The Black Lives Matter movement has become one of the most powerful social justice movements in the 21st century and it needs to be understood. This is a movement that has been criticized with counter statements of #AllLivesMatter #BlueLivesMatter etc. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement started just over three years ago after the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin by a volunteer neighborhood watchman named George Zimmerman. Later in 2014, the movement gained footing after the police shooting of Michael Brown Ferguson.
I attempted to find the statistical data on the number of people killed by police, in particular of racial disparity. However, the data is unreliable as the police forces in the U.S.A. are not all required to provide racial demographics, although some do. However, a study was conducted by Ross (2015) who examined the U.S. Police-shooting Database (USPSD) in order to study the racial bias in the police shootings of civilians. This study indicated a significant bias in the killing of unarmed black Americans, in direct comparison to unarmed white Americans. More specifically, the study indicates that the odds of being black, unarmed and shot by the police is 3.49 times higher than of a white unarmed American. To be clear the USPSD database is collected through an open contribution campaign by Kyle Wagner in 2014. Furthermore, an independent analysis by the Washington Post indicated that the only significant predication on whether an unarmed civilian would be shot by the police in the U.S. was whether or not they were black. Lastly, a report by the San Francisco district attorney’s office on police practices reported racial disparities regarding S.F.P.D stops, searches, and arrests, in particular for black people. In 2015 black people accounted for over 42% of all non-consent searches whereas black people account for less than 15% of the population. Overall, the official raw data on the number of people being killed by the police is quite unreliable. However, what we do know is that the raw statistics cannot tell us whether there is an actual inherent bias in the way in which the police are treating black people. Nevertheless, what we can do is examine each case independently and most importantly we can listen to the black community.
More importantly, the BLM movement is not only about the partiality of police treatment but speaks to more than just that. This movement is about the social inequality faced by black people in all aspects of life: Education, more than 42% of black children are educated in poverty-stricken schools and neighborhoods. The unemployment rate for black high-school drop outs is 47% in comparison to 26% for white Americans. Homelessness, black people make up about 37% of the homeless given that they only make up 13% of the U.S. population.
We need to hear their voices and their concerns, and what the Black Lives Matter movement is telling us that there is a serious concern.
The Black Lives Matter movement has been called into question, in particularly with the recent shooting and killing of five police officers during a BLM movement protest in Dallas. There have been outcries of #AllLivesMatter #BlueLivesMatter and whilst both claims are undeniable so is the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Many are arguing that the statement of #BlackLivesMatter fuels division and has undertones of racism in itself. However, those arguing this are missing the most basic point – that apparently when it comes to social equality black lives do not matter.
We live in a world today where anything and everything is on for display, so we attempt to always put our best face forward. We want to believe that we have overcome racism and prejudice because the lynching and slavery of black people has stopped. We have established the right to vote for women and colored people and we don’t separate the whites from the colored. Yet we continue to silence the voices of the most vulnerable in society.
Furthermore, racism is not always about white versus black, and we here in Vancouver can recognize that. As an Indo-Canadian I grew up during the times when racism was very explicit and in your face. Where I was once told as a child I could not use a restroom because it wasn’t for people ‘like me.’ I can also argue the number times I have heard of Indians being racist towards others, sometimes even their own ‘kind’.
However, is it so hard for us to believe that possibly we have socially constructed the black community in a certain way; that may lead some police officers to be more tactically offensive when dealing with a black individual? The question is not why these social inequalities exist, but more so how these inequalities continue to exist and where do they stem from?
I cannot speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself- as a young woman who was born from immigrant parents in Nanaimo B.C., who grew up in Surrey and in the last three years moved to London, U.K. to pursue my PhD. My contact with the black community for the majority of my entire life was very limited, until I moved to London. It wasn’t until I moved to London, and I became friends with many black people that I had realized that I prejudged them before I knew them. These judgements were not all bad judgments but were based on what I had expected of them from the television shows I had watched, sports, movies and music. However, it was through ‘breaking bread’ and talking with my new friends and being open about my feelings and thoughts that I discovered that they too had similar judgements and expectations of the little ‘Indo- Canadian girl’ that they had met in London. We all create expectations of others based on our existing knowledge, but what we need to do is question where that knowledge is coming from.
To put this simply, we all construct ideas and thoughts about others and we may not even realize that we have. But until we start talking and most importantly listening, we will never be able to overcome these unconscious constructions that we have created of others. Racism is not always explicit – in particular in today’s world. Sometimes we have prejudices that we do not even recognize but they then manifest through our behavior. Let us all stop pretending that inequalities do not exist, we need to challenge ourselves, to ‘dig-deep’ so to speak and to ask ourselves how we really truly think and feel – irrespective if it takes us to a place where we don’t want to go.
In order for us to become one human race we need to address the biases that we have constructed, the ones we feel are too uncomfortable to share or discuss. In order to make change, we need to continuously reflect on ourselves and challenge our beliefs.