I don’t act like #BlackLivesMatter and I should
Have you ever played that game with friends where you try to guess what you would be doing during historical time periods? Maybe you’re not quite dorky enough to find this as amusing as I do, but I play all the time.
If we lived in the Elizabethan era, my best friend would have owned the classiest brothel in London. If we lived during World War II, my other friend would be working on the Manhattan Project. If we lived on the frontier, I’d be a one-room school teacher.
But we never play, “What would you be doing during the civil rights movement?”
Well, we played once. With a group of friends, including an ex-boyfriend of mine. He said that he would have been a Freedom Rider, dropping out of school to head to Alabama with the protesters to march, march, march.
It got very quiet after he said this. I told him, no, he wouldn’t. Because if he lived during the civil rights era, he would be doing exactly what he was doing then. Sitting in school and supporting from afar.
Forty-two percent of black children are educated in schools in high-poverty areas, according to The Guardian. Forty seven percent of black students face unemployment if they drop out of high school, compared to 26 percent for white students. Black people make up 37 percent of the homeless population, despite being just 13.2% of the U.S. population. One in13 eligible black voters faces voting bans because of felony convictions. That’s four times the rate of disenfranchised voters for every other racial group.
Those are statistics from 2015. These are the inequalities that exist now. And there are protests going on, same as there were in the 1960s. Protests in Ferguson, in Baltimore, at the University of Missouri.
Which means that, and if you are like me, you have to come to terms with the fact that if you are not an AU student who is participating in this civil rights movement, you probably wouldn’t be a student who participated in the last civil rights movement.
What is my point here?
My point is that you should be doing more for this movement. And I should be doing more for this movement. But I’m not. Because I have a job, and another job, and classes, and friends, and a budget and a billion other things on my plate.
So what does that mean?
That means that supporting this movement from the sidelines, the way I am, the way a lot of students are, contributes to the problem. My words support #BlackLivesMatter. But my actions don’t. My actions say my job, my other job, my classes, my friends, my budget and everything else on my plate matter more than black lives.
I really wish this column could be about me saying that I am going to become a #BlackLivesMatter activist tomorrow.
But it’s not, because I know myself better than that. And I know that my support will remain in my words, and my actions will continue to be directed towards paying my bills, learning my subjects and having fun with my friends.
But the hard truth is I am part of the problem. And if you support #BlackLivesMatter without doing anything for #BlackLivesMatter, so are you. Because you too are saying other things matter more than black lives.
If I think that, why do I think it’s okay for me to still say I probably won’t become an activist tomorrow? It’s the same reason that I don’t donate part of every paycheck to life saving charities, the same reason I don’t attend as many climate change rallies as I could.
It’s because I have a rather vague feeling that all of these people can’t really be making sweeping changes. It’s because even though I don’t think it’s okay, I can comfortably ignore how not okay my actions actually are.
So I am making myself uncomfortable with it. And I hope I’m making you uncomfortable too. Because I am part of the problem. And if your words support #BlackLivesMatter but your actions do not, so are you.
Shelby Ostergaard is a senior in the School of Public Affairs. She blogs at shelbyostergaard.com.