White People Don't Determine When #BlackLivesMatter

by Brittany Dawson

It has been an exhausting few weeks in the world of racial discourse. Or in the Curious Case of Starbucks, corporatized-race-discussions-with-your-latte. Bill Helton, an Oklahoma mayoral candidate, dressed in Blackface but failed to understand why it was offensive. Trolls came out in droves after the #JusticeForMartese hashtag surfaced after a video showing the piercing cries of Martese Johnson, a Black University of Virginia student, being brutalized by police. And a White Texas talk show host named Michael Berry effortlessly proved why he’s a qualified candidate for the “I Tried It” award thanks to a slew of clumsy on air remarks made on the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

According to Michael Berry, Black folk are “savages” and dangerously violent. Wait. It gets better. Berry’s rhetorical framework is based on a viral video shared on World Star Hip Hop.

Whether you’re a fan of the site or not, we can’t ignore that World Star Hip Hop is considered the mecca of online urban entertainment. From harmless Vine compilations to underground emcees looking for exposure, the site is most notably famous for its Mortal Kombat tinted and gut wrenching fights uploaded and shared by users.

During the radio show, Berry referred to the fight involving six girls at a McDonalds that occurred in Brooklyn, a terrible gang beating that captivated the attention of millions after it appeared on World Star. As you’d expect, the three minute brawl was widely circulated via social media and went viral in a matter of days. The ghastly video shows a 15-year-old victim being stomped in the head, punched, and ultimately left unresponsive in the middle of the McDonald’s floor. But what is more disturbing is the voyeuristic pleasure seen from the surrounding crowd. Instead of intervening, calling for help, or attempting to de-escalate the already heightened situation, onlookers made sure to capture every jab with their phones.

Notwithstanding the abominable nature of any viral video, Berry’s reasoning is by far one of the most poorly made arguments to date:

“White people don’t walk into a McDonald’s, and four, five, six, seven, eight, 10 of them beat the snot out of somebody for minutes on end. While everybody else cheers, hoots, hollers, and films it. WorldStar. Yeah.”

Throughout the show, Berry continued to equate this allegedly “savage” behavior with a theme of “thuggery” offered by World Star Hip Hop and “subcultures” in the Black community. But most importantly, Berry’s commentary on the #BlackLivesMatter movement was not only poor in taste, but emblematic of a widespread misunderstanding on why we seek to affirm the lives of our own:

“You know what's interesting is, you know, of course, you don't need to say, "White lives matter." Because white people don't walk up to white people, put a gun to their head, and blow them away. White people don't drive past the home of other white people -- or black people, for that matter -- white people don't drive past the home of other white people and shoot into the window, knowing there are children inside.

You know why white lives matter? Because that's what white people believe. The dirty little secret is, black people don't believe that black lives matter.”

Berry joins a rank of White folks who use their position of privilege to meander into the narratives of a story they are unqualified to tell.

Last time I checked, Black folks aren’t asking to be confirmed by non-people of color. We are asking for space so this confirmation can naturally occur. Given the large amount of spheres governed by a primary demographic of Whites, #BlackLivesMatter is no longer accepting this as the standard. At least in terms of the unique experiences we all carry, #BlackLivesMatter is more than a movement. It makes all the difference between saving the lives of our young kin, to fighting for social justice online and in the streets. We speak their names with a fiery conviction to decenter Whiteness and create space to allow the souls of Black folks to blossom. Correlating intra-racial violence with a lack of care for our own is unfortunately a theme common outside of right wing arguments. Better yet, I can only imagine that those who are confused about this movement are probably the same people who are advocates for “White History Month” or share cheaply made infographics on why BET is “racist” against White people on Facebook.

Whites who use their position of authority and privilege to disseminate misinformation as fact are a greater harm than we realize. Sure, we can easily say “What do you expect from a Texas radio show host?” Or even better, “Who cares, he’s a Right Winger?” Guess what? Neither of these comments address the perennial issue many people of color experience today: White people should not determine when or why Black Lives Matter. Seriously, take a quick look at a magazine or listen closely on a stranger’s conversation. I’m sure you will quickly realize the pervasive, acerbic practice of only fighting for #BlackLives that closely align with what some Whites consider an acceptable milieu.

#BlackLivesMatter seeks representation, a concept Berry and folks with similar views clearly don’t understand. Furthermore, incorporating the word “savage” painfully evokes images of our ancestors being ripped away from the arms of their loved ones to only slave away to the hands of a blind America. As seen in Berry’s case, some non-people of color firmly believe they have enough insight to critique, analyze, and judge how we should cater to the needs of our own. Notice how I said our own, right?

WE are the only ones who can speak about unique experiences.

WE don’t need poorly trained faux-politicos to “translate” videos or viral trends online to validate our narratives.

Granted, I’m sure Berry has yet to dive deeper into the lived experiences of people from marginalized identities. But instead of using his position to counter these pigeonholed perspectives, Berry touts a potpourri of racist, discriminatory musings peppered with a spirit eerily reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan.

The fact still remains that Berry’s misinformed opinions highlights that buzzwords like “conversations on race” and “improve racial relationships” shouldn’t be framed as a call to action for all Americans to consider. In other words, the consistent issue is that a large clump of privileged individuals are aloof to their own power and lack of knowledge that even in 2015, people of color are battling scorching media critiques and brazen skeptics to confirm the lives of our own.

Sorry, but Whiteness isn’t the focus in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. And it never will be. While folks similar to Berry wave their racism in the air, I will continue to chant #BlackLivesMatter until all of my Black sisters and brothers, and non-binary or queer, disabled, marginalized, anyone on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum or whose identity has been forgotten in mainstream discourse can see their faces in rippled waves of America’s waters.

Until then, determining whether or not Black lives matter shouldn’t be left to White folks. We want to be the narrators of our own experiences. Lean in, listen, learn, and reflect. And maybe then you may understand why #BlackLivesMatter is necessary.

Photo: Shutterstock

Brittany Dawson is a regular contributor at For Harriet. She is a senior at the University of South Carolina who is passionate about equality, social justice, and education. You may follow her on Twitter: @BrittanyJDawson.

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