Black lives matter, even among privileged LEGO builders [Editorial]

Here at The Brothers Brick, we’ve taken “political” stands on matters of peace and justice for as long as the LEGO building community has created LEGO art that communicates an important message, whether that message was in support of marriage equality way back in 2006 or freedom of discourse in response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in 2015. Dave Kaleta joins a chorus of people around the world who choose not to remain silent in these excruciating, infuriating times.

Black Lives Matter

From a LEGO build perspective, Dave uses largely disconnected white slopes, tiles, and plates to surround solidly attached black bricks. Dave also leverages the new range of small curved tiles to create the lettering along the bottom of the mosaic. But the build and its techniques are hardly what grab my attention.

There are far too many of our own readers who react each time we share a message-oriented LEGO creation by telling us in the comments that they want politics to “stay out of LEGO.” (Or more amusingly, decry “TBB suddenly becoming political” with no awareness of our longstanding editorial stances on important issues of the day.) Of course, what these individuals mean is that they want viewpoints that they don’t agree with to stay out of their LEGO hobby — an instance of possessively toxic fandom in which their own personal interests exist separated from the outside world. However, we believe that many of the best LEGO creations are indeed art, and I personally agree with Nobel-prize winning author Toni Morrison that “all good art is political.”

As I write this, I’m under both quarantine and curfew in my own city, while militarized police and the National Guard face off across America with protesters expressing anguish and anger not just about the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and thousands more but also about systemic racial injustice and police brutality in our broader society. If as you hear the phrase, your response to “Black Lives Matter” is “Well, all lives matter, don’t they?” or “Blue Lives Matter!” you demonstrate your ignorance of the America we live in and its history, and you owe it to yourself to get educated. The slogan “Black Lives Matter” is itself a counterpoint to a society that leverages centuries of institutionalized racism to tell African-Americans through their lived experiences every day that their lives don’t matter.

I also write this from a place of incalculable privilege myself — privilege built not merely on the fact that I am white and male, but on nearly 500 years of our nation’s sordid past. The Becraft family arrived in the United States from England before 1660, more than likely settling on land wrested by force from indigenous peoples. By 1800, my sixth-great grandfather Benjamin Becraft is listed on the 1800 census in Montgomery County, Maryland (just outside of Washington, D.C. today). In the last column that indicates the number of slaves owned by the listed head of household, the horrifying number 20 appears. By the next generation, my ancestors migrated through Kentucky (where they are recorded warring with local Indian tribes and where they also likely sold their slaves to plantations in the Deep South), then to Indiana, Illinois, California, Oregon Territory, and finally Washington Territory, taking more indigenous land with each generation’s move westward. The privilege I experience with my college education, professional job, corporate healthcare, single-family residence, and absence of fear from police brutality is a direct consequence of the lives and land that my ancestors stole from people of African and indigenous descent.

If you’re privileged enough to participate in the expensive LEGO hobby, no matter where you live in the world, take a moment to consider your own privilege — and the history where you live that delivered that privilege to you — before throwing “All lives matter!” (sure, but that’s not the point) or “Blue Lives Matter!” (this response shows a distressing loyalty to the police state rather than your fellow citizens who are suffering) back into the conversation.

So instead of asking you for a general response to current events on the news, to “Black Lives Matter”, or even to Dave’s well-built mosaic, I will ask you this instead: How has your privilege or heritage affected your participation in the LEGO hobby? And what are you doing to make our hobby a more open and inclusive space for people of all backgrounds?

30 comments on “Black lives matter, even among privileged LEGO builders [Editorial]

  1. Ryan

    Really happy to see you post this. Using your platform is really important and I’m glad to see you do it regardless of any backlash. Keep up the good work.

  2. Hybrid

    I mean, hey, I’m not American – but personally I would have thought the message would be best as ‘all lives matter’…. or ‘equal opportunity for both Men and Women’ rather than feminism, for example. Interesting seeing this specify just Black.

  3. Rachel Oosterwijk

    I can not agree more. I have been pondering this for the last couple of days as well, how you can use your Hobby on social media to show your support instead of your privilege?

