January 18, 2017

Black Lives Matters or All Lives Matters…Why Does it Matter?

By Guest Blogger and Delta Concepts consultant, Brad Wilkinson

On its surface, it can certainly sound more inclusive – “All Lives Matter”. But lurking just beneath the surface of this seemingly inclusive comment is, to me, the bigger problem. Many white people simply don’t know and don’t accept that black people’s experience with police & law enforcement in this country is life-threateningly different from their own. That difference in treatment is based on skin color and many have died because of it.

For me, that’s what the BLM movement is saying. (To learn more:  http://www.blacklivesmatter.com). They’re not bashing police but simply pointing out a deadly difference that needs to stop. I believe being supportive of BLM isn’t mutually exclusive with supporting police and law enforcement. As a citizen, I want our police fully staffed, trained and compensated for the work they choose to take on. And I think it was Colin Kaperneck http://(http://www.espn.com/blog/san-francisco-49ers/post/_/id/18957/transcript-of-colin-kaepernicks-comments-about-sitting-during-national-anthem) who pointed out that some cosmetologists require more training and education than do many of our armed police. If all lives really do matter then let’s all be for helping train & equip our law enforcement to cut down on all lethal force incidents across the country.

BLM Logo

From an inter-cultural perspective, lack of knowledge also leads us to minimize differences & thereby, focus on similarities. We want all life to matter so expressing “All Lives Matter” strives to point out that similarity – we want everybody’s life to matter regardless of race. And, simultaneously, the deadly difference isn’t being acknowledged or addressed. Additionally, minimizing can also lead us to see differences as “less than” thereby avoiding or altogether denying legitimacy. Claiming BLM to support violence against police & law enforcement reflects this “less than” type of minimization. Overall, minimization lessens the importance of another person’s experience. The intent or desire may be to find connection, the potential impact is the opposite.

The developmental response to minimization is focus on exploring and learning about the differences. For white people, this means learning some history, doing some listening and potentially stretching our comfort zones. With the benefit of hindsight, I asked myself, as a white person who grew up on a cotton farm in rural southern US during the 1960’s & 70’s, what would I suggest for white people who desire to be allies? These three strategies come to mind:

  1. Educate Yourself Around the Context of Race In The United States.

To know the context of race in this country, you need to understand YOUR relationship with race in this country. With this knowledge, you can then begin to understand OTHERS’ relationship with race in this country and how it IS and ISN’T similar to yours. Some reading that helped me along this path includes but isn’t limited to the following: Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter, Slaves In The Family by Edward Ball, Acting White by Stuart Buck, The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould, and Slave in a Box, The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima by M.M. Manring.

  1. Practice “Contact Theory” In Your Life – Personally & Professionally

Regularly look for ways to actively engage and be with people not like yourself. I’m not suggesting you “go get yourself a new best friend”. However, I am suggesting you be willing to move outside your comfort zone. Here are some conditions that make for contact theory’s best results: Voluntary, Equal Status, Common Goals, Intergroup Cooperation, Authority Support. This can certainly help us in the workplace to access more diverse talent. Check out this clip of Scott Horton explaining affinity bias: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_52T8ufdZM&t=98s

  1. Listen For The Need

Marshall Rosenburg, in his amazing work around the language of nonviolence http://www.nonviolentcommunication.com/aboutnvc/aboutnvc.htm, speaks to our listening to each other to hear what needs are not being met. It requires us to focus less on who is better/right and more on how needs can be met. Ask yourself, “What need do I hear BLM supporters expressing as “not being met”? “What is my need when it comes to race relations in the US?” “What’s the need I hear in the ‘All Lives Matter’ response?”