I want to share a recent encounter I had with a white man outside of a post-office building that is forty-five minutes south of Buffalo. It is in a predominantly white, working and middle class, rural community.
He was responding to this bumper sticker on my car.
What follows is our conversation, pretty much verbatim. WG = White Guy.
WG: “Can I ask you something?”
WG: “Don’t all lives matter?”
Me: “Of course.”
WG: “Then why the Black Lives Matter sticker?”
Me: “Because all lives won’t matter until Black lives matter.”
WG: “Have you ever been to the East Side? [He is referring to the East Side of Buffalo which is a predominantly African-American neighborhood.]
Me: “Yes. Have you?”
WG: “They’re killing each other.”
Me: “That’s not true.”
WG: “There’s a lot of Black-on-Black crime and they never talk about that.”
Me: “Well. In fact, many Black community leaders do address violence in their communities. But, how come you’re not talking about white-on white crime?”
Me: “I am more likely to be robbed, raped, or murdered by a white man and no one ever talks about white-on-white crime: in that way.”
WG: “What about the police?”
Me: “What about the police?”
WG: “Their lives matter too, you know.”
Me: [Holding my hand up] “Oh, please. Police lives have always mattered. And, no one group owns the police, the military, or the flag. I have family in the military and my father was a [NY] state trooper. So don’t talk to me about the police.”
Me: “The reality is that Black and Brown people in this country are not treated the same way as white people in this country.”
WG: [While walking away]. “Yeah. They’re treated better.”
I walked away, too.
The conversation was not hostile. Both of our tones were even tempered. However, I still found the conversation deeply disturbing.
The best way I can think of unpacking this experience is to write him a letter.
Dear Anti-Black Lives Matter (BLM) Guy,
Out of all the other bumper stickers on my car, why did that one upset you the most?
I asked you if you’d ever been to the East Side. You didn’t answer. Is this because you’ve never been there and didn’t want to admit it? Where did you get the idea that Black people who live there are all killing each other? Was it from the the news? Everyone knows the local news stations perpetuate the lie that the East Side is rife with gangs and street violence. This is just not true.
I’ve worked in various neighborhoods in the East Side for decades. These past two summers I worked at a community garden located in The Fruit Belt. I even looked into buying a house there. The blog site “Buffalo Rising” wrote an article about it:
I’ve never not felt safe when I worked in the East Side. It’s more about me being comfortable with not having so many people who look like me, i.e. white, around. However, as a woman, I know that I have to be careful. I’m more likely to be assaulted on my college campus than I am anywhere else. I wonder, does that make you angry?
I also want to ask you why you think you can comment on what Black community leaders address when it was clear you don’t know? If I were to ask you to name just one local Black community organization, could you? Can you name one Black community leader?
Also, you seemed confused when I mentioned “white-on-white” crime. Why was that? White people commit crimes all the time. White men commit a lot of crimes. Some crimes get reported more than others. Some crimes are seen as worse than others. We need to look at the social, political, and economic reasons of why people commit crimes. This is not the place for such an argument. All I can say right now is that white people are not held to a group standard of behavior. We have the luxury of being seen as individuals, not as a reflection of the whole.
You mentioned the police. You asked me if their lives mattered. You and I both know that police lives have always mattered. Americans have always honored and celebrated our police and military forces. They are present in our local and national parades and at our local and professional sporting events. U.S. citizens donate millions and millions of dollars to police charities every year. And, harming a police officer carries a more severe punishment than harming anybody else.
The BLM movement exposes a very serious problem in our police culture. That is the unequal treatment that Black and Brown individuals and communities experience at the hands of our police. This is a proven fact. We need look no further than the recent attack at the White House and the Capital Police’s response. The people who stormed The White House were not protesters, they were insurrectionists. Yet, unlike at the BLM protests throughout our country these past few years, the police presence at the Capital Mall was small. Most importantly, the Capital Police denied assistance that was offered by the Pentagon and the F.B.I.. Most Americans expected violence from Trump supporters. Why didn’t the police? We all know that had those agitators been people of color the police would’ve been out there in large numbers, wearing riot gear, carrying military weapons, and using full force.
Lastly, I ask you, in all seriousness, why do you think Black and Brown people in the United States are treated better than white people? Where did you possibly get that idea? How do you not see that it is easier to be a white person in this country than it is to be Black or Brown person? It was so obvious to me that you do not really know any Black or Brown people. I am not talking about acquaintances. I am talking about having a friend who is of color. Who you break bread with, laugh with, cry with, or celebrate life’s milestones. You know what I mean. Because if you did, you would know about their experiences; the daily injustices they have to endure; the pain of living in a world that is less welcoming, less inviting.
I think what scares me the most about our conversation is that you’re not alone in your beliefs.
“Thirty to forty percent of Americans believe they have experienced prejudice and/or racism based on being white.”
FYI: There is no such thing as reverse racism. I know you won’t believe me just because I say so, but it’s true. This is why I write what I write. To help white people examine the world through a critical white lens. I am going to put together a reading list. Because you, and every other white person who thinks like you, really need to do their homework. Because you got it all so wrong.