Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement attracted fresh criticism this week after chaining themselves to the runway at London City Airport. Specifically, in attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the protest, critics raised the fact that all the protesters were white. Now, let's be clear. Black Lives Matter protests against the unequal value of black versus white lives. In recent years this inequality has been witnessed most clearly in the shamefully high number of black people killed by police officers in the United States. Obviously, this glaring proof of the racism that still exists within our society is enough to cause outrage among anybody with black, white or any other colour skin as long as they have a brain and a decent bone in their body. Why, then, is it questionable that white people should protest in support of Black Lives Matter? In the kind of society I want to live in, concern for black lives is not only something that concerns black people. And in fact, the white protestors at London City airport on Tuesday show that to an extent, that is already the kind of society that we do live in. But going beyond this, protest movements are about spreading an important message. This being the case, what matters is not the colour of a protestor's skin, but their sincerity and belief in the cause they promote.
I happen to know one of the protestors who was arrested on Tuesday for chaining herself to the runway. She does happen to be white. She does happen to be middle-class. She also happens to be one of the kindest and most sincere people I have had the privilege of coming across. I don't for a second doubt the earnestness that drove her to take action. On the contrary, I am led to doubt the sincerity and political inclinations of those who question why white people would be present at a protest about the value of black lives. Could it be that these critics find it so questionable because they can't imagine themselves standing in solidarity and support with such a cause?
Black Lives Matter has met with plenty of criticism in the three years it has been active and at every turn its opponents try to delegitimize it in any way possible. One of the ways this has been done is to construe BLM as a black terrorist organisation that is at odds with white society. It's easy to see then why white support for the movement makes its opponents uncomfortable. It undercuts their narrative and makes their arguments impossible to sustain. At the end of the day what Black Lives Matter is trying to achieve is not difficult to grasp. In fact it is painfully simple. That is why the movement makes so many people uncomfortable. It forces people to confront the fact that the society we live in and want to be proud of falls horrifically short of one very important and very simple tenet. White society, having left behind slavery and colonialism, would like to think that it has also overcome that ugliest element of our past: racism. Black Lives Matter is potent because it tells us that, in fact, we still have a long way to go. But how can people imagine that we will overcome anything if we exclude people from engaging with the change that they want to see and help bring about? Political change happens by gaining as much support as possible for an important issue. This cuts across racial categories. The more support the Black Lives Matter movement can amass, the more hope there is of bringing about meaningful change.
Meanwhile, a more meaningful criticism comes from some black anti-racism campaigners and activists who have expressed concern about the Black Lives Matter movement being hijacked by white people. This is an incredibly important discussion to be had. But the point I am making here stands aside from that. I am not black and I support Black Lives Matter. The ones I stand opposed to are those who think that my 'and' ought to be a 'but'. These things are in no way at odds with each other.