and the officer was scared of me.

One day, I found a frightened, white toddler wandering lost around my apartment complex, and I couldn’t bring myself to hold her hand because I was afraid someone would call the police on me. Even when the CHP pulled up to help me after I got into a car accident, my heart was racing and I was trying to remember if they had guns or not. I’ve imagined what photo they’d use to make me look like I deserved to be killed, and what incident from my past would surface to show that the world was better off without me.

Me. The PhD student who’s been called an Oreo her whole life. I’m terrified of police.

When Obama was elected, I was naively hopeful, too. Since then, I’ve watched friends who once actually seemed like allies embrace racist and jingoistic rhetoric as politics and ideology started once again demanding white people and people of color sit at different lunch counters. To assert that black people should not be executed in the street for minor offenses is framed as “anti-police,” and for black people to celebrate their history and culture has been framed as “anti-white,” because our country has bought into the lie that for people of color to be treated as equals means that white people will be treated as lesser.

Just take a minute to think about what it is that scares you about white people becoming a minority, or about acknowledging that racial prejudice plays a role in ALL of our consciousness, no matter what color we are, or that disproportionate incarceration and housing discrimination and employment discrimination and gerrymandering and on and on actually do affect the lives of people of color more than they affect white people.

Yes, these things affect white people, but differently, and not as much. Not. As. Much. Why is acknowledging that so fraught? Is it perhaps because we know already that the system is rigged, and to call it out means risking having it rigged the other way? Shouldn’t it worry us that we can see that things are unequal, but the reaction is to preserve the status quo so that the balance of power doesn’t tip the other way?

We’ve been lied to.

We’ve been had.

We’ve been manipulated to believe that black and white power cannot coexist, but instead require a winner and a loser.

We think it’s perfectly normal and acceptable to live in a country that carries on like the Hunger Games, where the only way to avoid upsetting the power structure is to pit the people against one another and make them enemies.

This country is not white vs. black, or police vs. black, or immigrant vs. citizen, or any other binary opposition we accept as part of the game of America. But it sure is convenient to frame it that way so that we pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

When we say “black lives matter” and you respond “blue lives matter,” you’re not telling us something we don’t know. You’re saying police lives matter MORE — like you think we’re two opposing sports team cheering our own and booing our competition.

The thing is, while there will always be a subset of people who celebrate violence against those who they feel have wronged them, the vast majority of people trying to get the point across that black lives matter do not want to see harm come to police, white people, or anyone else.

We’re not trying to win. We want to play for the same team.

I know your knee-jerk reaction right now is to not even finish reading what I wrote because all you want to do is fight me and tell me that my reality is not, in fact, real.

Don’t do it.

Think about it.

Sit on it for a little bit.

Consider how it feels to me every time you post a crime committed by a black person and say, “A HA! SEE!! Why is no one talking about these thugs?” Everyone is talking about the thugs. That’s why we need the conversation about how most of us AREN’T thugs. We need it because every day we see our Facebook friends and the media and politicians trying to prove to us that we’re the bad guys, and telling us that if we’d just be good, obedient little boys and girls, we would be A-OK.

We won’t be.

We’re not going to be okay until our power and our equality are not seen as threats. We’re not going to be okay until non-criminal black people are seen as the rule, not the exception; until our white friends stop cheering when police act as judge, jury, and executioner on city streets; until our white friends hurt when we hurt instead of trying to blame us for hurting.

Yes, we will keep teaching our children to acknowledge that the world is unsafe for them, even if that makes white people uncomfortable. White discomfort does not trump black lives.

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