  4. Andrew Post author

    @Hybrid: Might I suggest reading the article before leaving a comment based presumably only on the title or photo?

  5. Thomas Jenkins

    Thank you for this. You’ve summarized my feelings way better than I could have done myself. It’s good to know that such a pillar in the community is setting a good example and standing for what is right. I hope readers take the time to read this and reflect.

  6. Harm van der Laan

    Thanks for this post. In addition to reflecting on one’s own privileged position, I think it’s important to be conscious of the fact that every time we buy a LEGO product, we still contribute (albeit indirectly) to the current exploitation of the African continent (as well as other places).

    Apart from the obvious fact that the oil companies that deliver the raw materials for the LEGO products are not exactly known for their high ethical standards, the chips that run the machines in factories as well as those that are integrated in LEGO products contain rare metals of which a very large percentage is extracted under horrible conditions in African mines.

    This obviously holds true for pretty much anything we buy. Nevertheless, I think it is very important to keep applying pressure on TLG so they might improve in this regard. In my opinion, a large portion of the current record breaking profits (TLG quadrupled sales in many countries in recent months) should be used to speed up the process of becoming a more ethical company, so that LEGO can live up to it’s own core values and so that in the future ‘good play’ will apply to everyone, and not just the lucky few.

  7. Hybrid

    @Andrew – I am absolutely happy for you to disagree.. which I think is the essence of good conversation and by all means the way in which good progress is made. With that said, might I ask that you consider that possibly I had read the article (which I have) and don’t necessarily agree with your take on the comment regarding the ignorance implied by being opposed to your personal take on the matter, which you are completely entitled to… But I believe, so am I, within educated reason, without being called ignorant for having a different opinion.

    I thank you for providing a good article however, but to actually reply to you – I personally come from a non-privileged background and of a cultural minority (but not black). As far as taking into account prior history where the phrase relates. You are most probably 100 percent correct that it has relevance. Which is why I mentioned feminism. It stems from a history where the females were not given the same privileges as men to say the least but this has not changed the fact that although the feminist movement has meaning in this respect, it would still be counter to the argument that all should be equal. I was simply suggesting that even still, the phrase (as specifically per the lego creation, and not the opinion expressed in the editorial) ‘Black lives matter’ would be better placed in the literal form it would intend to portray, rather than the symbolic affect it either hopes to convey or has become based on cultural issues.

    Regardless whether you agree or disagree with my take on the matter, you will note the respect shown in my conversing. I hope you can show the same if you reply.


  8. DR

    To me favoring any race is racism. Simple as that. Saying “Black Lives Matter” is disrespectful to not just other people, but other minorities. Not to mention anybody can throw shit at white people, white cis men specifically, and this is okay due to “privilege”.

    It is not my job to make the hobby more open. It is my job, however, to ensure it is not any *less* open to other people regardless of their origin, which is an important distinction.

    LEGO is expensive. I come from a second world country and nobody cares that I couldn’t afford most of the sets as a kid. But why should they? LEGO is a non-critical good for rich people. Which stems from a simple fact: LEGO is a business.

    Why should it be any more accessible to the poor? If anything, it was a catalyst to make me more ambitious so eventually I got a good job and finally, as an adult, can afford it.

  9. Lorc


    You are not showing respect, you are being incredibly rude. You’re like someone talking loudly at a funeral, and demanding that the person shushing you explain why you should be quiet.

    I would suggest that:
    “If as you hear the phrase, your response to “Black Lives Matter” is “Well, all lives matter, don’t they?” or “Blue Lives Matter!” you demonstrate your ignorance of the America we live in and its history, and you owe it to yourself to get educated. The slogan “Black Lives Matter” is itself a counterpoint to a society that leverages centuries of institutionalized racism to tell African-Americans through their lived experiences every day that their lives don’t matter.”

  10. Lukas

    I am white, male, definatly privileged, long-time fan of TBB and not the type who posts anything, but this article has changed the later. From my viewpoint his article elevates TBB from other Lego blogs. By combining the passion for Lego with personal viewpoints such as your family history Andrew, TBB shows us readers that there are fare more important topics in the world than just Lego and broadens our horizon.

