Apparently, some people are hoping for Adele to come to their Thanksgiving dinner and soothe angry arguments between family members. For the rest of us, preparing for tough conversations is one way to make them a little less difficult. One of those conversations in many families this year will be about the Black Lives Matter movement.
I know a lot of other white people who don’t talk about race in their families because they don’t want tension. I understand the desire for harmony, but I still advocate speaking out. It’s an urgent moment in American life, where white people are waking up to injustices that have long been out of our sight, seeing images of violent oppression. If family members help to tilt the balance, we might achieve meaningful changes in the criminal justice system, and other American institutions which continue to declare, most recently under the blanket of “All Lives Matter,” that the particularities of daily oppression and brutality which Black people face are not worthy of notice.
Here are ten ways I have responded to people who have said “ALL lives matter!” to me—ten of the dozens of starters for conversations I have practiced, when I am wearing a button or posting on Facebook. Perhaps one of these will help you in your own family. Think about the person or people with whom you want to talk, and plan an approach that might work best with them.
1. For logical thinkers, speak in Syllogism. All lives matter. Black lives are lives. Therefore Black Lives Matter.
3. In relationships where it works, evoke empathy: If I had cancer, and I told you cancer sucked, would you respond, “All diseases suck?” Or would that seem rude or heartless?
4. If you can only get in a vew words around a crowded table, try these seven simple ones: “No one said, ONLY Black lives matter.”
5. With people who love to argue, invoke the Socratic method of questioning: Do all lives matter? Are Black lives lives? Then do Black lives matter?
6. For people involved in other causes, evoke a less emotionally-charged comparison (preferably with their favorite cause): If your sign says, “Save the monarchs,” is it implying lack of care for other butterflies or concern for an endangered species?
7. Insert context and information about racism in America: Facts on economics. Facts on police brutality. Facts on history. Facts on voting rights. Facts on mass incarceration. Facts on education. Facts on housing. (That’s not a short or easy conversation. It’s good for car rides or for long nights talking with people who actually want to think. And you need to educate yourself to have it well!)
9. With people of faith, call up their faith. For Christians, “Didn’t Jesus say something like, inasmuch as you do it to the least of these, you do it to me? Isn’t he talking about how we treat oppressed people being about how we love him?” For me, talking with other Unitarian Universalists, who evoke our first principle, which Is respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person, I call up other UU principles: Justice, equity and compassion for all…affirming that we are all part of an interdependent web.
10. When there’s time and it’s a genuine conversation, I share my deepest truth: I say that Black Lives Matter because I aspire to be more loving, to stand on the side of love against oppression, violence, and exclusion. Because it diminishes my own soul, my own capacity to love, when I silently support the powers that dehumanize and degrade Black lives, so that I can have personal benefits as a white person. Because I want every child to know that they matter, and that what they do matters.
BTW, if none of this works, be sure Adele is in your smartphone!