Social justice

Why I Use My Voice to Say Black Lives Matter

Black lives matter. So do Black voices.

Through our shared humanity, all lives matter. So why is it important to talk about black lives mattering?

All lives should matter equally. That is the ideal, and probably most of us would agree that it’s the “right” thing. Unfortunately, though, in practice, not all lives are given equal value.

An obvious example would be what occurs in genocides. These have happened repeatedly throughout history, with the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar being a recent example. Simply because of characteristics they possess, certain lives are not seen as having worth.

For years in Canada, Indigenous women were going missing or being murdered at an alarmingly high rate. Because of systemic racism and the lasting effects of colonialism, police, the justice system, and governments treated those lives as though they didn’t matter.

Then you have Black people. Not that long ago, the life of a slave mattered only as much as the price the owner had paid for them. Later, Jim Crow laws continued to devalue black lives on a systemic level. When Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, held his knee on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, while a handcuffed Floyd lay prone on the ground repeating “I can’t breathe,” this was not one bad apple and one black man. This was a product of many years of history that has led to deeply entrenched racism within social institutions, and the devaluing of black lives that has gone along with that.

This systemic racism was also highlighted last week by Amy Cooper, a white woman, when she came across Christian Cooper (no relation), a black man who was birdwatching in New York City’s Central Park. After he told her that she was violating the area’s on-leash dog rules, he recorded her outburst that ensued. This comes from CNN:

“I’m taking a picture and calling the cops,” Amy Cooper is heard saying in the video. “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”

At a systemic level, law enforcement responds differently to Black people, and in particular Black men. Amy Cooper was not only aware of that, she chose to use that, presumably to her own perceived advantage. Had the two still been there when police arrived, it’s disturbing to think what might have happened.

So, why do we, any of us, need to say that black lives matter? Because, on a systemic level, black lives are consistently and repeatedly treated as less valuable.

Should all the lives matter equally? Absolutely, 100%. But for groups that are granted greater social privilege, whatever that privilege may arise from, their (and I include myself in that) lives matter more, on a systemic level, every day. Over and over again, the actions of not just people but, more importantly, social institutions demonstrate that black lives don’t matter.

I don’t need to remind myself, as a white person, that my life, and the lives of people who look like me, are not devalued at first sight because of our skin colour. White lives that are poor, homeless, working in the sex trade, mentally ill, and LGBTQ+, among other characteristics, are often devalued. But looking only at the immediately visible characteristic of skin colour, and looking at a systemic level that includes social institutions, white lives are treated as though they matter more than the lives of people of colour.

But unless I take the time to educate myself, it’s easy for me to assume that other lives are viewed and treated as equally important. I do try to educate myself, though, because that’s something that’s important to me, and what I see in the world around me is that, in practice, all lives do not matter equally.

I want all lives to matter equally, and that’s why I choose to stand as an ally and say that Black Lives Matter.


Further reading

On MH@H

You may be interested in the posts Social Privilege and the Underprivileged and Another Way of Looking at Social Privilege. Black Lives Matter has led calls to defund the police, and I’ve written about how that could benefit those of us with mental illness.

There’s more on the Social Justice, Equality, and Social Problems page.

On other sites

A well-known essay by Peggy McIntosh called White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack identifies 50 daily effects of white privilege that most of us don’t even think about.

Wikipedia has a good article on white privilege, which it describes as “societal privilege that benefits white people over non-white people in some societies, particularly if they are otherwise under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.”

The Wikipedia article on institutional racism, also known as systemic racism, explains the difference that between individual and systemic racism.


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56 thoughts on “Why I Use My Voice to Say Black Lives Matter”

      1. It is something I could back up with a book full of archived documents. Sadly, it is true.

  1. Well written, Ashley. When I lived in Japan for six months, I experienced racism, which at first was almost a novelty. After three or four months of not being allowed in certain places or the last seats taken on the subway next to me (some opted to stand instead of sit) it was not longer amusing. I have a feeling for black people in America it’s 10 times worse and they can’t get away from it as I did. It’s amazing stuff like this doesn’t happen more often. Hopefully the people who need to get the message and the people whose job it is to institutionalize change are working on a plan.

    1. I hope so. Racism can happen anywhere, but probably the amount of history behind it in a given area is more variable. Regardless of the who and the where, it should never be acceptable.

  2. I’ve been really upset by this story in the last few days. I’m not sure why it upset me so viscerally. It’s not like it’s a surprising development to anyone aware of US society. It just seems so brutal and pointless, even by the standards of other killings. It’s hard to see George Floyd’s death as anything other than deliberate murder.

    I’m reluctant to bring this up here, but the 50 points essay… almost ALL the points more or less affect me, even though I’m white, because I’m Jewish. Granted “race” isn’t quite the right word for Jewish identity, although in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries “race” was the usual descriptive term for Jewish identity (rather than “religion” or “ethnicity”) before the Nazis brought that into disrepute. But I get judged on being Jewish, other Jews are judged by me, people potentially make assumptions and generalisations, I rarely see other Jews on TV, and almost never religious ones (and when religious Jews do appear, it’s almost always a negative stereotype e.g. Unorthodox). It’s assumed that my political opinions are self-interested, shops mainstream don’t stock my food, Jewish history is only taught in Jewish schools, not mainstream schools… I could go on. This is my problem with the “privilege” metric: it’s not nuanced enough and it makes everything sound aggressive.

