Happy Birthday, Breonna

This is going to be a bit different than our other articles. We try to make Sneer Campaign a place of laughter and levity, and we usually like to indulge in our self-absorption (or self-deprecation). However, if there has ever been a time for reflection and thoughtfulness, it’s now. Before I get into the main topic of the article, I’d like to mention a few things. First, I did the bulk of my postgraduate research on institutional racism. I literally spent years of my life studying this topic. That being said, I am still nowhere near an expert. The reason for this is that I am a White woman. While I can understand logically the impact of racism, I will never experience it firsthand the way People of Color (POC) do every day. This is a quintessential example of White privilege. 

So, why am I even bothering to write this? Well, the unfortunate answer is that a lot of my fellow White people inherently trust my words more. The other, more optimistic reason is because I feel that it’s my duty as an ethical member of society to educate other White people about how they can be more engaged with the hugely important work of anti-racism activism. For my fellow White people who are reading this, I sincerely hope that you are approaching this topic in good faith and with compassion and understanding. This is not the time to try to prove how “smart” you are by listing logical fallacies you looked up on wikipedia. If you truly want to make the world a better place; if you are truly committed to preserving the dignity of each person, then the best thing you can do is shut up and listen. Again, I’d like to state that there are many, many POC voices out there that do a much better job of talking about these topics than I can ever hope to do. Please read their work. I will provide a list of a few at the end of this piece.

Today would have been Breonna Taylor’s 27th birthday. She should be celebrating with family and friends. She should be playing cards with her aunts, or maybe sneaking in a nap before her shift as an EMT. She should be laughing and happy and full of big dreams for the future. She should be alive. Instead, she was shot dead while sleeping in the home she shared with her boyfriend on the night of March 13, 2020. Shortly after midnight, several plain clothes cops in unmarked vehicles broke into Breonna’s apartment to execute a search warrant. There are, of course, conflicting accounts of what happened next. Police say that Breonna’s boyfriend fired on them — a reasonable thing to do when someone breaks into your home in the middle of the night. One officer was wounded from a bullet to the leg, but is expected to survive. 

Breonna was not so lucky. She was shot at least eight times by the officers. According to the New York Times, these gunmen fired over twenty shots into Breonna and her boyfriend’s apartment and a nearby residence. And in their callous indifference, they cut short a life full of promise and potential. Breonna Taylor was a daughter, a beloved niece, a friend, and a valuable member of the community. But, most importantly, she was a human being. We know that Breonna was an ambitious young woman with a bright future. She wanted to pursue a career in nursing and own her own home. But, even if she hadn’t been those things, her death would still be a travesty. Breonna’s life mattered. Not because she was smart or ambitious, or because of the many people who loved her, but because she was a person

On that day in March, Breonna became yet another victim of police brutality. And our history is replete with stories like hers. There’s the story of George Floyd, whose murder has recently been the subject of international protests. But, there’s also Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Emmett Till, and countless other Black people and other People of Color whose lives have been tragically cut short due to systemic racism and unchecked authoritarian policing. We have heard these stories so many times. It’s easy for us as White people to shake our collective heads and mutter, “such a shame” before we go back to our lives. The narrative we like to tell ourselves is that these folks were, “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” But, what are you supposed to do if “the wrong place” is your home? What if it’s buying bubblegum from a corner store or walking down the street? We have been shown time and time again that this is the reality for People of Color. How many more lives have to be lost before we start listening? How many more still before we start caring?

There are so many moments in our history like this. Our country and our way of life were founded on the backs of stolen people and stolen land. The ugly truth is that this is how we’ve always been. People want to believe that this is the result of Trump or other right-wing politicians and White supremacists. It would be nice if hate had such an identifiable face. It would be an easy problem with an easy solution. But this is not the case. Trump and those like him just fanned the existing embers of racism. They might have added fuel to the fire. They might have been more vocal about how much they liked the fire. But they weren’t the ones who set it in the first place. And they certainly weren’t the only ones who benefited from its warmth.

We are all raised in a society that values the experiences of certain groups of people over others. Because of this, we all have implicit biases to unlearn. Having these biases or privilege doesn’t make anyone an inherently “bad” or immoral person. But, it does mean that if someone wants to be an ethical person, they need to make a conscious effort to unlearn these biases and to use their position as a way of helping those who don’t benefit from the same privileges. Wanting to “be colorblind” or “treat everyone equally” is a great idea in theory, but it ignores the fact that society has never “treated everyone equally” and, as a result, not everyone is starting from the same place. If a parent has two children, one of whom is a straight A student and the other who struggles to make even a C average, how much time should they spend helping each child with homework? I’d guess that most people would say that the parent should help the C student more because they’re struggling. This is, however, not technically treating both children equally. 

This is why we say “Black Lives Matter” instead of “All Lives Matter”. We need to focus on Black lives because they are the ones disproportionately impacted by unfair policing and systemic racism. All lives can’t truly matter until we focus more on preserving the safety and dignity of Black people. This must be a priority for us, right now more than ever. Fortunately, we are experiencing a groundswell of anti-racism activity and technology makes it easier than ever to make a difference. Taking the time to educate people about racism and police brutality is important, and can be done on social media. I know that a lot of these conversations are uncomfortable. But, they’re nowhere near as uncomfortable as being a POC in today’s world. Use your platforms, whatever they may be, to amplify voices of POCs. If social media isn’t your thing, or if you’re not confident in your ability to write about tough topics, consider donating money. Right now there’s a huge need for people to donate towards bail funds. Support local Black businesses. Showing up for protests is also a fantastic way to show support. 

I recently attended a BLM protest in my tiny mountain community. It was honestly a beautiful experience for many reasons. But, if you are a White person attending a protest, know your role. You’re not there to be the center of attention. You are there to be an ally, to show your support. Don’t start chats or talk over POC. Be ready to get between the police and protestors of Color. You are significantly less likely to be hurt or killed than they are. Hold your police departments and elected officials accountable. Find out if local law enforcement uses body cams or provide deescalation training. It doesn’t matter if Black people or People of Color, in general, are a minority in your community; these procedures help everyone. Consume more media with protagonists of Color, especially those that portray healthy relationships between POCs. Don’t just read about Black history during February, make an effort to educate yourself year round. 

I understand that this might seem like difficult, painful work. It is, but it is still a choice. Skin color, sexual orientation, gender identity, and many other factors aren’t. People of Color don’t have a choice about whether or not they will be victims of police brutality. But you have a choice about whether or not you will be on the right side of history. If it was easy, everyone would do it. 

Further Reading

Note: These are just some examples, but there are so many fantastic Black and POC scholars talking about these issues. If you really want to be an antiracist, read as much as you can from POC voices about race, and in general.

Further Helping

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