By Helena Reinders
This article builds upon the previously written articles regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. If you have not read those, we advise you to do so before continuing.
As the Black Lives Matter movement and protests across the US rage on, we want to provide you with a different perspective. That of students, like you and me, writing and reading this magazine, across the United States. As some media outlets show images of right-wing politicians condemning the violence used by protesters, we have heard different stories. In contrast with the more popular stories in mainstream media, some students are not experiencing the protests and uprising as much as is portrayed, or are experiencing them in very different ways to the ones we might have expected. These are their accounts.
As some did not feel comfortable sharing their stories under their own name, due to fear of the police or possible repercussions, the following student accounts will be anonymised by using a single letter for the citation.
Now, where does one start an article like this? We all hear about the protests in the US, some of us may have even participated in protests back at home, but where do you get in contact with people when you want to hear more personal accounts? In order to find students in the US, I turned to shared contacts with friends and took to social media to get in contact with people who might want to share their experiences with me. The first person sharing their story with us will be Student S., whom I met online through a shared love of a certain music genre. S. was taken by surprise by the atmosphere in their hometown when they returned from college.
“My little redneck town is completely unbothered. No one is talking about it publicly and nothing is happening.” – S.
Despite the huge protests raging across big cities in the US, S. is not experiencing anything of the sort in their hometown. Having moved back in at home after their college closed down due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this student saw a world of difference between the big cities and the smaller towns in their state. They describe the protests in the nearby city of Austin, Texas as “wild”. They talk about peaceful protesters being maced and tear gassed, cornered, and arrested by the police. When talking about which emotions they feel the most, the answer is clear: anger and fear. Despite being a white American that lives in a mostly red-voting part of the US, S. explains that they cannot stand the racism which has become an integrated part of their country. Repulsed by the excessive violence the police use against non-white Americans and protesters against police violence, S. is trying everything they can to join the protests and support the BLM movement; even if it goes against the beliefs of everyone around them. Nonetheless, this has proven difficult, since their family does not support the BLM movement, and neither do many others in their immediate surroundings. Looking back at this interview, it was my first realisation that the BLM movement is not as privilant a case throughout all parts of the US as it is portrayed to be.
Intrigued by the encounter S. has had with the BLM movement, I wanted to hear from more people. Perhaps S. their story just happened to be an isolated case, in which one small town was simply not as engaged in their national politics as others were. This is when I approached student Y., whom I had met through an online acquaintance over a year ago. However, very much at the beginning of our conversation, Y. already told me their encounter with the BLM movement had been limited.
“I was planning to join the protests, because I live in Minnesota. But I can’t because the roads have been blocked and it is really dangerous.” – Y.
Y. explained how they want to protest but are left unable to. Due to the excessive amounts of violence the police and national guard use against the protesters, Y. felt like it was simply unsafe to go out. Frustrated by the lack of information and an excess of bias in media reports, Y. has now become dependent on Twitter and other social media to follow the latest developments of the protests. One might question the trustworthiness of social media in this case, but Y. explains they rely more on pictures and videos of the protests rather than the media’s opinion on what is happening. This is due to their belief that media coverage presents a one-sided view. Indeed, media coverage does not report how difficult it is to join these protests if you do not live in the city. This goes to show the extraordinary scope of this movement. If you were to hear more of these stories, like the one explained by Y., you would see that many people who want to join the protests are unable to due to, for instance, road blockades.
A few days after our first talk, S. approached me with the offer to get me in contact with one of their friends who attended a BLM protest. Naturally, I wanted nothing more. this is how I got in contact with student D.
“It is our responsibility to keep protesting and demanding change until it happens, so I went to show that we will continue to protest for as long as we need to.” – D.
D. recounts their experience at a small protest. D. attended a BLM protest with about 500 other people, where there was close to no violence. This student went out to protest because as they feel that aside from being a political problem, it is a humanitarian problem. They wanted to show solidarity with the black community, and were surprised by the high number of people. In D.’s own words, they live in a community of white, conservative, and privileged people D describes their upbringing as surrounded by a community of white, conservative, and privileged people. So a turn-up of about 500 people was quite the surprise. The only let-down D. experienced was that the community had asked (and received) permission from the police for the protest. D. feels as though this defeats the purpose of a protest, especially when looking at other protests where the turn-up mainly consists of black people whose presence is responded to harshly by the police. Although pleased with the peaceful protest, D. did emphasize that this is not the full face of the movement. When thinking about how the police in Austin shot a pregnant woman in the stomach with a rubber bullet, causing a miscarriage, D. notes that violence is an unfortunate but sometimes necessary part of this movement. Despite there being nothing glorious or romantic about the movement, D. expresses they want to continue to go to protests and continue to place the voice of black protesters above that of their own. Ultimately, the protest is about fighting for black lives, not for earning respect or showing that you are one of the good guys.
The encounters I have had with these students made me rethink everything I thought I knew about the BLM movement. It made me realise that we oftentimes end up stuck in our own social and political bubble, where we hear the stories we want to hear and look for stories that substantiate them. These student accounts have shed a different light on not only the way I see the BLM movement, but also how I view my own socio-political awareness.
“It is difficult to join protests, because it is made extremely difficult to find out where to join which protest. Which feels like it is an infringement of the 1st amendment on its own.” – S.
It is hearing about the difficulties of joining protests, of finding ways to share your support, and of finding the right information which opened up my eyes.
Perhaps some of you expected to read about cruel experiences of violent protests. To be completely honest, I too expected to be writing a very different article. Nonetheless, these student accounts offer a very important new view of the protests and the support for the BLM movement. They show why it is important for platforms like Sphaera to keep posting about the BLM movement. Although the media make it seem like everyone is involved in the movement, these accounts tell a different story. From villages where people don’t mention the movement, to people being blocked from joining the protest, to stories of smaller peaceful protests. The BLM movement is both bigger and smaller than is often reported. I too expected to hear about chaos and violence. Then again, I am in the privileged position of hearing these student accounts while having no personal experience with racism and it not affecting how I can live my life. Nonetheless and importantly, as mentioned before by Juni Moltubak in her article I Am Racist, And So Are You, we are all part of this problem.
Black lives matter.
Fight for justice.
Picture by a Dutch student attending a protest in Eindhoven