    So just thank you!

  11. LamborghiniWaffleSauce

    Thank you Andrew for these wonderful words and using this popular blog to speak out again injustice.
    No matter what background you are from, it is important to stand up to bullies and help the helpless and oppressed. In this case, it is an unjust system which many benefit from. Tearing down this system does not mean that the privileged will no longer benefit from it, it just means that others would finally have the opportunity to benefit from it.

    I’m a non-black person of colour. I have had my fair share of experience with the unjust system. I have been asked to leave a wealthy neighbourhood because “I didn’t belong there.” I have been “randomly” searched at airports, train stations, and music festivals. A Chicago policeman once told me that he’d like to kill me so that there would be less of me in the world. All because of the colour of my skin.
    And that’s not even half as bad as hundreds of years of oppression, slavery, segregation, and denial of basic human rights against black lives.

    I have been imploring my instagram followers to exercise empathy, understanding, and human kindness. I have been met with “shut up and stick to LEGO”, racial slurs, and even death threats from a few fellow fans of LEGO, all because they see other races as less than human. That is the price of privilege, when something does not affect them, and as a result they lack empathy for those who suffer.
    I have had a lot of kind words and support as well, and I appreciate that. After days of silence, more and more fans of LEGO are speaking up about this issue. It all boils down to human kindness.
    All this wouldn’t happen if people were kind to each other and treated others as they’d want to be treated.

  12. Mark Stafford

    These are my personal opinions, nothing to do with my employer. I’m British, I don’t come from what we considered a ‘privileged’ background, my ancestors worked the land, then worked in factories, they died in wars they didn’t understand, they were firmly working class, minimal education, mostly poor. They never went to a private schools, never took land from anyone, and they never owned slaves. I don’t have that level of ancestral guilt and I have always been proud to have been born in the same city as William Wilberforce; the man who got slavery banned throughout the British Empire.

    But I also understand my family had ‘white’ privilege. Undoubtedly if the generations of my family had been black the outcome of their lives would have been far worse. Their mistakes amplified, their successes muted. The wealth of my country was built not just by us but also on the exploitation of ‘our’ Empire and I benefited from the infrastructure that wealth built. So I am privileged.

    Of course all lives matter, but right now because of what has happened again there is proof that to some people black lives matter less. I believe all lives are equal, and therefore right now I need to single out those who are being excluded and tell them they matter to me, to every right thinking person. Saying it does not in any way reduce other lives to being less.

    Black Lives Matter. That simple. They matter.

    It is no longer enough to be not racist, it is time to be anti-racist. Shut down racism, people need to be told they are wrong and if any of us say or do something we didn’t realise was offensive we might need to listen too. It’s not ‘just the way it is’, it is unacceptable, it is wrong. If someone is racist and they won’t change they will not be a part of my life. That is the change all of us can make.

  13. Johnny Johnson

    Thank you.

    Black lives matter.

    Until all are free, none are. Too many people have been too privileged and content to “mind their own business” to stand up for the abused. We’ve let terrible things happen to our neighbors just because we have the privilege to ignore systemic racism (Which actually means we bought into it ourselves, unwittingly). Many of our political and judicial systems have festered into something that seems damn near unsalvageable, because so many of the people in them have no interest in being subject to the laws already in place. Too often, law enforcement and politics is where small men go to feel powerful. And to feel powerful, someone else has to be made to feel powerless. It’s not a new problem; it’s always been happening in America. Always. Maybe that’s helped to disenfranchise those of us who are privileged enough that we could easily live the rest of our lives without lifting a finger to help. But as wrong as things have always been for minorities, they are definitely on track to becoming worse than they’ve been in recent history. We have no right to turn a blind eye when innocent human beings can be killed in broad daylight, on camera, next to a police car that says “To Protect and Serve With Kindness”, by men who expect zero repercussions, and typically excuse their ever-escalating actions by claiming to be afraid. It’s sickening. They’ll happily de-escalate a situation with a white mass murderer, but put a bunch of black people in a peaceful protest and we just get police doing terrible damage with riot control weapons, arresting and injuring compliant reporters live on television, and being caught on camera trying to escalate protests into vandalism, violence, and looting. There are police who are trying to do what’s right, and there are police who think of themselves proudly as the biggest and baddest gang in the land. It’s gotten so shocking, that people’s privilege to think that none of this affects them is at risk. And this is just ONE issue; the most violent one for one of our most at-risk communities, so for triage purposes it should absolutely be focused on without whining “But what about ALL lives?” Anyone still doing so at this point is astonishingly naive, whether they are purposefully missing the point or not.

