Black Lives Matter has been one of the most contested issues in modern rhetoric.
Stepping into any online conversation about Black Lives Matter will give you a crash course in the very emotional and aggressive rhetoric opposing the movement.
Rob Bliss, a YouTube producer and white man, made a video holding a “Black Lives Matter” sign in Harrison, Arkansas. The responses to him were filtered down versions of what one might read on the internet.
Here’s that video, as a crash course. (Content notice: slurs, threats, and swearing. Discretion advised.)
These are very similar to comments I have received on social media. To be clear, I have been an anti-racism activist for 22 years, and I am white.
White people should absolutely get behind the objectives of Black Lives Matter. Here’s why.
Racism won’t end until there is a level playing field. There will not be a level playing field until the majority of the voter base demands equity. By just the numbers, Black lives are a minority in this country and hold the least equity and leverage in power structures due to centuries of racism. It will take white action to balance the scales of justice.
Why Specifically Black Lives
Yes, all people can suffer oppression. People from all ethnic backgrounds are vulnerable to police brutality, to being pushed through the school-to-prison pipeline, to being a victim of discrimination based on some innate trait, etc.
This is true, but many of the systems that are in place that allow for and maintain oppression were specifically put in place to prevent Black people from participating or from having an equal shot at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
For example, redlining was a tactic used by lenders to prevent people– mostly Black people– from obtaining loans for home ownership. The practice has long been outlawed, though predatory and discriminatory lending practices persist, making financial stability nearly impossible for many people.
Redlining is one of the largest contributing factors between the gap in wealth between Black and white Americans, with economists estimating that it cost the average Black family an approximate $212,000 in wealth and assets today.
Another way that discrimination has disproportionately impacted Black citizens is gentrification, or the process of improving properties in an effort to bring in more affluent residents and increase property values. The impact is that families living in rent-controlled or low-rent areas are displaced.
Black residents are by far the most affected by gentrification. Other structural barriers like prejudice from educators, landlords, law enforcement, physicians, and employers contribute to not having equal access to build a safe and prosperous life.
Yes, these things can happen and do happen to white people, too.
It’s true, white people can be and have been affected by redlining and gentrification. Just like dolphins get caught in nets targeting tuna, white people can be caught in the wide nets cast to further segregated and discriminatory practices that maintain oppression against Black people.
Latinx people, Jews, Roma, Muslim Arabs and people from the Middle East, disabled people, LGBTQ+, East Asians, and especially Indigenous (Native American) citizens have also faced discrimination that has blocked their access to live freely, vote, and access equal opportunity to build a life; however, historically and presently, the most strident oppression and disproportionate injustice happens to Black people.
White People Are Not All Privileged
One of the most frequent responses to “Black lives matter” is “white lives matter, too,” or “all lives matter.” The resounding response to “white privilege” is “not all white people are privileged,” or “some white people have it worse than some Black people.”
Well, yes. That’s true.
A white, disabled child from an impoverished background, who has spent life in the flux of a rotating door of abusive placements and foster homes has less net privilege than, say, a Black disabled child of the same age, from a loving and safe middle class home in a nice neighborhood, who has had access to competent teachers and advocates, needed medical care, and community support.
In the karmic balance of privilege, the white child in that example has had far less net privilege.
Yet, that white, disabled foster child still has white privilege. This doesn’t mean that child doesn’t face larger barriers than the Black child in this example. It doesn’t mean that child is going to be immune to discrimination– it simply means that the basis for this discrimination isn’t racism.
Like for Matthew Rushin
Matthew Rushin is Black and Autistic. He grew up in a middle class two-parent home. His parents are both veterans who had gainful, stable careers. His family was very connected in their community, always volunteering and helping neighbors.
Matthew Rushin had access to private health insurance, supports in school, and many neighbors and community members who loved him and wanted the best for him. He had high ranking police officers and military members in his family, and so he had a pretty moderate amount of privilege.
Matthew lived a quiet life as an introvert. He played multiple instruments and composed beautiful music and poetry. He graduated high school with honors, and he was a mechanical engineering student at Old Dominion University.
He spent his free time helping elderly neighbors, folks with disability, and the homeless– really, anyone who needed it. In many ways, his life was similar to Elijah McClain’s.
Compared to the foster child in the aforementioned example, Matthew had substantially more net privilege. Until the day that he had a car accident, likely following having a seizure. Then, none of his privilege mattered.
Just a few short hours after this non-fatal accident, Matthew Rushin was charged attempted murder. Later, those charges would be increased to two counts of aggravated malicious wounding. Now, he is in prison serving 10 years of a 50 year sentence.
Why is the word “matter” used in “Black lives matter”? What does it mean, socially, to “matter”? The accountability for injustices against Black lives has been negligent, and the outrage against injustices haven’t been challenged.
