A comprehensive list of things you shouldn’t say when talking about the Black Lives Matter movement

George Floyd was murdered at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis earlier this week, sparking protests all over the US. The people of the UK have since held demonstrations in London and Manchester, standing in solidarity with Black Lives Matter (BLM) and protestors in America.

The attention George Floyd’s death has garnered unfortunately brings with it the inevitable opinions of many others who, perhaps, can’t see the wood for the trees. While the rest of the world understandably protests the despicable and ongoing police brutality in America, there is also much attention spent on picking apart what’s “wrong” with the demonstrations- displaying a lack of awareness at best, blatant ignorance at worst.

Here’s what I think: If you choose to pick apart the plight of the oppressed instead of standing in solidarity with the message, you choose the other side. If you stay silent, you choose the other side. If you fail to educate yourself and those around you about social injustices, you choose the other side.

And if choose the other side, inadvertently or otherwise, you may need to confront your white privilege, internalised racism, or subconscious prejudices. The problems being protested are police brutality and institutional racism – comments about the nature of a protest are inconsequential when standing next to the necessary fight against these systemic corruptions.

Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on.

Scott Woods

You may not even realise what you’re saying is a result of subconscious bias, because the system is built to be prejudiced even under the guise of anti-racism.

Here’s a list of things that shouldn’t be part of the discussion, and why.

“But all lives matter”

All lives aren’t racially profiled and targeted for the colour of their skin. All lives aren’t scared to be pulled over by the police for no reason. All lives aren’t seen as a threat simply for existing. The system is flawed in order to oppress and block the opportunities of people of colour – so, while you, an individual, believe we’re all equal, institutionally and socially, certain groups of people aren’t seen that way. The fact that Amy Cooper was able to say, “I’ll tell the police that an African-American man is threatening my life” is because she knew her life is more valued by the system than Christian Cooper’s, based solely on the colour of his skin.

There is nothing wrong with believing that, to you, we all matter equally, but saying “all lives matter” as an argument against the BLM movement detracts from the issue that black lives should matter more than they do.

“I don’t agree with looting/destruction”

First of all, under normal circumstances looting is an issue. Right now, however, there is a need for a stronger call to action. People of colour have been treated so poorly by the bodies that govern America that it is difficult to argue against a means of protest that the movement sees fit. While I agree that it is devastating to small business owners as well as people’s jobs and livelihoods, the sentiment here is that there are bigger issues than these. Usually, destroying businesses and buildings is wrong, but protesting is about challenging the system, and when the challenge isn’t heard, what are people to do? However, looting was just a small part of the protests, but the message itself is what we should be talking about.

Riots are not the problem, riots are a symptom of the problem.

Yolanda Renteria

Additionally, the fires and destruction are physical manifestations of the pain that is being inflicted on communities across America – buildings can be rebuilt, but the copious lives lost cannot. The loss of a business vs the loss of a life is not a conversation we should be having, ever.

If it’s difficult for you to understand why people resort to violence, it probably means your privilege has protected you from being put in a situation where you feel you have no other choice.

Yolanda Renteria

While it might seem unrelated to the protest, it should be seen as another piece in the puzzle that will hopefully provoke real change. We should stand in solidarity, no matter what the cost to individuals, because the message is too important.

Restaurant owner in Minneapolis stands in solidarity with the protests

“Why not just peaceful protesting?”

If peaceful protesting worked, something would’ve changed already. Donald Trump famously launched a tirade of abuse at NFL players who took a knee during the national anthem, encouraging fans to leave the stadium if they saw players kneeling. This is peaceful and impactful protesting, denounced by the President, and many people still took to Twitter to discuss their disapproval. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t provoke the change that needs to happen. Aside from this, the current protests across America did start off peacefully, and became hostile when police began using forceful tactics. There comes a time when we must question why (mostly white) gun-toting protestors were able to storm a Michigan State House with minimal resistance, but a Black Lives Matter demonstration was met with batons and tear gas. The same protestors that were carrying weapons were called “good people” by the President, yet those armed only with signs were labelled “thugs”.

“He’s already been arrested/justice has been served”

Just because one police officer has been arrested and charged, doesn’t mean the problem will go away. An arrest isn’t justice, there’s still a good chance he could be acquitted, found not guilty, or given a reduced sentence. The high likelihood of Derek Chauvin walking free or receiving a low sentence depending on the judge or jury is disturbing. This isn’t justice when the system is built to allow these things to happen to certain people over others. There have been countless cases where white males have evaded justice for criminal acts based on “their lives would be ruined”, see: Brock Turner. While black men are statistically given harsher sentences on little evidence, for example, see: The Central Park Five. Truthfully, I cannot tell you what justice would look like after so much despotism, but I know a short stretch for manslaughter is not good enough.

“The truth is: things like this happen when people feel powerless, it came to this because we have people that do not care in positions of power, and it should not be that way.”

Bibi Abdullah, whose mother’s restaurant was destroyed in Minneapolis

“Protestors will cause a second wave”

I know this is a concern for many people, and I can empathise that this is a fear for those in the “at risk” categories – but look at it this way, people of colour have died at the hands of institutional powers for long enough. Potential deaths cannot come above the actual deaths of many. Why do we care enough to talk about a second wave, but not enough to spend that energy talking about the issue being protested? Another way to look at it: the virus may threaten your life now, and that is very real for you, but this is impacting everyone, on top of which, police brutality has threatened the lives of people of colour for many years before now. The virus is also threatening the lives of people of colour, so, too, is the abuse of institutional powers. Privilege may come in the form of worrying more about the spread of a virus that’s been around no longer than a year, than ever thinking about the consistent and sustained abuse of power within the system. Not fearing the police is a privilege that not all people are afforded.

Our lives begin to end the day we are silent about things that matter.

Martin Luther King JR.

“But that’s America’s problem”

As much as we would like to think that these things don’t happen here, the unfortunate reality is that they do. It may not be as overt as the happenings in America, but it exists. This Sunday Times article indicates that investigations are ongoing into allegations of racially motivated brutality in the West Midlands police force. The same issues occur in the UK, but regardless of whether it is our problem or not, standing in solidarity with America is still important. Just because we think it isn’t happening on our patch of the world, doesn’t mean we are absolved of responsibility to do what we can.

I can understand why some people say the above, but the point is that we need to forget the individual acts and see the bigger picture of discrimination.

The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fighting racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And that’s the only way forward.

Ijeoma Oluo

We have grown up in a society where these aren’t issues that are taught in school, rather, we learn as we expose ourselves to external influences and the experiences of others. This is especially true in Britain, where systemic racism largely manifests as an undercurrent of microaggressions. My parents always taught me to treat everyone equally, and it wasn’t until I was older that I realised that this is a privilege that some aren’t always guaranteed.

Being stuck inside has allowed us the time to take note of what is going on in the world. There is time, now, for a lot of us, to confront the many injustices in society, and how they relate to us. It is important that we use the time wisely.

This article was written with contributions from Amanda Loviza and Jerry Li


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One thought on “A comprehensive list of things you shouldn’t say when talking about the Black Lives Matter movement

  1. Thanks for including Trevor Noah’s clip. That was really well done by him and gave some good questions to ask ourselves. You also hit a bunch of the questions and comments that need to be addressed. Focus needs to be on why this is happening and why these murders should never have happened and should never happen again. The riots are a symptom of the problems that never get taken care of.

    Hoping for the best for all, and that change for the better is on the way.

    Liked by 1 person

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