  14. polywen

    Black lives matter.

    Making the argument that all lives matter is a form pedantry which is, at best tone deaf and insensitive, at worst racist.

    Because the term is used to negate the issue at hand, and it is playing word games while refusing to recognize the real issue.

    All lives matter is the go to for racists. I’m not saying you are racist. But that your argument aligns with racist arguments. And for that reason alone, you should rethink it.

    The metaphor going around now is, when your house is on fire, you want the fire department to focus on saving your house. To argue that all houses matter and that the fire department should waste time and attention by spraying all other houses with water would be ridiculous. That is what the all lives matter argument is.

    There is a crisis happening to a specific group of people. Black Lives Matter IS the only way to say it. It does not mean they matter more. It is a response to the fact that their lives don’t matter at all now.

    It’s the same with homophobes arguing that Pride is the LGBTQ saying they are better than everyone else. It isn’t. THey have gone for hundreds of years, forced to hide who they are out of fear and shame. It is only called Pride to counter generations of harm done to them.

    So too does Black Lives Matter intend to undo the harm being done specifically to blacks in America.

  15. Jon

    In the past few years as an EMT I’ve had my eyes opened and have had the unfortunate opportunity to see people in the worst places in theIr lives.

    For those of us who have always lived our lives with equal respect for everyone, who react to people based on their immediate behavior and their demeanor, it hurts to be lumped in together with those who may have ill-intentions or are outright racist. If this is the average experience for a person of color, then I cannot imagine how much it must hurt. But here it is continuing and first responders all get lumped together on the same team so I regularly get called a bigot, especially on calls requested by PD.

    Moving forward, I have difficulty imagining that merely flipping the table over is going to be productive. If a person had a poor experience or a bad run-in with whoever (any race, creed, religion, background, or line of work), and as a result of that experience decides that all of the same are equally worthless, then it shows more about the person’s character than the initial offending party.

    If I decided that a few opiate addicts I treated were merely seeking another fix and did not want to truly improve and heal, and then I treated every future encounter with addicts of any type the same way, then it shows that I am not compassionate and that I’ve based my judgement of an entire group of people in the actions of a very limited few. It means I’m wrong, and that when presented with clear evidence, I choose to ignore it.

    But the reality is that for every one horrible addict who is seeking the drugs on board an ambulance, there are nine who have hit rock bottom, who have cried for help and made that their first stop. Yet we remember all the negatives and they hold more weight. What does that say about EMTs? What does it say to the next person who wants help and gets turned away or treated poorly or ignored based not on their actions, but on the internal thoughts and past experiences of the ones they cry out to? Does it mean that all ten addicts are destined to relapse and they’ll never seek help, or don’t want it?

    I don’t doubt for a second that there are first responders who get a thrill from belittling people for no apparent reason, although I’ve not run into any personally. It’s evident by watching the news that they exist, be they fire fighters, cops, or medics.

    To say that all cops, medics, etc. are horrible racists who have perpetrated some grand conspiratorial plan to keep certain people down; that they would relish the opportunity to commit some heinous crime; that they deserve some blanket punishment based on the deeds of so very few… is no different than saying that all addicts are worthless drug seekers who deserve the slow painful death they so frequently suffer, or that all people of color inherently inferior. We know it isn’t true and we have evidence to support that, yet we let our own biases override common sense and basic human decency.

  16. Payton

    As a black male LEGO enthusiast, I always felt there was an internal struggle inherent to publically enjoying LEGO. My mindset was that this as a privileged white person’s hobby. I knew that probably was not true but I could never validate it until the recent LEGO master’s tv show.

