As George Floyd’s death has sparked international protests, social justice issues seem to be on the forefront of many people's minds. As a result, some of us may be hearing parents or older relatives expressing outdated or problematic thoughts.
For example, the Black Lives Matter movement has received quite a bit of media attention lately, and many people of an older generation are responding by saying, “Well, all lives matter!” While it can be frustrating to continually hear this, this is actually a good opportunity to educate a demographic that doesn’t necessarily keep up with recent social movements.
You can reply by explaining that yes, all lives do matter, but it seems that the criminal justice system needs extra reminding that Black lives matter, too. You could also use the analogy that it would be inappropriate to be angry at a breast cancer rally and insist that all cancers matter. An article by Vox outlines nine reasons why saying “all lives matter” is problematic, including a comic strip of someone hosing down all the houses in a neighborhood instead of just the one that is on fire.
Depending on which social media platforms these relatives pay attention to and who they’re following, they might not be seeing videos of police brutality like younger people are. If these videos are not too upsetting, it may be worth showing your relatives so they can better understand the reasoning behind the protests. If that is too triggering, try sending them articles about statistics or first-hand accounts from people of color.
Of course, it can get exhausting to take on this responsibility. Some people simply refuse to listen to anything that doesn’t align with their own beliefs, and arguing with them seems like a waste of breath. If you have tried educating them and they are unwilling to even listen to you, or are only focused on being right, don’t be too hard on yourself. More than likely, the problem is within themselves. If you have done what you can to hold them accountable, it’s OK to take a step back for a while. The most important thing is to speak up for what is right, and if you’ve done that, you’ve done the right thing. You can always shift to other forms of protest, such as signing petitions or attending protests.
After a difficult conversation, don’t spend too much time worrying if you explained your point well enough or if you could have said something better. This type of thinking is often paralyzing and leads to future inaction. It is better to speak out against racism and be misunderstood or dismissed than to say nothing at all.
While navigating conversations on topics such as these with loved ones may be uncomfortable, we must use this opportunity to promote social justice for all. It’s easy to get discouraged when people you love aren’t as open-minded as you wish they were. But people can learn and change, and it is the responsibility of a white ally to be a part of the process. So when an uncomfortable situation arises, don’t just stand by without speaking up. Use your privilege, and your voice, for good.