On Saturday, 6th June, I joined the Black Lives Matter protest in Berlin. In the past years, I protested for Black Lives in London, alongside many other Black people and allies. As Germany has a much smaller Black population, Berlin’s protest was mostly white. Of course, when the majority of the participants are non-Black, the narrative of the event changes. It becomes a solidarity protest (even though organised by Black people). As a Black woman, it was confusing to join a mostly white protest in solidarity of me. A teenage white girl with a “Where is the Love?”-poster gave me an encouraging “I-came-here-for-you” smile. I found myself grateful for all the white people and POC that had come out into the streets, but I also felt immense discomfort with the way some of them did it.
What put me off the most where the many thoughtless posters. Language matters. You cannot just copy down some slogan you read on Instagram without questioning its message – and who you copied it from. The positionality and identity of the person holding the slogan changes everything. For example: A Black person might hold up a poster that says “Black is beautiful”. It’s a reclamation of the self-love that white supremacy stole from us. It’s a form of decolonising what it means to be and look Black; it’s empowerment. If you’re white and you’re holding up the same sign, it is not empowering! Instead, it feeds into the fetishising and objectifying of black bodies. It’s also unwarranted ‘validation’.
The slogans we carry and scream into the world hold power. We do it to make our truths be heard. Think about the statements you decide to reproduce: are you blindly repeating after somebody else, or have you critically thought about what you’re saying? When you write “All lives won’t matter until Black Lives matter”, are you saying that at this point in time, Black Lives don’t matter?
Another statement I saw too often is “Racism is small dick energy”. Assuming that small dicks are bad energy, can we translate this slogan to “Racism is bad”? Very helpful. The idea behind this is that a man with a “small dick”, if he is a victim of toxic masculinity, overcompensates for his ‘embarrassment’ by oppressing others. Relating this specific case of white toxic masculinity to anti-Blackness in a protest triggered by police brutality oversimplifies this complex subject. It opens up a discussion we cannot have in that space at that time.
By far the worst slogan I saw was by a white woman in the UK who wrote: “I love black dick so you will hear me speak.” Fancying herself a funny ally, she objectifies black bodies and sees their penises as their only feature worth showing solidarity for. She’s also telling the rest of Black humanity that she’s not protesting for them if they don’t have dicks. “She was just joking”, you might say. But if she has one message to carry on that day, why would she choose this one? Being anti-racist includes not making racist jokes.
Here’s how it could’ve been done right: The lady in the middle is providing a vulgar, but accurate answer to white people’s fetishisation of black bodies and cultures.
The dude to her right, however, is missing the point quoting Michael Jackson. He cannot talk about an ‘us’ that he is not part of.
It’s striking that in a debate about racism, which is so intricately linked to bodies, many of us cannot help but return to superficial body-shaming and fetishisation. People who want to show solidarity need to put in the work and, frankly, do much better.
Words by Amuna Wagner
Edits by Hannah Wolny
2 replies on “Language Matters”
Hey, great article. I learned a lot. Is it also weird to join in on the chants about “Black is beautiful”? I know there are boundaries but I also know sometimes I have gotten riled up and ‘over-passionate’.
Hi George, thank you! It’s nice to hear that you get passionate about protesting for Black Lives, but chanting that Black is beautiful (if you are white) is still unwarranted validation.