Black Lives Matter

Content warning for discussion of police brutality and racial violence, including naming some victims.

By virtue of having this blog, I have a platform of sorts. So I’m using it to speak out, after spending the past few days signal-boosting and processing and listening.

Across the world, it is well past time for change – actual systemic change, to remove the racist structures that have prevented Black lives and the lives of people of colour from thriving. The change must be led by Black people, indigenous peoples and people of colour. Not whites.

I’ve seen a bunch of different ways to help – donation threads, petitions, people/ groups to follow and actions to take. If you’re white like me, especially, see the links in the list below and choose some ways to help. (There’s probably some overlap in the donation threads, but I can’t be sure so I’ve included them all.)

I’m white. Being a white woman means I have a particular sort of privilege, which isn’t negated by my disabilities or bi/demi identity. That privilege is the sort that Amy Cooper used – turning on the tears, the false outrage, the fake fear, to try to get a black man, Christian Cooper, arrested for simply asking her to leash her dog in a park where that was a legal requirement. Thankfully, it didn’t work out the way she wanted – because by ringing the police, she could’ve caused his death.

Like how white actions – usually police actions – have caused the deaths of Nina Pop, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbrey, Dion Johnson – and now George Floyd, and those are just the publicised ones I know about in the last few months. It’s a deep problem of systemic racism, intersecting other bigotry like queerphobia (Nina Pop and Tony McDade were trans) and ableism (they’re claiming that George Floyd’s “pre-existing health conditions” could’ve been factors in his death). But the root of it all is the racism.

Year after year, month after month, week after week, we see things like this – white on black violence, often state-sanctioned (police brutality). It makes me feel sick inside, and I know that for Black people and people of colour, it’s worse. They confront this shit every day in ways that I never will never have to, because the colour of my skin affords me that bubble of protection. Read this post, or this one for black voices talking about that.

I support the protestors. I don’t care if they smash things – and I’d say that if they were rioting in my city, too. I do note that a lot of the worst of the damage appears to be initiated by white people stirring things up, including undercover cops or other white extremists. (In Minneapolis, they’ve linked arrested looters to out-of-town white extremists, with evidence of white extremists stirring shit up online too.)

But even if it that wasn’t the case? Black people are angry and have a fucking right to be. We should all be angry. Buildings can be rebuilt and goods restocked (most places would have insurance, anyway – especially big corporates). Lives though, once lost, can’t return.

Protesting and rioting is a valid political tool. Yet the tone and framing of such is completely different depending on who’s doing the protesting. Remember when those selfish ignorant white people protested about their freedoms and having to wear masks back at the start of May? The police were civil and calm to them.

Now, there’s footage of police actively enciting violence at these formerly peaceful protests by being punitively aggressive, before riots had started – tear-gassing protestors or riding their horse into the crowd and knocking someone over, or driving their cars at protestors and forcing them out of the way. Not to mention their attacks on journalists and medical/ first aid stations. This article explains it well, too: Police erupt in violence nationwide.

Of course, Trump weighed in – tweeting about calling in the National Guard and using words that even Twitter classified as “inciting violence”. It’s terrifying – and the fault of the white oppressors like him and the racial systems that privilege us white people. Black people protesting have every reason to be in the streets, agitating for change.

Protests and riots throughout history have won rights, because the freedoms sanctioned by majority aren’t given just by asking politely. See also: the labour movement, Women’s Suffrage, the Civil Rights movement , Stonewall Riots (started by a black trans woman!)… Something all of us white people could do to remember, but especially those of us who are white and queer, disabled or women. My disabilities, my womanhood, my queerness are not shields for my behaviour.

For more about the race politics of rioting/ looting, see this article: In Defense of Looting. It was written a few years ago after the murder of Michael Brown caused riots in Ferguson. See also this one, written this week. And read this excellent article about race politics and white-on-black violence It Does Not Matter If You Are Good as well.

It’s not limited to America. State-sanctioned white-on-black violence is a problem in Western countries across the globe, not just the USA. There are easy-to-find examples from Canada, the UK and my country, Australia.

Australia was founded on racism. My ancestors helped displace the First Nations peoples of the land. I grew up, live and work on stolen lands, where sovereignty was never ceded – but taken. The history of Australia is racist as fuck, and it continues today. For example, First Nations peoples make up 3.3% of the total Australian population, which in itself should be sobering, given their numbers before white invasion and colonisation began. However, they make up a disproportionate percentage of Australia’s prison population – 28%.

