Dec 11, 2014
actually I CAN breathe
I have been deeply moved and inspired by the protests against police violence against black and brown folks, but yet again I am concerned that a solidarity slogan is being used in appropriative ways. I've written here repeatedly about the dangers of trying to BE the one you're with, and appropriating their identity. I've also argued that it's slightly better to say WE are x person (Trayvon, Juan, etc) than to say I am Malala. But even the WE can be screwy. It's very different for a group of mostly white folks to march and say WE are Mike Brown than for a group of black youth to march saying that, like they have been in Ferguson. Black youth will likely be targeted in the way that Mike was, and it is powerful for them to dramatize that.
good critiques circulating of the dangers of turning the slogan black lives matter into all lives matter. Likewise a mixed or mostly white group saying we are Mike Brown is not only appropriative but waters down and weakens the message.
I have also seen a fair number of white protestors with I can't breathe signs - or tweeting We can't breathe. Given the horrific context this line comes from, this is even more disturbingly appropriative. I CAN breathe, I am NOT Eric Garner, and I don't want to deny that - I want to use my privileges to change the structures and culture that give those privileges only to some. I struggle for a world where black lives matter.
(Apologies for the long blog silence. This has been my first semester as full-time faculty. I'm thrilled to be teaching geography at a people's university and grateful for the support of my colleagues and my fabulous students at York U this semester.)