    I am fairly new to this blog and as such have not been able to pore through the archives to find ther other posts advocating for equity and lifting up humanity. So when I casually saw this on my phone and I was stunned at how welcome this post made me feel. Negative comments aside, these words created a container within which my existence feels seen, heard and acknolwedged. Thank you.

  17. Tom Nguyen (@tomng)

    @Payton: We’re lucky to have your the LEGO community. Thanks for sharing, and keep building awesome things!

    @Andrew, thanks for sharing so much inspiration from the Lego community generally, and now for using your platform to help highlight the injustices black Americans endure every day.

    LEGO is fundamentally about building.

    As we invest ourselves in our creations, we apply a vital skill of recognizing where that thing we‘re making is imperfect — so that we can keep iterating and rebuilding to make it even better.

    Black Lives Matter asks us to do the same, to recognize the gaping flaws and the vital need to build a better, more just society together.

    What you write about fantastical LEGO creations is itself so creative and expressive; it’s just fun to read your writing. So I was delighted to see that skill applied toward sharing your personal perspective on Black Lives Matter. And I admire your clear-eyed reflection on privilege that came at the expense of others — and recognition that we can all be better to support our black neighbors, starting by trying to listen and understand.

    My parents’ highest paying jobs were as a factory worker and a janitor. But I’m not black. So as a I kid I never had worry about my life when I saw a police officer. Even if I ran across the street to grab a ball — or *gasp* — jaywalked! Even if I wore a hoodie as it was starting to get dark outside. Never crossed my mind. I was allowed to be unafraid. I was allowed to be a kid.

    That alone was enormous privilege that let me focus on things like school — where I didn’t have to fight low expectations and implicit bias or worry about weightier things like my own safety. And that led me to a career that, among other things, lets me play with LEGO. Those are things I got to take for granted.

    But millions of black Americans today don’t have that privilege — those basic rights. Let’s recognize we can build something better.


  18. Hybrid

    @Lorc Actually Lorc, I’m not sure if you read my second post, but I addressed that exact quote that you referenced. I simply stated that I had read that, and posed my take on it. What you have failed to understand, is that by having a calm and composed, explained, differing opinion, does not make me rude or at the level of someone shouting at a funeral… in any way. So that accusation itself, is rude.

  19. Lorc

    I was replying directly to your second post and you are still shouting at a funeral.

    I regret being the only person fool enough to engage with your obvious sealioning.

    Black Lives Matter.

  20. Mad physicist

    Understandably, given the history of racism in the US, African Americans feel that their lives matter less than the lives of others. You can argue about the semantics, but “Black Lives Matter” simply signifies that their lives ought to matter too. I’d like to think that is something we can all agree with, but then again, judging from some of the comments, some of our fellow fans of LEGO have experienced racism and discrimination among AFOLs. It’s disgusting. I’d assumed that our shared shared humanity and our shared love for LEGO would matter more than differences such as the colour of our skins, but I guess I’ve been shielded from this by the usually pasty colour of mine.

