Studying Ethics During The Black Lives Matter Movement: Student Guest Blog Post:
Written by: Emma Louise Aculado
Note from Shanti Chu: At the end of the semester my students write a blog post. The blog post is meant to connect what we read/discussed in class to contemporary issues in society. Emma decided to write about Kantian theory and connect it to the Black Lives Matter movement. This is an incredible example of how philosophy, more specifically ethics, can be applied to real world issues and social justice. Reading this was incredibly inspiring to me as an educator who focuses on social justice pedagogy.
Hi everyone, as we know, 2020 has been a rollercoaster of a year worldwide, but especially here in America due to the national health care crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the rising political and social tensions that have been building up in the past few years. As a result, there have been uprisings from those who oppose being mandated to wear a mask and those of the Black Lives Matter Movement who are calling for an end to racial injustice and systemic racism in this country. And as a student, I’ve recently dealt with a reevaluation of what my role is during this turbulent and historic time in our nation’s history. Do I stay silent? Do I let it happen and sit by? Do I join the protestors? All my life growing up, I’ve considered myself an ally, an activist and a feminist, yet the current events of our time have made me realize that simply being anti-racist/sexist/homophobia/transphobia/xenophobia… isn’t enough. In a timely accident, I’ve also been enrolled in an ethics and philosophy class as all of these events have unraveled. Through my education on specifically Kantian Deontology and how it connects to oppression, I’ve realized the role that I play within this historic transformation of this country in order to ensure a future without racism and bigotry.
Firstly, I want to highlight the most impactful reading from my ethics class, which was discussed when we were learning about Kantian Deontology in connection to racism as oppression. Kantian ethics is based on the importance of the Kantian theories of the categorical imperative and the universality principle. In relation to Kantian Theory, oppression violates the categorical imperatives of universality and the means-end principle because agents of oppression utilize disadvantaged groups and persons as a means to an end through acts of exploitation and their actions lead to experiences and constraints they wouldn’t want to experience themselves. A clear cut example of oppression is racism, which George Yancy unpacks within his letter “Dear White America”, explaining to his audience that while they might not be explicitly racist in their actions and words, they still undeniably benefit from the structural implications of racism and need to understand where they stand in allowing the oppression of racism to continue.
This article resonated with me because personally, I’ve grown up learning about slavery, yet the way that the American public school system teaches the history of Black people in America paints racism as part of our nation’s past when racism is engrained in this society in the present day. As I got older, I started to become more educated and engaged with activism, learning more about the injustices around the world and within this country. One turning point that I’ll always remember is when the Black Lives Matter first began around 2013 following the murder of Trayvon Martin, and I primarily learned about the movement from using Twitter. However, when this began is when I became exposed to the ways that racism is reinforced by systems of oppression ingrained into our schools, workplaces, economy, and every sector of our society. The hardest pill to swallow was realizing that my own family held racist biases when I realized that my father would ask if the mailman who came to the door was Black or not. When we were watching the news coverage on the riots in 2013 and my mother stated, “You wouldn’t see white people doing this.” I remember being taken aback by her words and noticing that at that age I was continually learning your parents aren’t always right.
In relation to ethics, I realized that I’ve spent years and years being aware of the issues without doing anything about them. In Kant’s theory of universality, he says that one shouldn’t accept an action unless they are willing for an action to be done to everyone. As I have deprived the will of every impulse which could arise to it from obedience to any law, there remains nothing but the universal conformity of its actions to law in general, which alone is to serve the will as a principle, i.e., I am never to act otherwise than so that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law” (Vaughn 148). With the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement following George Floyd’s murder, I realized that I shouldn’t be willing to accept the unjust treatment of Black people, along with the rest of this country, unless I would be willing to experience this injustice myself. Further, I realized that while signing petitions and donating to organizations will help turn the movement into real change, I also came to realize that true change begins within my own home and my own mind. If I truly want to get rid of the injustice and mistreatment that I would never accept for myself, I must be willing to have the hard conversations and educate the ones closest to me about the systemic racism that is perpetuated by micro-aggressions as small as “White people wouldn’t do this”.
Further, a specific part of George Yancy’s article that stuck with me after reading was when he writes, “After all, you are part of a system that allows you to walk into stores where you are not followed, where you get to go for a bank loan and your skin does not count against you, where you don’t need to engage in “the talk” that black people and people of color must tell their children when they are confronted by white police officers” (Yancy, par. 13). In my experience from conversations with white people, many of them don’t understand the ways that they benefit from white privilege and when they do, they end up experiencing feelings of guilt instead of using their privilege to cause change. What white people need to realize is the best way that they can help dismantle systemic racism is to use their privilege for good and help to lift up people of color in all areas of society, even if that means stepping aside to let them succeed. Further, white people need to be willing to call out others on their racism in all forms, when their father or co-worker makes a racist comment, they must be willing to correct and educate them on the damage that one comment can make.
Another section of Yancy’s letter that resonated with me was at the end of the letter, he ends with, “And then, with as much vision as you can muster, I want you to imagine that your child is black”. Reading this article again, this quote brings me back to a recent conversation I had with one of my close friends who is Black. We were discussing the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as vocalizing our frustrations with those who don’t understand the importance or message behind BLM as a whole. Those who argue that “All Lives Matter”, and that “racism doesn’t exist”, or the worst, “white people experience racism too”. My friend said that as one of the only people of color in her small town in Iowa, she’s been struggling to find the words and thoughts to explain how the movement and injustice that goes on every day have affected her identity. She says one night she consulted her older sister, who told her plainly, “The fact is that you are Breonna Taylor, I’m Breonna Taylor, and Dad is George Floyd.” Her words have stayed with me since then. As the people of America claim to love Black culture, Black basketball players, Black music and Black fashion, yet they don’t protect Black people as they are if they don’t serve them in some way. It shouldn’t take an ethics class, or one more killing of another innocent Black person, to convince someone that Black Lives Matter, today and every day. While I’ve always believed to be a fighter for equality, this ethics class as well as the current events in this nation have convinced me that there is always more to learn, more to do, and more ways to ensure that the future of this country is one without hate.