Another view from a Black Lives Matter leader on economic inequality

Ever since Aug. 16, when Chanelle Helm wrote “White people, here are 10 requests from a Black Lives Matter leader,” I will be conservative and say the response was… astonishing. Don’t get me wrong: The words Black Lives Matter have never brought forth a warm and fuzzy response, but the vitriol created by this particular article was quite interesting. The number of people in my life and my life-adjacent who have cried about it, complained about it, been outraged, lost sleep, sent fiery emails, trolled the comments and spammed our Facebook page has been amazing.

I wish that anyone, someone, cared about coming up with any constructive ideas about remedying the state of emergency of black lives even 1/1,000th as much as they cared about her tone, her language — her audacity to even open her mouth at all. But here we are, all sitting around discussing her level of sass.

And I should be honest — respectability politics in America and policing the mouths of black women is a problem. The trope of the angry black woman who needs to be brought into submission and deserves to be maligned for her daring to open her mouth.

So I wrote this article to say this. Engage with the content and think about why you are so mad.

Now for the racists: I know you have zero interest in the movement for black lives so that’s fine. But the rest of you, especially those of you who claim to be liberals, let’s look at the content and have a conversation. What do reparations look like in 2017? What are tangible, fundamental ways that we can both break the cycle and begin to repair the centuries of damage done to black lives on all of America’s watch? Here is a list of 10 requests for those with delicate sensibilities:

1. Generational poverty is an issue black people have faced dating all the way back to when black people were not allowed to own property. White people could own property (which they stole from the indigenous people of this land) and pass it down to their descendants, or sell it to acquire wealth, which then stayed in their families and was used to start businesses and buy homes, which beget more land and beget more money and etc., etc. This is now a privilege that white people enjoy from antiquity and that black people categorically have been unable to catch up on. One possible way to help end the cycle of oppression is if you own property, and have no descendants, you can will that property to brown or black people, especially those who are victims of generational poverty.

2. Same principle as No. 1 — use your disposable wealth to help people of color who have never been given the opportunity to accrue wealth.

3. Be a socially-conscious developer. If you are a developer, do so in a way which black and brown people can participate, perhaps in congruency with a nonprofit or other organization that wishes to do public works.

4. Try downsizing. Minimalism is a thing that happens in real life, right now. Some people who are most able to live the minimalistic life are those who have a decent amount of disposable income. If this is you, there are black and brown families who need that.

5. Reconsider probate. If your descendants, or benefactors of your will, are racists, then cut them out of the will and give that wealth to people of color, instead. People have been cut out of wills for far less than being racist.

6. Reconsider your financial planning. Budgets often include giving to passion projects, so if you have a desire to elevate black lives, and/or play a part in this, you can write black charities and organizations into the budget.

7. (And subsequently Nos. 8 and 9) Most companies have HR department guidelines that encourage employment around multiculturalism and discourage hostile work environments. Often, white people will hear other white people say racist things and harbor racist sentiments toward the black coworkers or black people in general. There is a reason a lot of these racists are being fired. No company wants to deal with a) Their employees not being safe at work, especially when these racists are out here killing people, and b) It is bad public relations to be perceived as a racist-friendly company. If you see something, say something. It’s not OK. However, companies where it is OK should also be made known so we can effectively funnel our money away from them.

10. Commit yourself to this struggle. We belong to each other. Racism may not be happening to you personally, but it is happening in our community so it does affect you, or it should.

Now, I said all that to make this point: If you read this and understand this, and it doesn’t upset you but Chanelle’s article upset you, then there may be a bigger problem at hand. If you can understand what I wrote… you can understand her article, but you chose to get mad because of her language. And I can’t tell you what to think, or how to feel, but real-life people are dying. And you can choose to opt out or not. And if you feel absolved to opt out because her language was not what you want it to be, then I guess my article wasn’t for you either.

These are suggestions for the white folks who woke up after Charlottesville to realize racists are here killing people and expect to go back to their jobs the next day, and we are all supposed to just nod our heads and say, “That sounds about right.” Well, it doesn’t sound right to me. Not in any way. So if tone-policing Chanelle is enough to change your mind about not getting into this fight, then you weren’t in it to begin with.

And beyond that, if you are more offended by the language of the victims and recipients of trauma and hate than you are by actual white supremacists who are marching in the streets with torches and killing people, my article probably wasn’t going to reach you anyway. •

Nicole Hardin is a core organizer for Black Lives Matter Louisville and associate minister at Douglass Boulevard Christian Church.