      1. When I first wrote this post I had mentioned antisemitism but then took it out because I didn’t think I could really capture it in a short paragraph. What’s striking for me in the United States is how entrenched racism is in the justice system, from police brutality to overrepresentation in the prison system. When we’re supposed to expect the justice system to protect us and do the right thing, police killing of unarmed black men undercuts that trust in societal institutions in a way that that many other kinds of prejudice and discrimination simply don’t do.

  3. This is so true. I hate to say this, but I never understood the extent of the problem until George Floyd was murdered. Then I got it. Previously, I believed that the “black lives matter” movement was sour grapes–like, well, of course the police are going to chase that guy! He’s fleeing a crime scene with a gun in his hand. Duh, Meg, get a clue. That’s not it. Black people have been treated like criminals when they’re completely innocent, when they’re pulled over for traffic violations, when they’re on the scene of any incident with a white person also involved, etc., etc. I never really saw that as being the truth, but I do see it now, and so I’m glad everyone’s protesting. I hate it that it takes a certain level of depravity for my eyes to open, but there it is. If nothing else, George Floyd didn’t die in vain.

    1. somethings can never be fully understood Meg, you are right. There’s always so much hidden from our eyes and it is easy to just take what is obvious as the truth. The real truth goes layers deep.

  4. I love this so much. We must use our platforms to speak out against injustice and systemic racism. Last night there were pockets of looters and violent rebellion in my city. There was a declared state of emergency, and an 830pm curfew. The only people arrested with guns were white agitators threatening the protesters. I live in a country that values property over peoples’s lives – it is no wonder that they destroy property as a means of protest.

    1. This is the pattern all around world.
      A few months ago similar peaceful protest were her in Delhi (saheen bagh), ppl specially muslims protesting for their rights, ended with ppl with guns threatening protesters, police brutality and then corona happened.

      All lives matter.

      Good luck

    1. Using your voice to highlight this movement at this critical time we see as an act of compassion, courage, and love. You have always seemed amazing to us. We are grateful to know you. Black lives matter!

  5. Thanks Ashley – really important post – it’s more obvious in the USA but systemic racism is a problem here too as in many places and it’s really important to speak out against all forms of oppression 👏👏

  6. Thank you for your post! I do just want to have a bit of time with you if I may! I think back and forth conversation is key to understanding and I really do want to understand deeply. Because racism is prevalent pretty much everywhere you go isn’t it safe to say that racism is a human issue? I believe that a lot of people try to play down racism by making jokes and to be honest, I don’t find it a laughing matter at all. Pretty much all of my life thus far I have been asked ” I can’t figure out your race, what are you?” ” You don’t look Mexican!” Black people are not just black. WE all come in such a wide variety of culture and heritage!! I wanna know. when will there be a day when I don’t have to be asked ” what even am I?” It’s such an uncomfortable question because it gets asked so out of the blue. Sad to say, I have become so uncomfortable in my own skin and I can only imagine how others must feel. We only wake up to stuff when it’s shoved in our faces! People wait to boil over in anger before they speak up. One day I had to jump a wall to get a frisbee and someone in their truck said ” climb that wall!” I knew what they were implying and it breaks my heart that people are just not getting the value of the human being! We are so freaking clueless to the beauty we all have!! Also, I would like to point out that white people are not just white either, they come from various cultures and backgrounds too. My point is, this is really not just a black and white sort of thing. In the behavior that I am seeing, there is so much good and decent people out there in the world who are making light in the wake of so much torment and destruction. Human being are resilient warriors, we only need to find that love is the cure! Love is so much more powerful than hate! Hate will only perpetuate the ill will that humans are imparting on this earth. We really don’t need to be right in these matters, right and wrong only create my friction, more decisiveness, more separation. In the span of a short week I have witnessed speckles of inspiration! I witnessed a man walk up to two homeless men and give them money. My mom couldn’t pay for her subway sandwhich so a random stranger standing in line paid for it! A stray cat came to my door today, eager for some love and attention! LOve is not hard to do if only we allowed ourselves to be free of the chains we have wrapped ourselves in.

    1. Racism is definitely a human issue, and prejudice and discrimination aren’t okay no matter where they’re directed. Stereotypes can be particularly problematic when they’re based on visible differences, as they’re activated at first sight before rational thought kicks in.

      And I agree, love and unity is how we can get through this.

  7. It’s a dreadful thing that happened in America Ashley and I agree with what you’ve said. It’s not okay for people to just say “I’m not racist”, they have to understand it, care about it and live it, like they mean it. Well done, for raising the topic.

  8. Such an important topic! Black lives matter. It’s horrible all the things which are now happening in the world. I’m going to read books and already donated money and signed petition

  9. Racism is pretty much global, and I understand the need for BLM. I hope that the outrage and energy to change will not die out but will continue so we can have meaningful changes. The whole unjust system needs to go. I’ve been on instagram talking to white friends, and I very appreciate this post of yours. <3

  10. I love that you confront your own biases and predispositions in your writing. That takes a lot of honesty and courage. Your voice is all the stronger for it. Very well-written.

  11. Great post straight from the heart! Discussing racial issues is tricky because it is such a sensitive subject and it is very polarized, still, I decided to write about it and throw my 5 cents into the mix. I wrote an article recently titled “Unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness looking back at history and where it all started https://authorjoannereed.net/rights-of-life-liberty-and-the-pursuit-of-happiness/. Feel free to check it out.

  12. Well , in every group of people you will notice difference ,it might be not your favorite but it is there . All lives matter and by that i mean All of Us no matter how we look or our standards .

  13. I agree with you but what i mean when i say different are the “resist , judgmental and the bad people. Hope you have a nice day

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