Anger over Opal Temeti speaking highlights tensions

Austin Walker
Spectrum Editor

New York-based writer, activist and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement Opal Temeti came to the Siegel Center to discuss activism in the world today – following in the footsteps of those before her like Cornel West.

Temeti’s arrival was met with more than just the applause of the audience, however. Anger erupted in the comments section of a Richmond Times-Dispatch article describing her lecture, mirroring that of the national backlash that erupted following protests over the death of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and scores of other people of color a the hands of law enforcement officers.

Counter-protests for the Black Lives Matter movement have cropped up around the country as angry, usually-white people feel the movement values people of color over others. This is reflected in the typical response of “All Lives Matter.”

Find for me a notable person within the BLM movement who says that lives other than those of black people don’t matter, or shouldn’t be preserved.

I’m hardly surprised this anger persists years after the height of the protests in Ferguson, history has shown that most movements will be met with resistance by those who are being accused, or at least feel as though they are.

Especially during discussions about race, hyper-sensitive whites tend to respond very personally to claims about systemic problems. “You’re saying white cops shoot black kids but I’m white and I wouldn’t shoot a black kid. Why are you calling me a racist?” is the common refrain.

White people must be able to acknowledge biases that they likely hold, while also being able to talk about race without feeling like they have to stand up for whites who blatantly perpetuate racism.

Some of the comments on the RTD article about Temeti’s arrival take it a step further, accusing the Black Lives Matter movement of being little more than a domestic terrorist organization, and pointing to examples such as the assault of Trump supporters at his rallies as evidence of that.

“Hands Up, Don’t shoot! … sucker punch em,” wrote one Facebook user.

“VCU should be ashamed to have a spokesperson from such a vile hate group speaking there,” wrote another.

Demonstrations by the BLM movement have been countered by groups such as the Klu Klux Klan, the American Freedom Party and the Nationalist Socialist Movement. Even white Americans who aren’t part of recognized hate groups call the movement misguided, saying racism and violence directed towards African Americans doesn’t exist.

Why is the white population in the U.S. so hesitant to accept that some of the claims by the Black Lives Matter movement aren’t imaginary? Black men and women are still shot at a disproportionate rate to whites, and economic disparity plagues black communities throughout the nation.

The Survey of Income and Program Participation reported in 2015 that the median household income was over $110,000 for white families, and for black families it was just over $7,000.

Things like property taxes dictate the quality of public schools within districts, creating inadequate education environments for often non-white students. Gerrymandering and disenfranchisement prevent communities of color from actively participating in our country’s democracy.

“Black Lives Matter? Since When?” wrote one user.

“Tometi is the textbook example of a racist. She is promoting the interests of her racial group over those of any other,” wrote another.

Students at the University of Illinois formed the White Student Union back in 2015 to counter the apparent “terrorist threat” by Black Lives Matter protesters. Any logical basis for this anger still escapes me.

Is it the language of the group’s name that sparks the fear and anger? Is it the push for equality (because the counter-protesters perceive that equality as already existing)?

I’m hesitant to brand all opposition to Black Lives Matter as being founded in racism, but until someone can produce an argument greater than “Diversity = White Genocide” (the tagline for the American Freedom Party), then I’m going to struggle to grant the counter-protestors any legitimacy.

Spectrum Editor, Austin Walker

Austin Walker, photo by Brooke MarshAustin is a sophomore print journalism major. He started at the CT as a contributing writer, and frequently covers work done by artists and performers both on and off campus. He hopes to one day be a columnist writing about art that impacts culture, politics and documenting the lives of extraordinary and everyday people. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn


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