Less than Impeccable: An apology to Alicia Garza and #BlackLivesMatter

handswordsI have a confession to make, and an apology. In May, not long after hearing Alicia Garza, co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter speak at a university via NPR, I wrote a blog. It spoke of my awareness that, as a human who loves my fellow humans, I must continue to speak truthfully and bravely about the systemic oppression of black Americans and, both specific to this issue and in general, be patient as I wait for consciousness to rise. All lessons remembered and learned from Ms. Garza’s speech made a few months before. The title of the blog: We All Matter.

Not long after, I became aware of reports of the organization taking issue with politicians and other groups co-opting the well-known hashtag, shifting its use or piggybacking on all they had accomplished for their own purposes. Some did this by broadening its meaning to make it more “universal” or changing it to “All lives matter” or some derivation. Ms. Garza and others appropriately are writing columns like this one (here), doing interviews like this one (here) and speaking out about how, whether the intention is positive or not, this takes the focus off of this community and the original purpose of #BlackLivesMatter, which clearly is still greatly needed. Bernie Sanders is now being interrupted regularly at speaking engagements, partially because of his off-hand remarks or inappropriate use of similar derivations, which ultimately resulted in him significantly addressing these issues in his candidate platform. Hillary Clinton has agreed to meet with organizers after #BlackLivesMatterBOS (Boston) attempted to disrupt a recent appearance (read about it here). Memes like this

burning houses are circulating around social media demonstrating the dangers of such shifts away from the original purpose of the movement.

The gist of my reaction to all of this, “Yeah, people, don’t water this down! Keep the focus where it needs to be…on this community. Of course we all matter, but we all don’t have to fight so hard for basic justice. Come on!” Then I remembered my blog. A reminder about the title: We All Matter.

Embarrassed and humbled, I have revisited this piece, read it with an eye toward any language that may be read as disrespectful or may do exactly what I hastily judged others for doing. The result, with a revised title, is linked here.

I remember my writing process that day and recall I was conflicted about wanting to defend and bring awareness to the specific racial issues at hand and also embrace the universal message Ms. Garza spoke of so beautifully. I admit the more universal ideas are what got my attention, spoke to my heart and inspired me to write this. But in the writing process I diluted and even ignored a bit the story she was telling and the reality of black people in our country. I did exactly what I accused these public figures of doing — broadening an issue that is difficult to swallow in its raw form to make it more palatable and acceptable to the masses.

I’m not sure the small language edits I made correct this. I’m pretty sure they don’t. But I’m preserving this piece in its slightly revised form as a reminder to us all, but mostly me, that words, their intention and how we use them matter above most things. They can create change and shift the conversation, as recent efforts by #BlackLivesMatter chapters have proven, but they also can soften the jagged edges of the truth so much that it does not impact humanity as it should. It also will remind me that to be impeccable with my words is both critical and difficult, and that we all, including me, have so far to go.

I apologize to Alicia Garza, #BlackLivesMatter and the black community. I turned away from the truth because it was too harsh to face. I wrote what was easier to express and more comfortable to read. The whole truth is worthy of our attention, intentions, words and actions. I won’t forget this again.