I am not afraid to admit that when it comes to politics and social injustice, I do not have the deepest understanding of it. At the same time, I believe it is something we could all stand to try and learn more about as our world is falling to pieces. Having conversations around any topic, be it mental illness or racial injustice, helps to bring it into awareness. It helps shed light on topics that society is ashamed to admit or talk about. Because of this I have reached out to a woman who never ceases to astound me with her eloquence, passion and knowledge. Today, Maria Arseniuk of femme.broidery is talking about the Black Lives Matter movement. She has also created the embroidery featured throughout this piece (all images are hers), and $10 from each sale will be donated to the movement. You can purchase this piece here to help support this important cause.
Images & Words by Maria Arseniuk
Next month will mark the 2 year anniversary of the murder of 12 year told Tamir Rice. Rice was shot by two police officers in a park in Ohio. The officers responsible said they thought Rice, who was sitting on a swing, was an immediate threat even though the toy was a plastic replica and Ohio is an open carry state. Other reasons police have shot unarmed black men: Samuel DuBose for having a missing license plate, Eric Garner for selling cigarettes without a permit, Amadou Diallo for simply walking to his apartment. Since these murders the story has repeated itself again and again with remarkable consistency, most recently just last week in North Carolina, and a week prior to that in Oklahoma.
When will this end? When we begin to hold police accountable for their violence. The most common justification of police brutality is the common adage ‘It’s just one bad apple’ – 990 people shot dead by police in 2015 alone is a far cry from just ‘one bad apple’. Proponents of this adage also conveniently leave out the second half: ‘spoils the bunch’.
We could also say that police need to be trained to not shoot – but that’s not true; police are just fine at not shooting white people. Police need to be trained to not see Blackness as a threat. In fact, psychology studies show that people disproportionately mistake images of unarmed Black men holding cameras, phones and wallets as being armed while simultaneously accidentally presuming images of white men as unarmed when it fact they are. What these studies demonstrate is that participants, including officers, automatically presume guilt and danger when confronted with Blackness.
Another common response to the BLM movement is “All Lives Matter” – while this is true, not all lives are disproportionately targeted by police, not all lives fill the bulk of America’s prisons. Consider the fact that today, in 2016, police kill Black men at nearly the same rate as Jim Crow era lynchings. Consider that there are currently more Black men incarcerated in the prison industrial complex than there were slaves in pre-Civil War America and more than in South Africa during apartheid. Consider as well that in 2013 Ferguson police arrested 483 Black people…and only 36 white people. And lastly consider that out of all the traffic stops that were conducted in Ferguson in 2013 only 14% involved white drivers; moreover, of all the racially profiled “stop and frisks” in NYC, less than 1% (0.15) resulted in guns being found – 99.85% of Black and Latino men frisked by police were innocent while unjustly profiled and violated.
The last common response to the BLM movement “I don’t see race. I don’t care if you’re blue, polka dot or a goat” – if you don’t see race then you don’t see racism. What you’re saying is that you essentially discount the experiences of people of colour because you personally have never experienced or witnessed racism. White privilege (or passing privilege) allows white people to coast through life, completely unaware of the kind of racial segregation we live in; we’re unaware because we benefit from it. I’m not saying that white people don’t have problems – but our problems are not because we are white.
We, as a culture, need to do better.
***Note: I have written this as a white, middle-class woman. I cannot and will not speak on behalf of BLM as I am not part of the movement; I can only comment here as an ally and as someone dedicated to activism and social justice. For intimate and personal accounts of experiences of racism and why BLM is essential to our progress as a culture, please refer to Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”.
Further essential reading material: