Black Lives Matter

Recent years have shown us that we have much work to do to learn to face our country’s racist past and work towards a better future. That means celebrating diversity, recognizing the significant harm that both in the past and in the present, and collectively working towards equity for all.

I’d like to take a moment to highlight both some of the responses of Black individuals, and also some of the writing, humor, and other creativity which have helped me learn, think differently, and grow. Following those, I also included some pieces from non-Black folks who either highlight Black voices, address racism, or demonstrate what we can do to be allies and better stewards to communities of color.

Phoebe Lynn Robinson is a comedian and author whose book, You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain, is a read I highly recommend. I love her standup and also am a long-time fan of her podcast, Two Dope Queens, where she and Jessica Williams featured comedians of all different backgrounds.

The Nod is a podcast turned Quibi show “about Black culture, by Blackness’s biggest fans”. Britney Luse and Eric Eddings host a podcast that is incredibly rich with information, education, history, and humor. Their conversations are engaging and thoughtful, and I find I learn new ways to think about life in addition to getting great, diverse perspectives on historic and contemporary issues. Recommended episodes:

For the first time this year, I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Case For Reparations, and I’ve reread it twice already since that first read. It’s been one of the most influential for giving context and helping me understand history in a completely different way.

Marques Brownlee, aka MKBHD, makes videos about tech, and I’ve watched and enjoyed his videos from the early days of YouTube. He’s smart, astute, and he posted a video called Reflecting on the Color of My Skin that’s well worth a watch.

For a good collection of writing and videos, Jason Kottke has a powerful collection of writing and videos under the ‘racism’ tag. Here’s a few I’ve found powerful and insightful:

Seth Godin on the need to be unambiguous in these times:

The systemic, cruel and depersonalizing history of Black subjugation in my country has and continues to be a crime against humanity. It’s based on a desire to maintain power and false assumptions about how the world works and how it can work. It’s been amplified by systems that were often put in place with mal-intent, or sometimes simply because they felt expedient. It’s painful to look at and far more painful to be part of or to admit that exists in the things that we build.

He also points out the difference, in the context of culture, between hearing and listening.

Ben and Jerry’s on the need to Dismantle White Supremacy.

Well-written satire can be an incredible way to get perspective, and some of the finest I know of can be found over at McSweeney’s. Here’s some excellent ones recently:

We Condemn All Institutional Racism Except Our Own:

“As we reflect on our own campus home, we definitively state our intent to stand against hate, prejudice, and other harmful nouns, as well as to fight racism where it lives: elsewhere.”

A law professor addresses the “All Lives Matter” trope (via Jason Kottke):

Premise: There is an invisible “only” in front of the words “Black Lives Matter.”

Critique: There is a difference between focus and exclusion. If something matters, this does not imply that nothing else does. If I say “Law Students Matter” it does not imply that my colleagues, friends, and family do not. Here is something else that matters: context. The Black Lives Matter movement arose in a context of evidence that they don’t. When people are receiving messages from the culture in which they live that their lives are less important than other lives, it is a cruel distortion of reality to scold them for not being inclusive enough.

As applied specifically to the context in which I wore my Black Lives Matter shirt, I did this on a day in Criminal Procedure when we were explicitly discussing violence against the black community by police.
There are some implicit words that precede “Black Lives Matter,” and they go something like this:

“Because of the brutalizing and killing of black people at the hands of the police and the indifference of society in general and the criminal justice system in particular. It is important that we say that…”

This is, of course, far too long to fit on a shirt.

Black Lives Matter is about focus, not exclusion. As a general matter, seeing the world and the people in it in mutually exclusive, either/or terms impedes your own thought processes. If you wish to bear that intellectual consequence of a constricting ideology, that’s your decision. But this does not entitle you to project your either/or ideology onto people who do not share it.