Educate, Engage, Activate

What Does “Black Lives Matter” Mean to Us?

By Tachera and Kenny Roberts, Resident Directors of Winchester ABC

What does ‘Black Lives Matter’ mean to us? It’s a centuries-long plea for our lives. Not just to matter, but literally to live. Black American lives have been casualties of the systemic commoditization of our bodies since our ancestors were kidnapped and enslaved. Our “value” has been tied to the benefit of others. The quality of our lives never mattered—nor our deaths—so long as while we lived, others could profit. 

While it is no longer acceptable to profit from our free labor or physical enslavement, we continue to be marginalized by oppressive systems sprouted from the same roots. The leaves, at first glance, may appear different, but in truth we’ve yet to turn anew.  As long as we are performing, entertaining, submitting, or assimilating we are tolerated, but are our lives valued? When we seek equity, despite societal expectations that we work twice as hard to get there, we begin to see the fruits of the old oak tree where our ancestors hung. We are sicker, poorer, incarcerated, uneducated and dying at the hands of police far greater than that of our majority counterparts, but dare we point the finger at anyone but ourselves.

The truth is the disparities exist because opportunities are elusive and given discretionarily. Even when we clear the oppressive hurdles set along our paths, the melanin of our skin invokes the cousins of poverty, including pay and wealth gaps and predatory lending, which are rooted in discrimination and intended to keep those of us who have escaped poverty poorer than our peers. You can trace the branches of all other disparities similarly for Black Americans across socioeconomic backgrounds. Yet, century after century, it is still provocative to ask that our lives be considered as valuable as all others.

What does community support for Black Lives Matter mean to us? And what does it look like?

Advocacy. Allyship is great, but advocacy can build the foundation for a more supportive, inclusive community that forges meaningful change to bring sustainable social impact to marginalized peoples. An ally stands with you, but an advocate fights for you when you’re not in the room—or, one better, pulls up a chair to the tables where you’re not allowed to sit and creates space for you to advocate for yourself. To be an advocate for a cause takes a little more sacrifice than allyship, it requires being okay with being uncomfortable as you seek to understand the depths of the cause and, in some cases, reconcile your own unwitting participation in damaging systems and ideals.

Community support of ‘Black Lives Matter’ should be driven by those who are willing to advocate for the value of Black lives. This requires a commitment to learning the history of our devaluation and how it has taken form in the present day and a dedication to sharing that knowledge with others in the community to address micro-aggressive behaviors or implicit biases that may persist.

Empowerment. Support is often confused with a form of saviorism that tends to create constructs of dependency rather than helping to address the disparities that affect the Black community. Saviorism can silence marginalized communities in fear of losing support and perpetuates the oppressive systems that devalue our lives. Giving, helping, or supporting any underserved community with the intention to advance interests outside of the constituents in need doesn’t close the gap in disparities, even if well intended, it simply sustains a need.

Education. As Black Americans, we are forced to be fluent in both predominant (white American) culture and our own native culture. The balance of assimilation and authenticity tugs at our identity while we navigate overwhelmingly white spaces. We are taught to blend in with the norms and expectations driven by the predominant society in which we live, work and learn from a tactic that began centuries ago, when our ancestors were kidnapped and brought to American soil to be re-civilized enough to be tolerated, but not quite truly valued. Educating oneself on Black culture can foster a sense of value
and worth for our lives.

Some of the strongest change agents we‘ve encountered in our professional and personal lives have embodied these attributes and given us hope that our vulnerable cries for our lives to matter are not in vain.

To support ‘Black Lives Matter’ is no easy feat, but our hope is that those who stand with us do so in the most impactful way to drive sustainable change.

Next week we will share the perspective of Winchester resident and former longtime Network Board member Mayra Rodriguez-Howard.

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