Letting Others Speak: Bernie Sanders, Black Lives Matter & Disruptiveness

Black Lives Matter, Bernie Sanders

I’m not always comfortable with what she and others say, but that is on ME to remedy, not her. It is on ME to accommodate HER pain, it is not on HER to accommodate MY occasional discomfort.

There are times, MANY times, when I let others do the talking. Two of the reasons are:

a. It’s their story to tell, and,

b. They say it better than I ever could.

If you’re a white person upset with the Black Lives Matter members disrupting the Bernie Sanders events, the anger People of Color are expressing, the fact that they feel unheard and still oppressed, I’d ask you to read each of the following links. Every one. This will take a little bit of your time, so set it aside and concentrate. These links take you to the words of one woman (a online friend of mine, in full disclosure) Ijeoma Oluo, who says it better than I ever could, and they are worth your time.

I’m going to be asking you questions here and there along the way – please really take the time to consider them. I have faith, perhaps naively, that people of good conscience and who are truly concerned, will do this. (Click on the block quotes in italics to get to the full pieces.)

1. The first is from last January 2015, on Martin Luther King, Jr. day. Ms. Oluo, who normally fights fire with bigger and smarter fire when she is trolled and abused on Twitter, took a different approach this day to honor MLK, Jr. Here’s the summary on Daily Kos:

“The troll, calling himself Dildo Baggins, thought he would get his jollies by being as racist as humanly possible to celebrate MLK Day and Ms. Oluo wasn’t going to have it.”

2. Every Friday Ms. Oluo answers questions people send her on ask.fm/ijeomaoluo. She crafts answers with care and superhuman intelligence, heart and respect. Many, though not all of these questions deal with race. Remember, to get a sense of the person she is, read it in its entirety:

“Very few people are committed racists, very few people are committed sexists, very few people are committed anything. What we are, is a collection of actions and experiences and that means that we are different things at different times to different people.”

3. Here is her account of being pulled over for speeding a few weeks ago, the thoughts that ran through her head, the conversations with her brothers, and her fine:

“I looked at him while we waited nervously for the cop to walk up to us. He looked at the cop with his hands spread out on his lap, in full view of the officer. Keep your hands where they can see them. Don’t look like you’re hiding anything. No sudden moves.”

After reading this, do you hear how hollow the plea of Sanders supporters sounds? The one where they are telling Black Lives Matter activist that they are targeting the wrong person? That feeling may be new to you, but it is a fact of life for so many Black Americans starting approximately at the age of three.

4. For expressing her distress, telling her story and speaking out against racism and, yes, white people, Ms. Oulo is the target of a disturbing amount of hate speech – an action explicitly forbidden on Facebook. In her case, however, Facebook deems it okay. Apparently being called a “shit-skin gorilla” and being told, “Niggers don’t deserve to breathe the same air as us” do not violate Facebook’s community standards, thank you very much and have a nice day. Here is her tweet with the accompanying screenshots:

“Even tho @facebook says they don’t allow hate speech they have decided this is ok for people to send me”

5. And finally, after hearing all of the white defenders of Bernie Sanders telling them to stop being disruptive, my friend, Ijeoma, lost her temper on Facebook:

“We have a black man in the white house and we have black blood running in the streets. So fuck your “this is your best chance.”

I want every single event interrupted. I don’t want any politician, any government official to open their mouths without wondering when we are going to show up. I want everybody on notice.”

Are you getting the sense of what might feed the anger? Are you starting to understand that, while disrupting a Sanders event might not seem polite and intelligent to you, that he is the wrong target for Black Lives Matter activists, that polite and intelligent HAS NOT BEEN WORKING? I don’t like it. It doesn’t feel good, as a white person. I’m not always comfortable with what she and others say, but that is on ME to remedy, not her. It is on ME to accommodate HER pain, it is not on HER to accommodate MY occasional discomfort. I won’t tell any Black American their tone or behavior needs changing. Even if the tone or behavior seems “unfair” or potentially “destructive” to me or their own cause, because I feel it can’t begin to compare to the unfairness and destructiveness that have crushed the souls and hearts of so many Black people in this country.

I sometimes worry the disruptive approach will backfire. But I sure as shit don’t have any better ideas for my friend, and I won’t to chide her for being angry, or wanting to tear shit down. After all the beautiful work she does, to be treated the way she has? I don’t have any idea WHAT kind of behavior to suggest that WILL get her voice heard. Do you? One that has a history of success and one that doesn’t end in the death of another innocent? I’ve heard that the most recent disruptors at the Seattle Bernie Sanders event were awful and screamy and maybe not “real” BLM representatives and called the mostly white crowd racists. To that, I ask, “So what?” Are those two women enough to get you to spurn the entire movement for justice and its goals? If it is, be honest and admit you were only tenuously supportive of that goal to begin with, and these women provided you with an easy excuse to not do the hard work.

And as of this publishing, it seems Bernie Sanders might even agree with me.

Aliza Worthington grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and now lives in Baltimore. She began writing in 2009 at the age of 40. Sometimes her writing follows The Seinfeld Model of “no learning, no hugging.” Other times it involves lots of both. She blogs about Life, Liberty and Happiness at “The Worthington Post.” Her work also appears in Purple Clover, and before that, in Catonsville Patch and Kveller. She has been featured in the Community Spotlight section of Daily Kos under the username “Horque.”  She has won BlogHer Voice of the Year awards in 2013 and 2015. Follow her on Twitter at @AlizaWrites.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/CC License

  • bonnie13

    Nicely written –

    I was away from social media when this happened and it took a bit of sorting through the indignation to figure out what happened. Personally I don’t know if this is the best way to go about things – and when I say I don’t know, I don’t mean that in a judgemental tsk-tsk sort of way, I mean that I genuinely don’t know – BUT – this Facebook post was shared by a very thoughtful activist friend of mine and it made a lot of sense to me.


    • Bonnie13, I saw that and shared it. It was wonderful – thank you for reading! ~Aliza

  • An article worth sharing – thank you for posting!

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