  21. Conscientious Objector

    If we see keep seeing each other as colors instead of human beings, we will never get rid of racism and racists.
    As someone who has been discriminated against, I can tell you first hand that I don’t need any white knights (pardon the pun) trying to defend my cause by making it painfully clear that I am different and I should matter simply because of that instead of my skills, abilities and who I am as a person. It’s sad to see so many otherwise well-intentioned individuals living in an echo chamber and who are ultimately amplifying the problem.
    And saying things like “Making the argument that all lives matter is […] at worst racist.”…. Brother, I’m sorry but I just cannot take you seriously, nor do I see you as anything other than a drone adding to the noise rather than being part of the solution. Furthermore, saying something like “[…] when your house is on fire, you want the fire department to focus on saving your house. To argue that all houses matter and that the fire department should waste time and attention by spraying all other houses with water would be ridiculous.” is quite selfish and self-centered. Believe it or not, there are quite a few humans out there willing to make sacrifices for the greater good – including the ultimate sacrifice. Case in point, during the COVID pandemic, look at the (admittedly few) instances when older people willingly gave up their respirator machines so that a younger victim could be saved. Yes, most people are selfish, but sometimes miracles do happen, and then we can reach a solution rather than add to the noise.
    Yes, it is horrific what is happening in the US, but the way I see it, #BlackLivesMatter ultimately maintains the status quo; it maintains the race division instead of breaking it. Moreover, as it can clearly be seen in the comments here too, it can lead to the other extreme (i.e. ALL LIVES WON’T MATTER UNTIL BLACK LIVES MATTER). In other words, by fighting inequality and injustice, one becomes the proponent of inequality and injustice. Orwell described this situation quite well in Animal Farm (4 legs good, 2 legs better). It’s quite disturbing to see that fascism is present on both sides of the barricade: there is no common sense, no reason, and everything is taken to the extremes.
    Finally, as people who “play” with multicolored bricks, I was hoping that we, AFOLs, would be the first to recognize that it’s not the color that matters but what you can do with each brick and what all the bricks combined can achieve.

  22. Harm van der Laan

    @Hybrid I don’t think you were being rude. Still I’d like to offer a thought on the ‘all lives matter’ idea.

    The most fitting analogy I’ve come across is if someone who tries to raise awareness for breast cancer gets told that ‘all cancers matter’. It might be true, but it’s besides the point, and especially if you’re saying it to someone who is (close to) a breast cancer survivor themselves, it might be perceived as rude.

    Yes, it’s obviously true that all lives better, noone is arguing that -only- black lives matter, it’s just the black lives that are in danger, and they need all the help they can get.

  23. MrLego2006

    I am utterly disappointed in the people who advertising All Lives Matter. It is obviously true that all lives matter, but why focus on white lives? Name one white person who was murdered by the police. Name one white person who was enslaved in America. White lives matter, BUT THEY AREN’T IN DANGER. White people don’t have to be afraid of the police. It could be argued that at this point in time, black live-streams DO matter more than white ones. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

  24. Cuahchic

    Andrew – while this piece is admirable in many ways, I’d take this a lot more seriously if I didn’t find a sea of white male (with one exception) faces looking back at me when I explore the contributors link.

    Instead of casting stones, can you tell us what the Brothers Brick plans to do to give PoC all over the world a platform to express their views through LEGO?

  25. Cynthia Bradham

    I am a white woman in the US. I am still reeling in horror over all this. I feel compelled to say that I don’t know what to say. I want to support ppl of color right now, but do not know how to express my support appropriately.

    I agree w conscientious objector above that focusing on Blackness perpetuates racial distinctions, which defeats the purpose. As a gay person, I share that sentiment: intentionally marginalizing the gay community only serves to perpetuate recognizing the differences instead of attending to the overwhelming commonalities that we all (ALL) share. And so, it had been my stance to ignore race completely in all my interactions, andbto treat everyone I meet with the same respect and courtesy.

    I do not believe that I truly grasp the experiences and the reality of my fellow citizens of color. I have also come across pushback against lumping black America into a single group, eg “the black vote”, as if this group of ppl can be boiled down to or represented by one voice, opinion, or political position (obviously). And I’ve seen well-intended missives also receive pushback (even in these comments). I don’t want to be among the tone-deaf, and the ice feels treacherously thin.

    So, I would like to ask, humbly and genuinely, to people of color who might read this: how can I best support you now and going forward? What do I need to understand better? What words and actions could I offer that would genuinely help? I realize there are likely a wide range of answers and I hope I can learn from them. Thank you in advance.

  26. James Wiley (TBB Social Media Specialist)

    We want to thank everyone for their feedback and comments especially for this difficult topic in these trying times. We welcome all views, including opposing and constructive, as long as it’s done in a civil manner. While to some it may not be what they wanted to read, we still respect the comments shared as long as those comments do not violate our Terms of Services. As the landscape changes very quickly in the current events, the original intent and reader sentiment when this article was published may have changed. In order not to create further ambiguity in responses that may be taken out of context, we will be closing this thread. Thank you.

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