"I was one of the protesters who peacefully demonstrated in the heart of Downtown Monroe," Samantha Oetting wrote.
I write today about the recent call to action in support for the “Black Lives Matter” movement following the tragic and unnecessary death of George Floyd. I'm using my white, educated privilege to speak up.
I was one of the protesters who peacefully demonstrated in the heart of Downtown Monroe. A majority of those who stood outside St. Mary's church, in front of the Custer statue, were white. While we received an overwhelming amount of supportive applause and honking, there were still many locals who would drive by shaking their heads. Some even screamed out their window in opposition, saying “all lives matter” or “blue lives matter.” (See news report)
I am not here to negate either of these statements. I am writing to point out the tone deafness of those who fervently screamed these statements and continued to repeat them behind the comfort of their phone screen. You are all missing the point of “Black Lives Matter.” For a moment, as you read this article, please imagine yourself in the skin of an African-American man; a person who has systematically been oppressed and put at a disadvantage since the time he was born. He has less resources and opportunities compared to his white peers. He is a man who is more likely to have a gun drawn on him by a police officer than a white man who commits a similar crime, or not having committed a crime at all.
For those who screamed “blue lives matter!” I don't disagree with you. I appreciate the protection that our police provide us, and their service is necessary. BUT, when you attempt to invalidate the “Black Lives Matter” movement with these statements, you are drawing a clear line on where you stand in regard to the value of an entire race.
When police officers knowingly sign up for a job that comes with the hazard of putting their life on the line, they are AWARE of the risk. When a person of color is born, there should NOT be a risk on their life just because of the color of their skin, period. People of color don't take an oath or consent to put their lives on the line just because they happen to be black. That is the point of “Black Lives Matter.”
Just because an individual is black doesn't devalue his worthiness of being human. All humans have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But, unfortunately, people of color have been denied these opportunities time and time again, and it's time for that to end.
To white community members who are seeking this change, it starts with you. Real meaningful and impactful change starts within our homes. Have those difficult conversations that we avoid having at Thanksgiving; it's time to talk to our older populations that don't seem to “get it.”
Yes, it will be uncomfortable for both you and your peers, but real change is right there, on the other side of those uncomfortable moments. What is more uncomfortable is having to see another news article about an unarmed black man being killed by a white police officer. When we make small changes on a regular basis, they compound, giving us greater and longer-lasting results. For those who refuse to have this conversation, recognize that your silence is violence, and is a proxy vote to maintain the status quo that so desperately needs to change.
To put it cheekily, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” You have a responsibility to stand up for your peers of color. Educate your racist family members and be smart about it. Be diplomatic and tactful, and don't succumb to “stooping to their level,” if the conversation becomes heated. Screaming, name-calling or degrading them will only create more division. I know you desperately want to delete them all from social media, but don't. We also need to listen more carefully and educate ourselves on our own ignorance, too.
If you're one of those individuals who screamed at us in opposition to our peaceful protest or completely disagree with the notion that “black lives matter,” I ask that you seek a deeper relationship with God. The most important line spoken in the Bible is, “Love thy neighbor, as I love thy self.” If you love yourself, then treat the people of color around you with equal love. They have done nothing wrong to deserve negative or oppressive treatment from you.
A neighbor isn't just a noun exclusively reserved for the person who lives next door to you; it's also for the person who stands next to you in line at the grocery store — who just might happen to be black.
Samantha Oetting lives in Monroe.