By Emily Rosenberg
Monti Washington gave his interactive presentation “Which Lives Matter,” in DPAC, Feb. 7 organized by FSAB, the CIE, and BSU.
Framingham State was his first stop on his “Which Lives Matter’’ tour speaking to colleges across the country. His presentations are interactive as he invites the audience to participate in what he calls “courageous conversations.”
Along with performing as Bill on Tyler Perry’s “BRUH,” and Terrence Abrams on BET’s “Games People Play,” he is a spoken word poet and speaker.
Washington began his presentation with a spoken word poem. He posed rhetorical questions regarding racial and class disparities in the United States.
“How come we have easier access to guns than educational funds? Why are there more liquor stores than book stores in minority neighborhoods?” he asked.
The question, “Which lives matter?” is uncomfortable because it implies that some lives matter more than others, he said.
“All Lives Matter” is the ideal, but is like unconditional love which is not real, Washington added.
“It sounds good. But is it real? Well, you’ll be in love and then I’ll like spit in your cereal or something,” he said. “The only unconditional love is for babies and dogs.”
Blue Lives Matter was created in direct contradiction to Black Lives Matter – which originated to protest against police brutality, he said.
“Not law enforcement, not the police, but police brutality,” he said.
He noted there was never a time in the United States when it was shown that white lives did not matter.
He discussed the Black Lives Matter movement and said people try to justify police brutality by asking, “What did they do?”
Washington used the example of Tamir Rice, 12, who was playing with a toy gun in a park when someone called the police but they did not let him put down the toy gun before shooting and killing him. He said even though Rice was only 12 years old and playing, people still wondered if he was doing something wrong.
Washington emphasized that the statement does not say Black lives are greater or better, but they have importance and significance – yet some people still have trouble feeling comfortable with the phrase.
A big reason people don’t feel comfortable with the phrase Black Lives Matter is because they do not believe in Black experiences with police brutality and instead think if Black people followed the same rules as white people, Black people would not be killed, he said.
People who have grown up in a system that was created specifically to beneGt them have the privilege of living in a world where they can succeed and race does not affect them, he said.
“Your experience is completely different from mine. So different, in fact, that when I tell you my experience, you don’t believe me,” Washington said.
He said that in the past five years, he has found that most people, despite going to protests and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, feel uncomfortable with the phrase because it perpetuates the idea that at some point, they had played a part in making Black people uncomfortable.
Washington related this to the patriarchy. He admitted that as a cisgender man, he knows at some point in life, he has “offended a woman.
“Although I haven’t directly done something, I still benefit from the system that allows me to – and that is uncomfortable,” he said. “But I imagine for a woman, that’s uncomfortable every single day, not just when the topic is brought up.”
The issue with saying All Lives Matter is the narrative changes, he said.
“The moment you change the story, you change the basis,” Washington said. “So when you change the faces, you change the focus. When you change the focus, you change the problem trying to be solved.”
He then asked the audience to find two people they didn’t know and ask them about their favorite food and movie.
The point of the exercise was to show that being uncomfortable is OK and that people need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, he said.
The reason people are not OK with talking to people they don’t know is because of their implicit biases, Washington said.
Washington then discussed microaggressions. “Statements close minds. Questions open them,” he said.
He shared an experience of when he was with a friend in Koreatown. His friend was Taiwanese, and a white man walked up to him and assumed he was Chinese and asked what Chinese symbols were because he wanted to get them as a tattoo.
Washington said if people are unsure of someone’s ethnicity or lifestyle, they should ask instead of assuming.
Exposure is the cure to ignorance, he said.
It is human nature to deal with people who are similar, which is why it was not surprising that most audience members indicated they socialized with people with similar viewpoints, he said.
“The problem is, that’s our experience. We think it’s the truth. Not a truth,” he said, “If someone has a different experience than us, that is their truth.”
He cited a statistic that in the early 2000s, only 6% of Americans believed racism was a problem in the United States, but 12% believed Elvis Presley was still alive.
Washington said that when he read this statistic, he understood it. When he gave a speech at a college in Utah in 2016, an 18-year-old student told him he was the first Black person he had ever seen in person.
He added as an inherently diverse campus, FSU students need to be inclusive and “reach out.”
Washington also encouraged students to learn about other cultures by watching YouTube videos and reading on Google.
He said, “If you don’t take the experience of including yourself in the diversity of people that are different, in what ways have you truly changed?”
The greatest thing he remembers from college is the experiences with people who were not like him, he said.
Working with Quei Tann on “BRUH” has given him a greater understanding of what it is like to be transgender, he added.
“I’m a cisgender heterosexual man, right? I’m what society says you should be,” he said.
When he asked what it was like to be transgender, Tann told him, “I’m everything the world hates,” Washington said. He said he would never forget that sentence.
He then asked the audience to participate in an activity where he asked a series of questions such as, “If you have ever been told ‘Man up’ or ‘Act like a man,’” and, “If you have ever been judged by the color of your skin or physical appearance,” to stand.
Washington noted that during the activity, no one was standing alone. “So often we think our problems are so unique to us,” he said.
“I don’t believe we connect through our success. I believe we connect through our pain,” he said. “Not everybody feels like a success, but everybody has experienced pain.
“And that is exactly why your damn lives matter,” he added. “They all matter because we all experience hurt, laughter, and pain.”
The next step is to empower each other, he said. He shared how he grew up with a foster family who told him “You’re not sh*t,” meaning he was worthless, he said.
He said over the course of his career, he has taken ownership of this phrase and invited students to take part in an empowering exercise where they pumped a roll of toilet paper in the air and said “I’m the sh*t because...”
Audience members shared reasons such as being the first in their family to graduate college,
overcoming depression, and graduating high school after several attempts.
Washington said that it is important to remind yourself to take up as much space as your existence will allow.
“No playing small because of where you come from, or because of your gender or because of your race,” he said.
“Take up as much space as your existence will allow. You’re a person. You have a life. Just make sure you also give space for other people as well.”
[Editor’s Note: Emma Lyons contributed to this article.]