That’s What Matters — Tatyana – 8/24/2016


August 24, 2016

Do you believe black lives matter?

Do you believe white lives matter?

Do you believe all lives matter?

Well, I’m here to tell you that your answers, be they affirmative or not, don’t matter. Why? Because those questions don’t matter. And since this is the case, no answer you give matters either. But why am I saying this?

I am a young black woman. Growing up in America, I have lived through thousands of mass shootings and hate crimes. Many I’ve never even heard about. Recently, however, I’ve become hyper-aware of them. It seems like every single day when I open my laptop and check my email, there’s another one in the news. Black man, armed or unarmed, shot and killed. A young black boy, shot and killed. While some focus on guns, others focus on race.

I focus on reactions.

There is emotion on both sides of the spectrum. Black people are outraged that their mothers and sisters, fathers and brothers, children, aunts and uncles, grandparents are being shot and killed without consequence. White people are outraged that black people would dare blame them all for the actions of a small percentage. Then there is sadness on both sides. Blacks and whites combined are sad that these killings and shootings are happening. There may even be happiness. “They got what they deserve,” either race might say at some point.

But there is one emotion that remains prevalent inside one of the two groups, and it is generally misunderstood. That emotion is called desperation. What does the word desperate mean? According to the Oxford Dictionary: feeling, showing, or involving a hopeless sense that a situation is so bad as to be impossible to deal with.

Now who could possibly feel that way? Maybe white people, who find themselves under daily scrutiny with every word they say or every action they take because, God forbid, they’re seen as racist toward black people. Or maybe law enforcement, who find themselves in a similar predicament and risk being attacked accordingly. Or maybe it’s black people, who find themselves facing both scenarios above, with the added paranoia of the reality that they don’t have to do anything wrong to be killed. They can dress as nicely as possible, speak in a clear, accent-free, “educated” manner, and follow all laws, and still be killed.

Yes, I would say the black population is steeping in a large pot of desperation.

Yet some might say we’ve come so far. In some respects, I agree wholeheartedly. In others, I ask: have we? As black people, we can and have done many things our ancestors could not. We can buy houses and work in high-wage professions. We can drive, shop where we want, enroll our children in any school we please. Anywhere a white person goes, we can follow. Our voices, however, are still not equal.

Like I said, while some focus on guns and others on race, I focus on reactions. And one thing I have noticed is that an opinion given by a white person on an event pertaining to black people will almost always trump that of a black person. Why? Why do white voices somehow validate the black voices that have been speaking all along?

THAT is the question that matters.

Recently, I spoke to a white friend and shared my opinion. This is one of the many things she said (I suspect many other white people feel the same): “I feel it’s my duty to keep speaking, even if it’s pointless. At the very least, I might be putting into words what so many other white people think about this particular issue. They might be struggling and feeling confused. Maybe I can inspire them to man the polls, canvas for a better politician, to go help minorities somewhere, somehow? Because I’m naïve, and I still believe even the tiniest gestures count for something.”

My blunt answer: “That right there proves your whiteness…”

That summed up my thoughts, and the thoughts of many, many other black people around the country when we hear white people utter those same words. Since I know her, I know she meant nothing more than she said above, but to other black people who do not know her, this is how they might have translated that:

“You poor, poor people. I can’t believe I didn’t notice this was so serious before. I honestly don’t know how I missed it. And I don’t understand why you’re being put down this way, but it’s not right. As a person of privilege, it would greatly boost my self-esteem and happiness if I could help you out of this hole you’ve dug yourselves into. You can’t control the color of your skin. Your skin color is beautiful! Don’t you worry, I’m going to do everything in my power to get you out of this mess. Everything is going to be okay. I should know; I am white, after all. We can do anything we put our minds to.”

How does that sound to you? To me, it sounds condescending, narcissistic, and vaguely reminiscent of the way I talk to babies or cute little animals. Neither of which can talk or act for themselves. Do you see where I’m going with this?

First of all, as a people, we’re fairly tired of hearing about how naive you’ve been to believe this division disappeared decades ago. Every time you say that, you’re making it about you, and we’re left wondering what that has to do with us. We’re still going through it, no matter how much you all reach the epiphany that it’s still happening in this day and age.

Now I’m going to tell you something that might very well blow your mind:

Sometimes we just DON’T WANT your help. In fact, sometimes we just want nothing to do with you. We want to pretend you don’t even exist. Because every time it takes one of you to get people talking and listening to us, we die a little more inside, as it proves that our own voices are not enough. And THAT is why crime happens. THAT is why we protest. THAT is why we created the entire Black Lives Matter movement. Because despite everything good WE try to do to combat stereotypes and change things, it takes the voices of the very people who oppress us the most to finally get any sort of conversation started with momentum behind it and no negative origin.

When we say that black lives matter, for the millionth time we are not saying that yours DON’T. We’re begging and pleading with you to LISTEN TO US. See us as individuals who are fully capable of speaking for ourselves and acting for ourselves, if you would only let us. Then, LISTEN to what we have to say. Don’t let your thinly-veiled racist selves overlook our words in favor of our appearance or the way we speak.

During a social experiment, a white man walked down the street with an AR-15 strapped to his back and received a few questions from a police officer and a few nervous glances, but proceeded without issue. A black man then walked down another street, and the first officer he came in contact with immediately held him at gunpoint. While watching the video, I was terrified for his life. Had he made one little movement, he would’ve been shot. A simple social experiment could have ended his life and added his name to the seemingly-endless list of black men murdered for the color of their skin.

I know that all situations are not black and white. No pun intended. Sometimes the media makes something out of a situation that doesn’t warrant throwing the race card. All I know is, I’ve seen enough instances where white people are given many chances for things black men are killed on sight for. I should not have to walk around in fear, day or night, or fear for my little brother or sister’s lives. My father’s life, my mother’s life. My cousins. My family and friends. I shouldn’t have to be terrified. But I am.

I’m terrified my name will be added to that list of murdered black people. I hide my southern accent when I’m out and about, so people won’t feel threatened. I try to smile and be overbearingly friendly, so they won’t feel threatened. I put on an entire act; it is my defense mechanism to the racism in this world. It is the defense mechanism for many like me. Because that’s all we have. And even that isn’t good enough.

Do you believe black lives matter?

Do you believe white lives matter?

Do you believe all lives matter?

Well I’m sorry, but those QUESTIONS don’t matter.

Do you believe that my life matters simply because I say it matters? Or does it take the voice of a white person to make this truth?


To read more letters, click on The Path!

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1 Response to That’s What Matters — Tatyana – 8/24/2016

  1. Reblogged this on AM Justice and commented:
    My friend Tatyana is an admirable woman and a talented writer with things to say. Today she wrote with passion and vehemence about a topic that concerns us all, but on which she speaks with great authority. #blacklivesmatter #alllivesmatter #thatswhatmatters

    Liked by 1 person

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