WHAT DOES “BLACK LIVES MATTER” EVEN MEAN?
The movement wants to build a society that truly treats everyone equally. But to do that we need to admit that we’re not there yet, understand why that is, and then apply corrective solutions. The expression is meant to remind us that Black people are inherently equal to those of other races (If it helps you understand, you can read it as, “Black lives matter, too”). This reminder is necessary because historically, the Black community has not been treated equally (see Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Case for Reparations” to learn more about the long-term impact of 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow laws, 60 years of segregation, and 35 years of housing discrimination).
As a result of these discriminations, there are a number of inequalities that persist in such a way that the Black community overall is still not treated equally in America. Sometimes this occurs at the individual level (e.g. Someone saying a racial slur), but the most damaging are the discriminations baked into our systems (e.g. legal, education, voting, law enforcement, employment, housing, etc.). Of course, you can always find exceptions, but when you look at the bigger picture, glaring disparities are undeniable. The killing of George Floyd brought attention once again specifically to the disparity that Black people are murdered by the police at higher rates than any other racial group. The abundance of video recordings of recent killings have led mainstream America to confront this reality.
WHY IS IT OKAY TO PROTEST FOR BLM DURING A PANDEMIC BUT NOT FOR OTHER REASONS?
The lockdowns, physical distancing, urgings to wash hands frequently, and mask guidelines were put in place to help us slow down the spread of COVID-19 so that our healthcare system didn’t get overwhelmed. This was meant to buy time for our government to prepare to safely and slowly re-open our communities using methods that have been effective in slowing the spread of the virus in other countries (e.g. continuing to wear masks, contact tracing, mass testing, etc.).
The people who were/are protesting against these restrictions were doing so because they viewed it as an attack on their personal freedom. They wanted to go to the beach, get a haircut, etc. They didn’t wear masks because it was uncomfortable or because they didn’t want to be told what to do. However, these reasons are ultimately selfish. They prioritized personal desire over our country’s well-being.
Those of us who have been protesting for BLM have done so out of concern for our country’s well-being by protesting ongoing racial inequalities, not because we wanted pedicures. Another one of those systemic disparities is that Black people are impacted by COVID-19 at much higher rates of the virus than White people.
But we’ve tried to protest safely. Nearly everyone wears a mask and maintains physical distancing when possible. Many self-quarantine afterwards or get tested to ensure that that they don’t keep attending protests if they’ve contracted the virus. Recent studies seem to show that BLM protests did not lead to spikes in COVID-19 infections, suggesting that these precautions were effective.
Some of the anger in the protest is also about how our government did not use the lockdown to prepare any kind of national response. They gave up and just started urging states to re-open, which is why our infection rate continues to be among the worst in the world. Much of this—over 2.5 million are infected and nearly 130,000 confirmed deaths as of the time of this writing–could have been prevented with effective leadership.
WHICH EXPERTS SHOULD YOU TRUST, ANYWAYS?
Listen to the people who are experts in the specific fields in which you are seeking knowledge . Keep in mind that there are many types of doctors, so someone with a MD is not automatically an expert in every topic related to medicine. There will be many different thoughts at first (e.g. Wear a mask! vs. Don’t wear a mask!), but as time goes on, the experts in a given field usually home in on a more accurate understanding and come to a general consensus (e.g. Wear a mask, esp indoors!).
Science is a process. No single experiment or study is perfect. No single experiment or study leads to an immutable truth. If an experiment/study gets a certain result, the methods need to be carefully examined to be sure the conclusion’s reliable, then the same experiment/study needs to be repeated several times to confirm the results.
Of course, there will always be a few experts who disagree with the general consensus. Sometimes they might be right, but a vast majority of the time they are not. If the consensus about masks is right and you refuse to wear a mask, then the consequence is you might contract and spread the virus. If the consensus about wearing masks is wrong and you wear a mask, then the only consequence is the very minor inconvenience of wearing a mask.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO WHEN ALL OF THE ADVICE SEEMS CONTRADICTORY?
You practice critical thinking. Distinguish fact from opinion. Get your news from a variety of reliable sources, not a single news network–and definitely not from memes.
Read books. Listen to podcasts. Watch movies and documentaries. Study history. Participate in discussions. Listen to different leaders, but also listen to the most vulnerable. Befriend people with different life experiences and identities from yourself. Notice patterns. Analyze and acknowledge biases and motivations, especially your own. When you come across new information that seems reliable, change your mind. When you make a mistake, apologize and learn from it.
Sound like a lot of work? It is. It’s much easier to be uninformed or to let someone else think for you by mindlessly consuming news from a single source that already confirms your beliefs. But if you do either, you’re much more likely to be misled, to accept lies. There’s a reason the first move of a fascist leader or dictator is often to ban books and discredit the free press.