To “matter” means that:
- when a Black child is missing, we give as much diligence and and care to locate that child
- when a Black child has a disability, we work as hard to accommodate that child and ensure they have equal access to supports to get a free and appropriate education
- when a Black citizen is wrongfully convicted, we fight as hard to exonerate that person and hold the justice system accountable
- when a Black life is ended or disrupted by police misconduct or violence, we do not assume that the victim somehow “deserved” it
- when laws and policies disadvantage Black people, we do not allow those unjust practices to continue
- we don’t look the other way when injustice is committed
- we don’t accept the narrative on local news which portrays Black lives as being randomly aggressive, violent, and guilty
So What Happens When White People Do Stand Against Racial Injustice
It depends. People are going to tell you that you’re being divisive. Strangers on the internet will accuse you of being paid by George Soros and CNN, they’ll call you a Marxist, and also tell you to get a job. You might be disowned from some friends and family– or many.
But the more involved you become, the more you realize that things are worse than anyone ever claimed they were. You will witness injustices happen in broad daylight, you will broadcast them from the top of your lungs, and there will be no accountability.
These glaring injustices happen before your eyes, you witness violent, active racism– sometimes from officials and officers– and it goes unchecked. You report it, it gets investigated by the perpetrators themselves, and you may even be laughed at for trying. Your most progressive politicians stop interacting with you, as if you don’t exist. The undercurrent to all of your pleading becomes, “This matters!”
If your activism is effective, you might be targeted.
I have been working to help exonerate Matthew Rushin, and I have become especially close with his mother, Lavern. Due to my fragile immune system and threats of COVID, I can’t attend events on the ground.
So, I watch the live streams available from those who are there. At a march to the Virginia Beach city hall to ask for justice for Matthew Rushin, I was watching for Lavern Rushin. She is a tiny woman with a broken heart and a giant spirit. A white man I didn’t know, RJ Brothers, was marching beside Lavern one day.
It was sunny, midday, the demonstration was peaceful, and there were local and national reporters present. The streets had been blocked off, so all appeared to be going well.
Until demonstrators turned the final corner on the way to the court house and police were everywhere.
Immediately, officers began trying to corral demonstrators onto the thin sidewalk, even though the roads were blocked. RJ Brothers was live streaming, right up until the moment this happened.
I was watching this happen, live, on two different people’s streams. When I heard, “You assaulted me,” my jaw dropped.
“You’re under arrest, Brothers.”
This officer knew who RJ was. Later, I would find out that RJ was a former corrections officer. He’d crossed the proverbial “thin blue line.” Here’s that arrest from another angle.
And for perspective, here’s Matthew Rushin’s mother, Lavern. RJ was walking beside her on the left.
Supposedly, RJ “bumped” the officer.
Since Captain Orr knew who RJ was, did he also know that RJ has an artificial knee? Or was this gratuitous violence for nothing?
Assault in Virginia
In Virginia, an assault against an officer is a class 6 felony punishable by 1-5 years in prison with a mandatory minimum of six months.
Two criteria must be present for an assault to happen:
- The act was intended to cause apprehension of harmful or offensive contact; and
- The act indeed caused apprehension in the victim that harmful or offensive contact would occur.
The person committing an assault has to have the intention of harming someone or causing that person to fear being physically harmed. A person who is livestreaming, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” with a phone in one hand and the other hand in the air and carrying no weapons, is not committing an assault. A person trying to sidestep when an officer physically steps in his path is not committing an assault. I’d argue he’s trying to avoid one.
Now, RJ will face the same justice system that put Matthew Rushin in prison. The sheriff, Ken Stolle, is the brother of the Commonwealth Attorney, Colin Stolle. Chris Stolle, another brother, was a delegate until 2019. Siobhan Stolle Dunnavant, sister, is a state senator.
Looking at the Stolle campaign donors, they are for-profit prison vendors and lawyers. Lots and lots of lawyers. I learned that RJ was arrested just a couple weeks prior following a protest. He was livestreaming that one, too:
Being out after curfew…
Then, a few days ago, while RJ was livestreaming again, this happened:
He screams, “HELP!” and you hear the officer say, “Now you wanna cry for help.” RJ has ADHD and PTSD. I can imagine the PTSD is worse, now. Now, he has to face the same justice system that put Matthew Rushin in prison for having what appears to have been a seizure.
No attorney wants to even take the case, and if they do, it will cost thousands to simply avoid prison. A felony conviction will mean loss of voting rights, loss of his small business, loss of his second amendment rights, and loss of days he will never get back from being spent with the children and family who love him.
The Bottom Line
We haven’t advanced enough as a country if this can happen, unchecked. If a white person proclaiming that Black lives do, indeed, matter can garner this much antagonism, that should be a testament to how entrenched the racism is in our society’s structures. If people can show outrage over it, if there are videos, if reporters are present– and it still happens, then we’re not much further than where we were in the 1950s.
But Black lives do matter, and Justice is worth fighting for, and we will only get there when enough people have taken the risks that RJ Brothers has taken.
As an autistic person, and the parent of an autistic child, I’m grateful for the risks that activists like RJ have taken stand up for Matthew Rushin.
More-so, I’m grateful for the Black activists who have been doing this thankless and dangerous work for centuries. We all should be, because a fight for Black lives is a fight for human lives. Making life safer for Black children makes life safer for my child.
Making life safer for Black autistic lives means a safer world for my child.
Black autistic lives matter. #FreeMatthewRushin