Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Ask Natalie: Trying to explain why Black Lives Matter to family who responds with “All Lives Matter”? Worried that your son and husband will lose their jobs as police officers because of defunding?

DEAR NATALIE: How do I explain to my family, who are Trump supporters, that Black Lives Matter does not exclude white people from anything? They repeatedly say, “all lives matter,” in response, which ends up snowballing into a big fight. I am the lone liberal in the family and often feel ostracized from conversations. Any suggestions on how to talk to them without starting an argument? I love my family, but this is becoming increasingly challenging. --TRYING HARD

DEAR TRYING HARD: Let me first start by acknowledging the importance of calling out the importance of having conversations with families surrounding race. Nothing can be done to shape the larger narrative more so than starting at home. I have heard a few ways in which to explain to people confused by the statement that “Black lives matter.” Here is how I look at it and explain it to friends or people who don’t understand. Imagine you are at a cafe. Everyone sits down to eat and everyone gets a plate of food except Jim. Jim says, “Hey where’s my plate? Doesn’t my plate matter?” Other people at the table say, “Jim, all plates matter.” Jim pauses, looks at everyone else eating while he sits there without a plate. “But my plate matters, too.” People roll their eyes and say, “We know Jim. All plates matter.” But at this moment, it’s Jim’s plate (or lack thereof) matters because he’s calling attention to not having a plate of food like everyone else. Another story I read that a pastor shared, if your family is religious, was about Jesus and his flock. He had one hundred sheep and one went missing. He went to look for that one sheep. People could say, “well all sheep matter,” but in that instance, the one sheep that was missing mattered and needed his attention. The truth of this boils down to the fact that white people have historically been centered in all narratives. So, when hearing “Black Lives Matter,” the reaction is defensive because they aren’t centered in that moment, which really underscores the point. If only they could recognize that their discomfort is a privilege because they have never had to feel the effects of such marginalization because of the color of their skin. But you can’t make them do the work or want to do the work. I applaud you in your efforts and I hope you continue to try to have these tough conversations with them and anyone else that speaks to the idea of “all lives matter.” That isn’t up for debate. But what is up for debate is why do some lives seem to matter more? That is the question that will take a lot of soul searching.  

DEAR NATALIE: My family comes from a long line of law enforcement. I am very concerned that with all of this nonsense surrounding “defunding police” that people will turn on my husband, who does his job well and without prejudice. He is white but doesn't see color. I don’t know how to engage my friends in conversations around police because they don’t understand what it is like to live with an officer. I worry about his safety every day. I worry about my son’s safety because he is also an officer. Listening to them talk about possibly eliminating their jobs or shrinking units makes me very angry. People have no idea how much they do. How do I discuss this issue with others, knowing so many are so closed off to understanding this perspective? — BLUE LIVES MATTER TOO

DEAR BLUE LIVES MATTER TOO: I need to first underscore the notion that there are “blue lives.” Being a police officer is a job. When your husband or son take off their uniforms, they are white men. Black people cannot change the color of their skin. This is not a fair comparison. I also want to note that “not seeing color” robs people of their full humanity. This isn’t about being blind to people’s experiences. It is dehumanizing when we speak that way and I challenge you to reflect on that. I can understand your fear of your son or husband. But I respectfully request you to think about how Black or brown families must feel talking to their children about race, about policing and police brutality. How does this impact their neighborhoods, lives and experiences? When people discuss defunding police, what they really are talking about is reallocating and providing more resources to communities to reduce the need for police. If this does impact their jobs, I wonder if there will be other ways for them to support communities. This is heavy. It’s deep. It’s layered. I do not wish to diminish your anxiety. It is valid. I just hope that you can recognize the constant anxiety and fear that communities feel surrounding this topic and why there needs to be conversations around rethinking and reshaping our police forces. 

Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: I encourage you to pace yourselves. Social media can create anxiety, and right now with everything going on in the world, it can be overwhelming to be online. Take time out every day to put your phone down or close your computer and do something else. Read. Take a walk. Watch a funny show. Exercise. Mediate. Reconnect with yourself. Remember, we cannot pour from an empty cup.

Please send your questions to Natalie Bencivenga to asknatalieadvice@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @NatalieBenci and on Instagram @NatalieBenci