The discourse around George Floyd’s death has been very upsetting for many First Nations Australians, especially the family of the Dunghutti First Nations man, David Dungay Jr, who was murdered by prison officers in 2015. I saw a sobering Twitter thread yesterday – tweet after tweet of names of First Nations people who’d died in custody. There was a Royal Commission about it in 1991, and there have been over 400 deaths since, with not one cop convicted. (See here, here and here, as well as here – last link refers to Australian police misconduct in general.)

White Australia’s shame has also been the forced removal of First Nations children from their families and culture. The Apology to the Stolen Generations happened in 2008 to politically acknowledge this, but it hasn’t got better. It’s actually got worse.

White Australia is really shit at acknowledging the protests of First Nations people and people of colour in Australia… See this satirical tweet thread for examples. We’re also really, really good at denying our problems. A breakfast TV show was quoted saying that “People in Australia don’t have the understanding of the history of police killings” in the United States. Wilful ignorance, more like.

Then there’s the way we treat non-white migrants and refugees in this country. I remember well how the Victorian Liberals used racist tactics to attempt to encourage fear against ‘Sudanese youth gangs’ in 2014 in the lead-up to the state election. Thank goodness it wasn’t enough to get them re-elected – but it’s extremely telling that they tried. Also, there’s no escaping the fact that the refugees currently locked up in prison hotels or languishing offshore are predominantly non-white. Those on Manus and Nauru have been there for up to seven years with no change. Every single bloody election in Australia that I can remember has had an element of racial politics to do with “boat people”. Racism, all the way through.

So the next time something like this happens in Australia? Those of us who are protesting about the situation in the United States better bloody well be as vocal and outraged as we are now.

The other thing that’s been on my mind this weekend has been the intersection of racism and ableism that means that black disabled people and disabled people of colour are at particular risk of being subject to white-on-black violence, especially by cops. I saw a Tweet on Saturday that summed this up exactly.

“Shoutout to the black autistic people who are in even bigger danger of police brutality than other black people due to the intersection of ableism and racism. Shout out to the black autistic people who have trouble processing verbal information, who lash out when touched, who run away from loud sounds, who are non-verbal*, who have body language and stims that could be considered odd or threatening. Shoutout to the black autistic people who act, express themselves and react in ways that are considered socially inappropriate and who are in danger because of it. Your lives matter.”

Pastiche Graham, (*Note that I’ve quoted the tweet as written, but I do usually prefer the term ‘non-speaking’ to ‘non-verbal’ as it can express a bigger picture.)

This tweet put into words something I’d been thinking about in the back of my mind, especially as this week/ fortnight/ month have been pretty upsetting in terms of the treatment of disabled people in general. (Ways to be a good ally around that here.)

When I read this tweet, I thought of the students I work with at school. I can think of three off the top of my head whom I had sessions with on Friday – and as I’ve written this section I’ve thought of more still. They’re kids now – 6, 7, 8 years old. They are lovely children, full of passion and expression. In fifteen, twenty years time I can picture them as engineers or artists. However, my heart hurts for them and the others like them – because I see them in that tweet above. All are children of colour, with particular sensory and communication needs as well as specific stims. All of which are heightened when they’re distressed. Their lives have value, as does the life of every single black child and black person in the US, Australia and across the world.

The current situation of white-on-black violence can’t go on. It has to change, it has to stop. We won’t make change just by sitting politely and asking – that’s been tried before. It doesn’t work without other work that hits aggressors (fellow white people, corporations, police, the state) where it hurts, while lifting communities up.

I’m putting my money where my mouth is and have signed petitions. I’m also going to make a concerted effort to disrupt racist talk around me, which means having difficult conversations with people as required. I struggle to be assertive at times, scrambling around to express my point and often feeling like I’m coming up short in casual conversation (especially with neurotypicals!). But I have to use my privilege and try – following the lead of black people and people of colour.

I also want to try to remember to be more alert for state-sanctioned violent behaviour in my own area. If I can use my white womanhood to bear witness to it and support people, I must.

If you’re a white person reading this, I urge you to do the same and to continue doing it.

Please take care of yourselves out there, people. It’s been a traumatic week for so many. My heart hurts.