Do Black Lives Matter?5
Please don’t misread or misinterpret the intent of this brief article. I have not yet formulated an opinion on the Black Lives Matter movement. I have no desire to make a political statement. Continue reading . . .
Please don’t misread or misinterpret the intent of this brief article. I have not yet formulated an opinion on the Black Lives Matter movement. I have no desire to make a political statement. I’m not sufficiently informed about the people behind this movement to understand their motivation or goals. It is not my intent to comment on the deaths of the individual in St. Paul, Minnesota, or the man in Louisiana. Nor do I wish to say anything about the deaths of the five policemen in Dallas. Of course, I will say that all these deaths are tragedies of the highest order and my deepest sympathies are with the families of each man.
So what is this post about? It’s simply about the statement, Black Lives Matter. I’ve watched numerous TV news broadcasts and read countless newspaper and blog articles where people, most often white, have responded by saying: “Yes, black lives matter. But white lives matter too. So also do all lives.” I hope all of us would agree that all lives matter, be they lives in the womb of unborn babies or the lives of officers who patrol and protect our neighborhoods or lives of the inner-city teen-ager or the lives of the elderly. But all that is to miss the point. So let me make my point.
My point is directed to white people such as myself, people who simply do not know what it is like to be black in America. If you are white and you do not recognize the reality of “white privilege” then you are either ignorant, naïve, horribly insensitive, or arrogant and uncaring. But again, my point isn’t primarily about white privilege, but the latter does bear directly on what I want to ask you.
Here is my question. Can you, as a white person, identify a single event, comment, or circumstance during the course of your earthly existence where you were led to question whether your life mattered solely because of the color of your skin? Please read that question again. Unless I’m totally out of touch with reality, I doubt that many of us can say “Yes”. Be honest. When were you ever treated in such a way that you questioned whether your life mattered because of the color of your skin?
My answer to the question is simple and to the point: Never. I’ve never been treated by another or spoken to or about by another or encountered any experience in my years on this earth where I was made to question whether my life mattered because I was white.
My strong sense is that virtually every African-American in this country would answer honestly and unequivocally: Yes. Many times. In many ways.
Could it be that the underlying motivation behind the Black Lives Matter movement is precisely for this reason? We white folk respond with incredulity or disdain or confusion to this statement precisely because we’ve never been remotely inclined to doubt whether or not our lives mattered. Many white folk, typically those on the conservative and Republican side of the street (and just so you know, I’m a conservative Republican myself) respond with a condescending and somewhat angry: “Hey, all lives matter! Why single out black people by saying their lives matter?” I’ll tell you why: Because they’ve been taught all their lives that their lives don’t matter. They’ve been treated all their lives and spoken to and described in such ways that they can only conclude, based solely on the color of their skin, that their lives don’t matter.
But their lives do matter! They matter as much as white lives, and brown lives, and blue (police officer) lives and every other life. And it doesn’t help the situation in our society, and it certainly doesn’t help those who feel that their lives probably don’t matter much, for us to get all high and mighty and respond with an arrogant and snarky retort about how “All lives matter.”
So, my plea is simply for those of us who are white and have benefited from immense social, educational, financial, and political privileges to pause and think for a moment about what it is like to live in a country where you are constantly, perhaps even daily, led to believe that your life doesn’t matter for the simple reason that your skin is black. To do so may change your life.