By any measure I come from a place of privilege. Now, because this term has become so politicized recently, its “political correctness” demonized by many on the right, allow me rephrase this without using buzzwords. There is no uncertainty that I have been the recipient of certain advantages in life that were based on factors other than merit. I am a white, Christian, 19-year-old male. I was raised in a two parent household with the full attention of a wonderful stay-at-home mother. I grew up in an affluent community, attending private schools from preschool through 12th grade. While I did receive a generous academic scholarship to help pursue my higher education, I would not have had the opportunity to attend my $45,000 a year liberal arts college without the financial assistance of my parents. I am not ashamed of my circumstances nor could I say with honesty that I feel guilty. I do, however, feel fortunate. And more importantly, I feel aware.
I am aware that my experiences are not that of the average American. Moreover, I am aware that I cannot begin to relate to the everyday realities of those in minority communities. With every new tragedy like those in Louisiana and Minnesota, Ohio and Missouri, Maryland and New York, I want to speak out. I want to help. However, I fear doing so and appearing disingenuous or tone deaf. Because I come from my seat of advantage I will never be able to truly understand the heartbreak in these communities. I will never know what it feels like to fear for my life or for the life of my child walking home from a convenience store at night. I will never be pulled over by law enforcement and not be given the benefit of the doubt based on the pigment of my skin.
Yet as I edit myself —on many occasions staying silent— I notice that the voices of my black brothers and sisters fall far too often to deaf ears within the suburban white community. With every friend’s post I see proclaiming “all lives matter” or spouting misleading statistics on police shootings that fail to adjust for population, I come to the realization that we as a country must do our part. We must begin discussing, debating, and sharing with those in our own stratum who struggle to openly proclaim that “Black lives matter.” In actuality, many of these individuals are not bad people. They are not all racists or xenophobes or bigots, but they are misinformed. Many of those who criticize the Black Lives Matter movement have only been exposed to it through cable news outlets or right-wing publications that enjoy taking the actions of a few fringe extremists and painting it as the norm.
Because of the urbanization patterns of the last century Americans are more than ever divided into communities based on race and class. Unfortunately, this means that most of these suburban whites are shielded from the issue. They lack the opportunity to sit and talk with a person who resides in one of the affected communities, who lives every day with the consequences of the subtle racism that permeates throughout our country. The very people who are affected by these shootings, the same families who for generations have been made to feel as if their life is not as much of a value to society as a white life aren’t being heard enough by people like me. We can only expect as much when the realities of American urbanism mean that as often as not those with similar upbringing as my own attend different schools, live in different zip codes, and play on different streets than our minority peers.
Due to this unfortunate truth, those of us who come from a place of advantage have a responsibility to speak out. American culture has wrongly and unfairly deemed our voices —the white voice— as more valid, especially when communicating with others in the majority. We must stand up and say that black lives do indeed matter. We must clarify why “all lives matter” marginalizes and dismisses the issue. We must explain that the rallying cry strives only to communicate that black lives should matter as much as all other lives. We must make clear that being pro-black does not mean one is anti-cop or anti-white.
I want there to be no mistake that I have immense admiration and respect for those who put their lives on the line as police officers. Now more than ever we must celebrate the majority of officers who conduct their job with integrity and without bias. This does not mean, however, that we as Americans should stay silent on the institutionalized racism and profiling that is present within many aspects of this country. This does not mean that we shouldn’t continue to push for transparency, increased training, and reforms within the criminal justice system.
The killings in Dallas were reprehensible and heartbreaking. They should be condemned by all Americans regardless of race or political ideology. Yet the events in Texas don’t make the statement “Black lives matter” any less true. I do not wish to be a keyboard warrior, promoting trendy hashtags or sharing the latest opinion piece to appear well informed or without prejudice. I don’t pretend that a white male sitting behind a computer is nearly as honorable or effectual as peaceful protest in the communities whose children have been robbed from them.
But I can’t stay silent anymore. This is not only a racial issue. This is an American issue, a justice issue, an issue of humanity.
We all have a duty and responsibility to speak out and ensure peace, prosperity, and equality for every American, regardless of skin tone.