This post is longer than I usually write. I considered breaking it into two separate posts, posting them on two separate days, but in all honesty, that would be unfair. I struggled for many hours over it and it is only about a fourth as much as I could have written, and I know that I did not do it justice, but it is one post that literally pulled something from within me and left me near tears more than once. I hope that you will read to the end, because I think that we all need to work a little harder to understand what I am saying.
I admit that until recently (yesterday, actually) I did not fully grasp the meaning of the BlackLivesMatter (BLM) movement. Though I supported it, I did not fully “get” it. Like many, I had a vague sense that it was a response to the many unjustified murders of black people in the last four years, starting with the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012. I knew that the African-American community was protesting against the needless deaths caused by the very people who we pay to protect us all, the police. But BLM is so much more than that, and I had a lot to learn.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, there were many who did not understand the Civil Rights movement, also. It did not necessarily mean they were bad people, but merely that they could not grasp what it meant to be forced to use a separate water fountain, a separate restroom, ride in the back of the bus. They had never been sprayed with a water hose by a policeman or had their friends killed when their church was bombed. They did not understand and they did not try to understand. No, they were not necessarily bad people, merely ignorant.
Fast forward to the 21st century. We have come a long way, right? There are no “Whites Only” signs on restroom doors or restaurants, inter-racial couples are allowed to marry, white and black children attend the same schools (mostly), and blacks are given the same employment opportunities (theoretically). February 26th, in Sanford, Florida, a 17-year-old African-American boy is leaving a convenience store and is fatally shot by a local neighborhood watchman. The boy’s name was Trayvon Martin and his crime was simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time (a predominantly white neighborhood), being black, and wearing a hooded sweatshirt. He carried no weapon and was a resident in that neighborhood. The police supported the watchman’s right to shoot the boy and the court upheld that, judging the watchman “not guilty” the following year, despite his having lied about several details of that night.
The murder, for what else can it be called, of Trayvon Martin, is far from an isolated incident. It neither began nor ended with Trayvon Martin, his was merely the first case that caught the attention of the public, the first time the public, white and black alike, became outraged in recent decades. Consider, if you will, the following facts:
- Police killed at least 102 unarmed black people in 2015, more than any other race.
- Nearly 1 in 3 black people killed by police in 2015 were identified as unarmed, though the actual number is likely higher due to underreporting.
- 37% of unarmed people killed by police were black in 2015 despite black people being only 13% of the U.S. population.
- Unarmed black people were killed at 5 times the rate of unarmed whites in 2015.
- Only 9 of the 102 cases resulted in officer(s) being charged with a crime.
After the murder of Trayvon Martin, I was outraged and expected no less of my friends, neighbors and fellow citizens, but I was to be disappointed. Excuses were made, lies were told, believed and spread, and the upshot was that most people I talked to failed to see it as cold-blooded murder, but like the jurors in the case, believed it was a justifiable action. This was the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, formed in 2013 by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, though it did not gain widespread national recognition until 2014, after the murders of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City.
Black Lives Matter is not a continuation of the Civil Rights movement, though many see it as such. We resolved some issues in the 1960’s as the Civil Rights movement wound down, but in the 50+ years hence, new issues have arisen. Make no mistake … racism is alive and well in the U.S. today. It has merely found a new home with different methods, different issues, a new veneer. Black Lives Matter is not the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. There is no Martin Luther King, Jr. to direct us toward peaceful, non-violent solutions. It is a movement all its own based on police brutality against black citizens, the wealth gap, a failing system of public education that needs fixing, issues of housing equality and gentrification. These are the issues that the BLM movement seeks to address in addition to police brutality and murders by police.
Black Lives Matter is not an anti-white movement though white supremacists argue that it is. Now here is the part that I didn’t understand, and I am willing to bet that most people do not. When you respond to Black Lives Matter with “All Lives Matter”, it is a slap in the face. It is an insult. No, BLM is not an anti-white movement. But it is a movement to remind us, to jostle our conscience, to let us know that blacks have been left out of much of what makes lives meaningful, and that frankly they are damned sick and tired of it. I don’t blame them. When you say “All Lives Matter” in response to Black Lives Matter, you are putting yourself first, once again.
The best explanation I have come across is this:
Imagine that you’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don’t get any. So you say “I should get my fair share.” And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, “everyone should get their fair share.” Now, that’s a wonderful sentiment — indeed, everyone should, and that was kinda your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad’s smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn’t solve the problem that you still haven’t gotten any!
The problem is that the statement “I should get my fair share” had an implicit “too” at the end: “I should get my fair share, too, just like everyone else.” But your dad’s response treated your statement as though you meant “only I should get my fair share”, which clearly was not your intention. As a result, his statement that “everyone should get their fair share,” while true, only served to ignore the problem you were trying to point out.
That’s the situation of the “black lives matter” movement. Culture, laws, the arts, religion, and everyone else repeatedly suggest that all lives should matter. Clearly, that message already abounds in our society.
Tell me, dear readers … when was the last time that you felt, really and truly felt, that your life did not matter? I have, as you probably have, felt that way once or twice in my life, as a child, but never for more than a few hours or a few days at a time. Can you imagine spending your whole life feeling that your life was worth no more than … say a single fish in a pond?
- If you’ve ever been stopped by police and not feared for your life, you’ve mattered.
- If you’ve walked down a street at night and not been looked at with fear or suspicion, you’ve mattered.
- If you’ve participated in our legal process and assumed you’ve gotten fair treatment, you’ve mattered.
- Until this is true for all of us, we have work to do.
One other issue is relevant here. Recently I saw a white woman on the news who said that while she supported BLM, the blacks really had only themselves to blame, that if they “acted right” and “spoke properly”, they would be taken more seriously, respected more. There are those, even within the black community, who believe that blacks have not risen in stature, do not garner respect, because of their own behavior. Because they are not trying to “fit in”. Because maybe they dress differently or speak differently. Baloney! Blacks do not get the respect they deserve because many of us still believe they are inferior based on their race, based on the colour of their skin. Nothing more. All people should be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of how one looks or speaks. THIS is what Black Lives Matter is attempting to convey. Another excellent explanation for the BLM is to be found here: http://johnpavlovitz.com/2015/11/25/why-do-i-still-have-to-explain-blacklivesmatter-to-other-white-people/
The saying “Black Lives Mattef” should probably include the word “too” or “also”. That is what the movement is really about. Black Lives Matter Too. Black Lives Matter as much as White Lives. Black Lives Matter as much as ANY LIVES. No, they do not matter more … nobody ever said they did … but they must matter as much. They must.
One last question before I give my fingers, my mind and my heart a break: would somebody please tell me what that damn # is for???