…but we’ve got to focus on the black ones now. I can’t believe we’re still having this conversation. I can’t begin to describe what it feels like to check the news, log in to social media, and see so much of the same: Another shooting. Another murder. Another post:”Well why are you saying Black Lives Matter don’t you know All Lives Matter? If you want to be taken seriously, just stop with all this attention-seeking.” But I don’t need to describe that, because you all probably feel the same thing.
Yes. All Lives Matter. No one’s saying they don’t. They’re saying “Um, wait a minute. Life is a pretty valuable thing, did you forget that black people have life too? And that their life matters just as much as yours. Black Lives Matter, and I’m telling you they matter because it seems like our society has forgotten.” When men are killed for broken taillights, or legally owning a gun, or walking at night with a hood on, there is a lack of understanding that that person’s life matters. When those same men could participate in those same activities without fear of death, if only their skin were lighter, that is not justice. That is not placing equal value on the “all” lives that matter. And that is the point of reinforcing that Black Lives, in particular, also Matter. Because it’s apparent that we need a reminder that no, the amount of melanin in a person’s skin does not play a factor in how much their life matters in comparison to another.
We must proclaim Black Lives Matter because all lives matter. Because many of us seem to have forgotten that black lives are included in “all.”
I hesitated to write this post for many reasons. As a white, middle class woman, I have no claim on the narrative of black America’s experience. I have no ownership of their stories, their pains, their fears, their anger. I experience the privilege of white skin in the ability to exist without fear that Boyfriend might be killed during a routine traffic stop. Without fear that my body might be at the same time fetishized as “exotic” and rejected as “other.” I experience white privilege in so many ways, and even as I fight to maintain awareness of it, even as I fight to transform that privilege into something we all can enjoy as “equality,” who am I to speak out against the injustices our black neighbors experience? But then I realized it is my duty to speak out as someone who experiences white privilege. As someone who sees that inequality from the other side, and who could just as easily turn the other cheek and move on because that injustice doesn’t affect me. It is my duty to speak out because to remain silent is to remain compliant with the social forces that keep others oppressed. And I am not compliant with those forces.
I hesitated for fear of alienating my fellow white Americans. I feared inciting angry, hateful dialogue…debates of “All Lives Matter” versus “Black Lives Matter.” I hesitated because many people I care for deeply do not understand the meaning of Black Lives Matter, and I feared experiencing their anger or confusion. I hesitated because conflict and misunderstanding makes me deeply uncomfortable. But I realized that is just as much a privilege as the experience of white skin–I have the choice to be made uncomfortable by these conversations or not. And if I truly believe that change must take place, if I truly believe that black lives are of just as much value as mine, it is necessary for me to relinquish the privilege of comfortable silence and engage the discomfort of dialogue.
The society we live in has forced many of us to become numb to the pain, injustice, hatred, and death that surrounds us–if only to survive the day with some fraction of sanity. But that numbness is not good enough. Numbness does not inspire change. It may allow us to live our own lives at a safe distance from those things that “would never happen here…right?” But how long before they do happen here? How long before it is someone you know, someone you love, personally affected by this sickness of prejudice? I think about my Uncle Tim, and how easily it could be him if he was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong person. It doesn’t matter if it’s someone you know or a stranger–the weight and pain of death is the same.
America, we must do better. We must learn again how to listen to one another to understand, learn again how to engage in uncomfortable conversations because that is the only way to move forward. We must stop letting our fear consume us–our fear of those who are different, fear of that which is change, fear of relinquishing the privileges unfairly awarded to us because of an accient of birth. We must let go of being privileged above others in favor of sharing equality with those who have yet to experience it. It is time to come together, because fighting and stubbornness do not work. It is time to demand more from our country, from our leaders, from our friends–it is time to remember that Black Lives Matter.
To the men and women of our police force, sworn to protect the citizens of this country: I support you. If you see injustice taking place, if you see prejudice, profiling, hate–Say something. Do something. Protect the lives you have sworn to protect, even if that means standing up to a peer who has forgotten that. Support the community you are part of. Listen to the stories of the people around you. Stand up for what is right, even if it’s not what is easy.
To my fellow white Americans: be an ally. Listen to the stories of your black neighbors, and seek to understand. The experiences of those different from us are things we can never fully come to know–but we can listen. We can use our voices to advocate for a better world, to support the needs of our fellow Americans. To spread love where so many would have us spread hate and division.
To my black friends and my black neighbors: your lives are important. Tell me what I can do to help you. I will continue to speak out from my own experience in any way I can to support your experience and needs.
Black Lives Matter.