Friday, July 22, 2016

Black Lives Matter - A Communication Problem

As a PR pro, how I view things is often through my lens of communication. I was trying to figure out why so many non-blacks take offense to the "Black Lives Matter" movement. And it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Black people say what we mean. In our culture, we are usually encouraged to confront our issues, keep it real, speak up for ourselves. These are things that we just find normal and natural.

It shows up in comedy. Black comedy is usually laced with pearl-clutching profanity and extremely vulgar. Folks are like: if you gone say it, say it. Non-black comedy is a bit more subtle. Folks will chuckle and that's enough. Black people need to be wowed. We need to be bowed over in laughter, crying real tears for us to say someone is funny. Those little Comedy Central chuckles don't quite curl over for us.

It has also showed up for me in the workplace. I was called in to be reprimanded for something and they said it so nicely, so oddly, that I didn't know I was in trouble. Seriously, they said something about wanting me to step up and take a bigger leadership role on the team vs. saying "your current performance is not up to par." I know now to listen to for coded language, but at the time, I was really sideswiped when they came to me a SECOND time and said "we've been talking to you about your performance." My what? WHEN?

So then we have the Black Lives Matter movement, whose job is to assert that Black Lives Matter, so that police will stop killing us. Seriously, simple as day. If you believe that Black Lives Matter, you too, should be a part of the movement. But white people think we mean something other than Black Lives Matter. They think we mean "harm police officers" or "disrespect police officers" or, God forbid, "Black people are more important than white people." We don't mean ANY of that.

But white people are used to be subtle. So they probably wanted us to say something like "Consider each life precious" in order to HINT at the fact that cops should STOP killing black people.

NO!

Take the term to mean literally what it means. If you disagree with that you are a racist. If you are a racist, what you want to happen is already happening, so why are you even in the conversation? If you are NOT a racist, you're dumb as hell for thinking that one person or group of people asserting their worth is an attack on another person or another group of people.

I wonder if the slogan was Gay Lives Matter to stop violence against gays, how many people would be mad. Or if it was Women's Lives Matter to stop domestic violence, how many men would say "This is a full on attack on men. They are a group dedicated to the killing of men."

But yes, assuming no one is racist, biased or mal-intentioned, this is simply a communication problem from Black Americans, an American-subculture and White Americans, America's mainstream. If mainstream culture took the time to recognize that subcultures exist and have different experiences, we wouldn't even be talking about this. Surely, you must know that your experience does not represent EVERY experience. Surely, empathy is not dead. Surely, you don't think hundreds of thousands of people are making this stuff up.

Surely.

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