First, Jay Smooth on #BlackLivesMatter and "Defending Bernie Sanders". I am, largely, Sanders' target audience. I would certainly prefer him to Hilary Clinton or any of the other Democratic names that have been whispered so far. But like Smooth I am discomforted with the whole thing. I found the scene in which the two women took over the stage excruciatingly uncomfortable.
In the moment I found myself torn between holding onto the idea that "all emotions are valid" and trying to understand the anger and frustration that powered that moment, versus trying to understand why this anger was directed (apparently) at the person whose political views were probably most closely aligned with the views of the activists. Building coalitions is also a real and important thing in making political progress and one is not always totally comfortable with one's political allies.
It got worse when a backlash against the activists developed. People claimed these women didn't speak for (all of) #blacklivesmatter which is just a mind-bogglingly stupid response reminiscent of the attacks on Occupy. If those women spoke for none but themselves their statements and feelings would still be valid. They would still be raising a valid issue and one that needs response.
Democrats have too long assumed that addressing economic injustice was the same as, or sufficient for, addressing racial injustice. Bernie Sanders' relentless messages addressing economic injustice are part of his appeal. It is true that a tremendous amount of the economic inequality in America is based on racism and its manifestations: redlining in housing; redistricting and voting-rights denial shenanigans; biases in hiring based on skin color or perceived heritage. Even if we managed to resolve all those things we would still need to deal with other manifestations of racism and its effects on people of color in America.
I am trying to recall which black actor - I think it was Chris Rock - gave an interview explaining how he had to teach his kids to behave in a particular way when they encountered police. Placing their hands on the outside of the car, only speaking in certain ways, etc. Rock (if it was he) and his children are clearly not economically disadvantaged at this point. But their dollars do not change their skin color and it's that - within the context of our white racism - that needs to be addressed. At least, that's what I heard those women trying to say, which is itself an uncomfortable thing to hear.
I also have been trying to catch up on back episodes of "99% Invisible", my favorite design podcast. It's mostly about architecture and design of physical things, and it has a storytelling style that's unique. In the recent episode "Awareness" they cover the design and history of the red AIDS awareness ribbon.
Listening to this was hard, and brought back a lot of memories. The first net.friend I lost was a person with AIDS. And the second, and the third, and enough that I lost count, really. People I'd only known through an electron-shaped stream of text, but were all someone's son, someone's brother, often someone's husband. I knew from the postings by the survivors that these people often died alone, and only their (gay) friends came to their funerals. I knew that most of the country didn't understand the devastation that AIDS caused. My contribution was to help create a safe speaking space for people with AIDS, people whose family members or friends or partners had AIDS.
But I wanted the world to know and couldn't imagine a way to raise awareness. I remember long debates with early ACT UP activists - and this is how these two stories are connected in my brain. To get attention, to make people hear them, these activists staged protests. Die-ins. Hurled bottles of (fake) blood. Shouted down speakers, and held up banners blocking events from happening normally. To say that this anger was uncomfortable was an understatement. People were being involuntarily outed, often being harmed in the process. This was justified within a view that said discrimination and prejudice against gay people would go down once people realized they knew gay people. People who viewed themselves as supports of the gay community, gay rights, an openly gay lifestyle, often lashed back. ACT-UP didn't speak for all gay people any more than these women speak for all #BlackLivesMatter - but the issues needed to get onto the table and into the discourse. It was not at all comfortable.
The podcast tells a different story, a gentler one. It's a story about how a group of (gay) artists took the idea of yellow ribbons, which were being used to raise awareness of soldiers overseas, and made them red and put them on peoples' lapels and somehow got them onstage at the Tony Awards. And the rest is... well, listen for yourself.