How #blacklivesmatter Changed Me
Trayvon Martin was killed while I was a senior in high school, and I remember feeling down about it because he was just a year younger than me. That was in 2012. The following summer, I found out that my sister was pregnant with twins — a boy and a girl. In 2014, I was name the next RA for the Black interest floor at UC Santa Barbara. During the school year, I was a part of the protest that shut-down State Street in lily-white, affluent, downtown Santa Barbara, after the verdict for Mike Brown was reached. Now, in my senior year, I am actively promoting Blackness in my life, and I have the Black lives Matter movement to thank for it.
The Black Lives Matter movement has risen to pivotal importance during my time in college, utilizing both grassroots and digital techniques to get the word out. Many have called it the modern day Civil Rights Movement, and I agree more or less. In the past few years since Martin’s death, we have seen quite a few more — Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland. Those are just a few. Really, these highly politicized deaths of unarmed Black people have made me reevaluate my own standing in US society, and how I need to navigate going forward. Most importantly, it has made me question the quality of life my twin niece and nephew will have, and how I can help educate them as they grow up.
As a Black student in college, I’m not a first generation student, my family is middle class, and I was raised by five women, and I had several privileges that I now know existed growing up — however, Black Lives Matter feels just as personal for me as it does for any Black person, disadvantaged or not — because this is about our skin. This is about our melanin, our livelihoods, and our lived experiences. For the first time, I think that people of all backgrounds are recognizing, on a large scale, meritocracy doesn’t exist. If you are a Black person, you are a Black person, you cannot negotiate that in such a racialized America — and that means a routine police stop could end in death.
And yes, it’s an extremely scary thought to grapple with, and a hard one to grasp. While I have experienced many instances of racism and numerous microaggressions, it seems as though America is condoning the actual actions of people who think this way — and it feels all too reminiscent of this country’s past.
The problem with All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter responses is that they entirely miss the point. While both statements are absolutely true, the hypocrisy of using the same mantra as Black Lives Matter to denounce it just does not make sense — and it ignores the history of racism that Black people have endured since the inception of the United States. The Black Lives Matter Movement grew as something tangible, but with technological advancements, grew into a movement that finds proud moments online — sharing information and hashtagging #BlackLivesMatter is a way to show support on any site, like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. The Black Lives Matter movement is one that stands on its own, and should stand on its own.
My grandmother was born in 1936, in Arkansas. She tells me all of the time how she grew up picking cotton, and was subject to overt racism — it was a way of life. Knowing the woman she is, it’s hard to think of her in any position where she was not in control. And with the emergence of Black Lives Matter, that’s a situation I am committed to avoiding and actively protesting.
In the Spring of 2015, I was invited to speak on a panel for women of color in honor of UCSB’s recent classification as a Hispanic Serving Institution. During Q&A another woman of color said something that resonated with me fiercely — “Being a person of color — a woman of color — is exhausting. I’m exhausted.”
There’s a reason that being a woman, and being of color, is exhausting.
The United States, and thus, its institutions, were quite literally built on our backs. They weren’t built for us.
And as much navigating as we do, we deserve to emote. We deserve to advocate for one another, for ourselves.
And most of all, we deserve to talk about it.