Thoughts by Madison Mead
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If you or someone you know is struggling to understand what’s going on right now, please spend a few moments engaging in this. Before you swipe or click away and say “oh just another liberal SJW” or something of the sort let me promise to you I am going to attempt to remove myself from the liberal, social justice world in which I typically operate and give it to you straight. What’s going on right now is so much bigger than opinion and extends far, far beyond political identity.
There are many struggling to understand why so many people are speaking up and engaging in the Black Lives Matter movement right now… and you know what? That’s okay, but I hope after reading this you may be able to consider why your friends, family, Facebook friends, and neighbors are so passionately fighting for this right now.
There is a biological and evolutionary reason many are struggling to get behind what’s happening across our nation. Neurologists call it the “Backfire Effect” – Essentially, our brain has evolved to protect us and our psyche because the world is a confusing and scary place. As we grow, our brain forms this sort of figurative hard shell around our own being. This shell is composed of the way our parents raise us, the lessons our teachers share, and the society and culture in which we grow up. This shell allows us to feel safe and secure as human beings on this planet. When someone proposes something that challenges this shell, it is our brains internal defense mechanism to treat it like a threat, thus, we often get defensive and enraged when someone says something we do not agree with or were not raised to agree with. This neurological response happens to every human being no matter where they lie on the spectrum of political and social opinion.
Now, the reason a lot of people are mad and enraged by the Black Lives Matter movement is because the society we live contributes to our own internal shell. And guess what American society has a history with? Yes, please don’t let me lose you here, America has a history with white supremacy. The violence and oppression against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color is a very real part of our history that still exists today. Every single American History textbook outlines this: we began with the slaughter of Indigenous people, then the ownership of Black slaves and eventual emancipation, followed by the KKK, segregation, and the Civil Rights movement. Then, around the time WW2 ended, many poor individuals moved into the cities for resource access. White people, historically, had more money and did not enjoy being surrounded by BIPOC (because that’s just the way society operated at the time), so they fled to the suburbs and the modern institutionalization of racism within our cities and schools began. Yes, I’m making big steps here but the actual progress towards a more equal world for non-white people was and has been VERY incremental.
It’s easier for many of us to think we no longer live in a racist world, because it honestly hurts to think we may have been contributing in any way to the oppression and pain of another human being. Our brain shell doesn’t want us to believe this because it goes against everything we’ve ever been told by society and taught in school. This challenges the comforting idea that we’ve made progress as a nation, and (as explained earlier) that challenges our own security in who we are and what kind of world we live in.
But what we are all bearing witness to right now across the world, and especially in the United States, is that we do not live in a world without racism. We just don’t. The easiest way it seems for us to understand that right now is through the devastating death of George Floyd, because watching the video of his death makes any humane person feel pain and hurt. Now, this is just one name on a very long list of Black people killed by police officers who have not ever faced fair repercussions for their actions (my definition of fair here is the same way any other person who blatantly killed another would be held accountable).
Right now we are all recognizing there is a serious pattern within our criminal justice system- a system that statistically shows unfair treatment towards BIPOC. Through this moment right now, we are able to recognize that police brutality and incarceration does target Black people and endanger their lives for no real reason besides race. This is not an opinion, if you spend any real time researching this history it’s quite obvious this is what’s at play. I’m not telling you you can’t have your own opinion, I’m just conveying that those involved in the movement right now are not so out of opinion. They are involving themselves in serious action because they recognize that our system needs to change.
So, with all this said, I want to seriously encourage anyone reading to this to take a moment and reflect. Are you feeling defensive when someone tries to talk to you about white supremacy? Why do you feel this way? Do you feel that you NEED to be against Black Lives Matter because of your political identity, or do you genuinely believe racism is not real? Do you think it doesn’t exist, or do you think your brain is telling you that so you can feel safer and more comfortable as a person?
Black people do not have the ability to feel safe in this country, no matter what their brains want to tell them. The hard shell around their brains is formed by Black parents who have to tell their children to keep their hands out of their pockets. To watch over their shoulder. To not trust the police because they may be killed by them one day. Things my white parents never had to say to me.
I promise that you can be a republican and support Black Lives Matter. I promise you you can be conservative and recognize there is injustice within our history. I SWEAR TO YOU that we can work to exist within a two party system that unites itself on the matter of human lives.
This is not a matter of opinion anymore. This is a matter of human life. Our country was built upon the idea that we possess individual rights and that these rights can not be infringed upon by our government. So what gives us the right to deny African Americans the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? What gives us the right to deny Black people the ability to vocalize the danger and injustice they face in their lives?
We can build (or rebuild) something beautiful right now. We are on the cusp of a nation that is safe and free for its people We just need to listen. To understand what is happening, why it’s happening, and how we can change.