How To Talk About Black Lives Matter And Police Violence With Your Family This Thanksgiving, Because You Never Know What'll Come Up
Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and just like every year, it brings a slew of familiar traditions: the autumn colors, the reunions with family, the sumptuous meals, and of course, the occasional spat or argument about whatever's going on in the world. And if there's something you feel strongly enough about to have a (hopefully) polite argument, it never hurts to be ready, because you never know what someone might say — here are some tips on how to talk about Black Lives Matter and police violence with your family this Thanksgiving.
When you're bringing together relatives of different political persuasions, backgrounds, and life experiences, there are almost always areas of conversation that can get explosive. And you'd be hard pressed to find a high-profile set of issues — or a related movement — that's caused more angst among predominantly white conservatives lately than police violence and Black Lives Matter.
Obviously, if you're fortunate enough to have a family that's progressive and well-informed on these issues, you should have a much easier time. But even ostensibly liberal people can say silly, misleading, or downright ignorant things sometimes. Here are four relatively common angles that could come up in conversation, and how you could respond.
1. "The Protesters Are Too Angry And Aggressive."
If you're talking to a family member who's wary or downright hostile towards Black Lives Matter and/or the issues they're fighting for, there's a decent chance they might feel the movement is too angry, aggressive, or even anti-white or anti-police.
If this line gets thrown at you, it's worth unpacking it in at least two steps: first, point out that media often gravitates towards particularly explosive scenes and moments, and that they may be getting a distorted vision of the movement, which is explicitly non-violent, despite sometimes being on the receiving end of violence from law enforcement. Then, highlight the cautionary language many public officials adopt in the aftermaths of controversial shootings, video releases or grand jury decisions — ceaseless calls for peace and calm that can also stigmatize justifiable outrage in black communities.
From there, you can make a simple and moral case: if people of your skin color were being disproportionately slain by police, with relative impunity, how would you feel? Anger is a central component of human life, and every person has the right to feel it. Especially if you'r living under an existential threat that society's been ignoring for decades.
2. "The Police Have Dangerous Jobs"
It's true that policing can be a dangerous, unpredictable, strenuous, and chaotic jobs, and that's a big part of why police officers are afforded so much power under the law. And, until recently, so much deference in the courts of public opinion.
But that's no excuse for reckless, dangerous, racist, or needlessly lethal behavior, and that's a point you should make very plainly and unapologetically. The reason policing is rightly called such a hard job is because of the massive responsibilities that officers swear to uphold, and those responsibilities should be lived up to, rather than used as excuses.
It's also worth pushing back if you get the sense that you're arguing with a member of the "war on police" crowd, suggesting that Black Lives Matter and similar movements have caused a surge in police fatalities. This is a claim that's been conclusively and utterly debunked — as the Washington Post detailed back in September, 2015 is shaping up to be one of the safest years for police in decades, continuing a clear downward trend that began in the early 70s.
3. "What About Black-On-Black Crime?"
It never fails, right? Bad-faith critics invoking the concept of "black-on-black" crime, thus derailing conversations about racist, violent, or lethal policing, have become a grim fixture of our political discourse, especially in recent years.
Luckily, you can deal with it quickly and easily. First, direct them to the real stats: according to the FBI's murder statistics for 2014, about 90 percent of black victims killed were killed by other black people, sure, but that was also true of 82 percent of white murder victims within their race. Basically, you're most likely to kill the people you're living around — the only thing those numbers really represent is the striking level of segregation that still exists across the United States.
Also, be sure to point out that, even setting those stats aside, there's absolutely no logic that says you shouldn't protest violence at the hands of the state just because citizens also kill each other. It's a complete distraction from the actual issues, and you should expose it as such.
4. "Why Not All Lives Matter?"
If your Thanksgiving table indeed starts talking about Black Lives Matter, few things could prove as instantly grating as somebody dropping an "all lives matter." Or worse yet, strenuously insisting that the group should change its name, to avoid offending or alienating white Americans. If this happens to you, never fear — it's actually not that hard to explain, although some people don't always listen, considering that countless black activists have been forced to explain it countless times, and it never seems to stick.
Put it to them like this: Black Lives Matter is highlighting how black people are disproportionately victimized by violent policing and the criminal justice system. The numbers support this: black people are much more likely to be slain by the police than white people, and are very unlikely to be criminally punished for their actions.
Basically, the reality now is that the state doesn't treat black lives as if they matter as much as white ones, which is why Black Lives Matter rightly centers that problem, rather than an idyllic claim that things are better than they are. Ultimately, their desire is that all lives should matter. But until police departments are held accountable and the criminal justice system is reformed, that slogan is just wishful thinking. Trolling Black Lives Matter about it is incredibly inhumane and disrespectful at best, and racist at worst.