Why Does ‘Black Lives Matter’ Make You So Uncomfortable?

A Black Lives Matter sign held during a protest against police brutality.
A Black Lives Matter sign held during a protest against police brutality.
EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP via Getty Images

Black Lives Matter.

It’s a whisper, a scream, a plea, a prayer. A mantra. It is a statement borne out of anguish, pain, fear, anger, exhaustion. It is a declaration. An epiphany. A truth.

Black Lives Matter.

It is, in one breath, a sentence, an affirmation — yes, Black Lives do matter — and it needs to be said, it needs to be heard, it needs to be understood, because in so many ways — implicit and explicit — we are told they don’t. We are shown that Black lives, that Black life, is worthless, meaningless, lesser.

Last week, what looked to be a blue noose was spray-painted in the street in front of my in-law’s house. Now in their eighties, they’ve lived in that home for 40 years with no incident. But now that we’ve scratched the surface in confronting racism in the New York City suburb of Chappaqua, all the ghosts past are rearing their ugly heads. Despite the fact that some don’t think it “looks” like a noose, there was no reason for a white man to be in front of their house after midnight spray-painting a thin blue line with a little loop at the end in the middle of the street. I am convinced that it was directed either towards my in-laws, or the Black Lives Matter sign that used to be on their lawn.

We all know that across town, at the Chappaqua Friends Meeting House, another Black Lives Matter sign was desecrated three times, the last time with an accelerant which burned the sign to bits singeing part of the tree it was tethered to.

Black Lives Matter.

How do you feel when you see those words? Do they make you uncomfortable? Embarrassed? Feel funny? Does it seem too radical? Divisive? Do they make you angry? It’s time to do some soul searching. If you cannot unequivocally say “Black Lives Matter,” ask yourself, why?

It’s time that we really examine our feelings about why these three words put so many on edge; drive so many to anger. Do you take them as a threat or a taunt from those who dare to affirm their humanity? Maybe it is so jarring because it centers Black people, a rarity for sure. And for those who relish the status quo, Black Lives Matter may even be seen as an existential threat.

It is a fact that anti-Blackness and racial violence and terror against Black bodies are baked into the DNA of this country. It has been so since the first enslaved Africans arrived here 400 years ago — before the Mayflower — and continues via the disproportionate deaths of Black mothers in childbirth, COVID-19 deaths, the prison industrial complex, gun violence, and all the other disparities we have become immune to. And now, a noose in Chappaqua.

Thousands of Black bodies have swung from trees all over this nation. This cannot stand.

This act of cowardice and aggression has strengthened my resolve to be an active member of the New Castle Council on Race & Equity, and to affirm that Black Lives Matter is not anti-white; it’s not anti-police; it’s not pro-socialism or anarchy. It is actually a statement fashioned by three young Black women, two of whom are queer, after the senseless death of a 17-year-old who was armed with nothing but a bag of candy and a drink; who was racially profiled, shot and killed by a man who thought it his right to “protect” his neighborhood.

Black Lives Matter.

The reckoning has come. It has come to fair Chappaqua, ye of the best school district and stately homes. We found out quickly that this lovely green hamlet is not quite as pretty or tolerant as many believed it to be. There was shock — shock! — that these incidents were not the work of “teenagers” or otherwise some mistake.

For all of those who think somehow that Chappaqua is “beyond” something so disgusting, the last few months have made clear that is not the case. The country is becoming more racially polarized and it’s time to take a stand. It is time to make a moral decision to be on the right side of right; to be on the right side of history. And if you can’t, ask yourself why.

White folks, it’s time to get off the fence. We now know that if you are not actively working against racism you are complicit in its propagation.

Black Lives Matter.

Stand with us to declare it so. Stand with your Black neighbors who face real harm and risk when they put a sign on their lawn proclaiming that they, their children, grandchildren, their loved ones, matter. That they deserve not to be racially bullied or have the school system leave them unprotected against microaggressions, or even killed by police in their homes, mistakenly shot eight times in their bed with no consequence. This country is at a precipice and needs all of us — allies, co-conspirators, radical empathizers—to work hard to make it live up to the ideals it purports.

Here are three things you can do right now:

1. Be an anti-racist. This means educating yourself in the ways that racism is rarely about individuals (though it can be) but more so about systems that are put into place to keep BIPOC people subjugated, in the American caste system, as Isabel Wilkerson so boldly notes in her new book.

2. Check your privilege. Racism is not pretty, conversations about race are rarely comfortable, and they may even make you feel bad. BIPOC people don’t have the choice or privilege to walk away when racism shows up in their life. Sit with your discomfort and keep working to dismantle it. Privilege is not a bad word. It just is. Use it for good.

3. Call out racism when you see it. This can be uncomfortable, especially if the words or actions are coming from your friends, family or loved ones. But to be brave and say something is the only way we can progress.

Black Lives Matter.

Our lives do indeed matter, and they should matter to you as well. And if you are not in the fight for Black Lives Matter, you might as well just join the avowed, loud, and proud racists who burn signs. In fact, your silence means you already have.

Angela Bronner Helm is the head of the Communications Group on the New Castle Council on Race and Equity.

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