A few days ago, Tyler Wright took a knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter during the WSL’s Tweed Coast Pro. She knelt for 439 seconds, one for each Australian First Nations person who has died in police custody since 1991. We wrote about it. Within a few hours, our social media feeds were full of vitriol. Racist, uninformed opinions clogged the comments section, full of hate and misunderstanding. That there were comments of that nature wasn’t surprising — we do live in divisive times, after all, and social media can be a funnel of hatred; a bubbling reduction in a scalding hot pan — but what was surprising was the sheer volume. And I would just like to say, clearly and unequivocally, if you were someone making those comments: you’re being an idiot. A huge, dumb, angry idiot.
Apparently, it seems as though there are a lot of people offended by the fact that someone might dare use their platform to voice support for something extraordinarily important. All the same responses are there, buried in prejudice — Marxist front! All lives matter! Stick to surfing! — and all of them are so, so tiresome. Anyone who says Black Lives Matter is Marxism doesn’t know what Marxism is. While Marxism has evolved from Karl Marx’s Manifesto (and yes, one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter did say she was a “trained Marxist”) the Black Lives Matter movement has attracted a broad range of people not for the politics of a few of those involved, but for the simple, basic fact that black lives matter. It’s not Marxism. It’s anti-racism. If you’re not a racist, you should support BLM. If you’re a racist… well please, please, re-evaluate your beliefs, because you’re angry – and I’ll soften this a little to live by my words – there’s a good chance you’re being an idiot. Now, I could easily say, “If you’re racist, go somewhere else.” But I’m not. That would only serve to stifle the conversation further, because you’ll likely go somewhere where other people share your opinions. Instead, stay here. Engage in meaningful conversations. Listen — like really listen — instead of automatically getting on your back foot.
To anyone who says that all lives matter… well, all lives CAN’T matter unless black lives are included. And no one is saying that the other lives don’t matter. Imagine if your house was on fire. The fire department would come (socialist institution, btw) and spray water on your house and save your cats. That doesn’t mean that the other houses on your block are any less important; it just means they’re not a blazing inferno at the moment. That blazing inferno, if you didn’t catch the analogy, is systemic racism, and it’s lasted almost four-hundred years. It’s a real thing, and it’s not even that complicated. Institutionalized racism, while on a downturn, continues to have real, long-lasting effects. Oversimplified, poor schools in poor neighborhoods have left young people with little to no chance of escape, which inevitably leads to shitty living situations. Compound that for years and years and years (then exacerbate it by considering the cycles of reinforcement among the privileged), and voila. One study this decade found that black children were four times as likely to live in poverty as white children, showing how widespread poverty is in African American communities, comparably. That’s as systematic as it gets.
It’s a muddy pool to wade through, but we can clean the water. All we have to do is demand change, loudly and clearly. If you’re not demanding it, you have contracted a horrible infection from swimming in that pool, and it’s been an infection plaguing society for far too long. With the explosion of social media, we have an opportunity never before seen in history to band together in scales unheard of to find a cure. Instead, we’re ripping apart at the seams, the chasm between beliefs growing farther with each racist aunt or uncle bouncing around in an echo chamber that reeks of hatred. If you were against Wright’s gesture, you’re inside that echo chamber, and the stench is overwhelming. It might not be entirely your fault, though — if you, like millions of others, use social media often, it’s likely that you’ve fallen prey to the algorithm. In short, social media algorithms are only there for one reason: to keep you on social media for longer so you’re fed more ads. The way they’ve been programmed to do that is by slurping up the things you’re clicking on or looking at for longer periods of time and feeding you more of the same. That means, of course, once you dip a toe in the rabbit hole, the gravity of the hole increases and it continues to increase the farther down you go. It’s been proven to lead to a huge increase in people who lean harder and harder to one side of the spectrum. If you’ve got some time over the next few days, listen to this podcast that explains it all very well.
If you were one of the many who decided that you’d voice your disapproval of Tyler Wright’s decision to take a knee or even someone who disapproves but didn’t voice it… well, consider a few illuminating resources. Maybe take a quick read of this piece by a Senior Lecturer in American Politics and Foreign Policy. Practice empathy. Consider this 2011 study that suggests that empathy can reduce racism. It’s really pretty easy: just imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes. Imagine how you’d feel if put in someone else’s situation. Like really imagine it. Do your research, but be aware that Facebook memes can’t be trusted. Look at history, because it’s frightening how easily it’s repeated. You might actually have to read more than a few sentences, but I promise, it’ll be worth it. Tyler Wright – and everyone who supports a movement simply calling for equality – is on the right side of history. If you’re not into equality for all, you’re on the wrong side. It’s not complicated.
I can hear you all now, screaming that BLM protesters and Antifa ( for the record, being anti-fascist is a good thing) are violently looting and burning America. No, they’re not. Oh, there are certainly a small fraction of people who’re doing those things for their own reasons, but it’s not the majority. Martin Luther King said something that’s been widely twisted by anyone searching for an excuse to not support equality: “Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met.” Do you know when he said that? 1967. That is way too long ago to still be dealing with the same old tired bullshit.
He was not, by any means, condoning riots. But when protests don’t work, what are we left with? There’s a problem in the United States. It’s especially hard now. In the current climate of political division and a pandemic, we’re sorely lacking something extraordinarily important to empathy: real human contact. In talking about writing this with our founder, Zach Weisberg, he said something that hits the nail on the head.
“My takeaway from reading all those IG comments was kind of helplessness — at least in the medium of IG/FB. Which isn’t that good. It made me feel like people need to physically interact and have personal experiences to change how they feel, and right now, that’s essentially not even possible. It might not be for a long time, which could only exacerbate our problems. It made me feel like diverse interactions are really the solution. And that’s got an uphill road in the near term. We were more bubbled than we’ve ever been, and that was before the pandemic. Now we literally all live in a couple hundred-yard radius with a handful of philosophical influences entering our daily life, and if that radius doesn’t have diversity in it, we’re all fucked.”
Be on the right side, the side fighting for something that no one should even have to fight for: equality for all. Be a part of the solution, not a dumb, angry idiot. And no, we’ll never just stick to surfing.