How to Talk to Your Family About Black Lives Matter

Black woman with palms facing camera saying "Stop Racism"

A Conversation About What the Black Lives Matter Movement Is and Why We Need It

Across the country and around the world, we have seen protests demanding an end to systemic racism and police brutality in our country as well as justice for the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, Elijah McClain and countless others. 

The Black Lives Matter movement and others like it are incredibly impactful. Social activists are at the forefront, demanding attention be paid to the injustices Black people face in our country every day, and advocacy groups and organizations are joining them in this fight, working within our systems to shape public opinion and influence legislators and others with power. Although different, both are necessary in order to create systemic change. Without one, the other cannot function.

The Black Lives Matter movement began in 2013, and today its message is ringing in the streets loud and clear: Black Lives Matter. If you have avoided a conversation with your non-Black family members and friends about the importance of this movement or perhaps broached the topic unsuccessfully, you are not alone. But now more than ever, non-Black people have to be having these conversations no matter how “difficult” they may be.

For those of us who are privileged enough not to constantly be aware of race, bringing up a hard conversation about it might be uncomfortable. Let it be. Practicing allyship and advocating for Black lives will not always be a comfortable journey, but we cannot afford the temporary discomfort we may feel to deter us from speaking up.

Below are some typical questions you may hear from those in your life that may not fully understand or agree with what they’ve seen happening and how you can respond. Approach these discussions with curiosity and a desire to understand their point of view and keep kindness and boundaries in mind.

Why can’t I say, “All Lives Matter”?

Using “All Lives Matter” as a response to the Black Lives Matter message and movement around it is dismissive and a damaging attempt to change the subject.

The systems and institutions in the United States work against Black communities in every aspect of American life. From criminal justice and health care to education and housing, Black people are told they, in fact. do not matter. This is what the movement is fighting against. All lives cannot matter until Black lives do.

When you say, “All Lives Matter,” don’t you inherently mean Black Lives Matter as well? 

All lives do matter, but all lives are not currently under threat due to the systemic racism engrained into the very foundation of this country. We are saying Black Lives Matter because right now, Black lives are threatened more than non-Black lives when it comes to issues like police brutality and mass incarceration.

Why are protestors destroying things?

No matter how well-intentioned something may be, there will always be those who will exploit an opportunity for their personal gain. In this case, that may look like looting and destruction, but it is important to keep in mind this behavior is not representative of the movement as a whole.

In addition, there may be a few people who turn to more destructive methods out of rage in an attempt to make their voices heard after being ignored or silenced for so long. There is no right way to protest. When Colin Kaepernick peacefully kneeled, he was blacklisted from the NFL and regularly critiqued by conservative commentators. Now, when protestors are looting, they are reprimanded as people ask, “why can’t they just be peaceful?” Non-Black people of privilege will never be able to comprehend the pain and anger Black people feel and therefore have no place to tell them the right or wrong ways to mourn.

Most importantly, Black lives are more important than property. The latter can be replaced, the former cannot.

Why are people so angry?

People are fed up, and rightfully so. Racism has plagued this country since its beginning, and the small, incremental changes we’ve seen have not made a dent in the damage and generational trauma faced by Black people.

Do you know how you sometimes get annoyed if you have to repeat yourself once or twice because someone wasn’t listening or paying attention or didn’t seem to care? Imagine if what you were repeating was the fact that your life has value. Imagine if it happened again and again and again for more than 400 years. You’d be angry too.

What is unique about this moment in particular is that through the use of camera phones and social media, everyone is witnessing these injustices. Non-Black people are able to see what the Black community has told us has always been happening, and it is no longer something that is easy to ignore. Non-Black people are coming face-to-face with their own privilege, as well as the reality of the country they live in, and they are using their own privilege to speak out.

But, my (brother, husband, father, mother, sister) is a police officer. Why are they being shamed?

As we mentioned earlier, every system that the United States operates on treats Black lives as though they do not matter, and, of no exclusion, the criminal justice system is a violent and often deadly offender. While privileged people may feel the police keep us safe, we must understand that, in fact, just the opposite is true for BIPOC, especially the Black community.

This is a hard conversation for many of us. We may know people who are police officers, or we may think of them as the “good guys”. However, because they work within a system specifically designed to oppress, all police officers are proponents of systemic oppression. In a fundamentally bad system, it is almost impossible to be a “good cop”.

What can one person do?

This is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? We are seeing so many people who are angry and hurting, and it’s easy to feel helpless.

The first thing we must do is acknowledge our privilege. If your eyes are just now being opened to the persistent racism in our country and around the world or if you are learning about racism by reading books and blogs and articles instead of living through it daily, then you are in a place of privilege. 

We have the power to use that privilege to practice allyship. It is up to us to have these tough conversations with our non-Black friends and family, call out racism when we see it, and tell our elected officials that enough is enough (seriously! You can call Congress right now: 202-224-3121).

If you are able, a financial donation to organizations and causes doing the work for racial justice will go a long way. Organizations such as Color of Change, NAACP, and Know Your Rights Camp are fighting every day for racial equality. Now is a good time to set up a recurring donation, so even as the news cycle moves on, the work does not stop.

If financial support isn’t possible for you right now, consider donating your time. That may look like spending time every day to sign petitions (here is a link to several that still need signing) or making calls on behalf of victims of police brutality (you can find phone numbers and scripts here). It’s also important for all of us to use our time to continue educating ourselves and listening to Black stories.

Most importantly, we have to keep our foot on the gas. We have already seen major changes since the protests began, but the work is far from done. Keep having these conversations, keep donating, keep speaking up for racial equality. Black Lives Matter.

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Cause Advocacy, Progressive Movements, Social Movements, Progressive Activist, Grassroots Movement