Killings in America by law enforcement have reached epidemic proportions, with rare demand for accountability or justice. The August 9, 2014 fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown was the tipping point motivating protests across the nation. Brown, an African-American college-bound student is said to have had his hands up in surrender when Ferguson, Missouri peace officer, Darren Wilson, fatally shot him.
In November of 2014 I marched with an estimated 300 protesters, whose two-hour trail through the streets of Santa Barbara, California, sought to bring awareness to the prevalence of racism in America. Of immediate concern was the staggering incline of police brutality on the black community, as evidenced by the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.
Throughout November’s protest a handful of chants could be heard, with particular emphasis on “black lives matter”. Amongst all the symbolic chants rotating, this was a favored one. It declared black lives as valuable, revoking any implications to the contrary.
Protesting beside me were people of color like myself, and a number of whites. The first part of the march demonstrated unison and harmony, as the group remained focused through chanting. As is typical with protests, each chant had its own tempo and drive.
However, and without detection, subtle disharmony surfaced; a few members of the group morphed ‘black lives matter’ to ‘all lives matter’. Initially I feared the worst, group discord and total collapse, but soon after, the morphed version made sense. By the second half of the march I too was shouting ‘all lives matter’.
At one point a female African-American college student looks me straight in the eyes and with a resounding roar of a lion, bursts out, ‘BLACK lives matter!’. I attempt to defend myself in the kindest way possible by conjuring up a stance of humility as I stoop to where she had planted herself for the sit-in part of the march. I agreed with the sentiment of her roar – but pleaded with her to see the morphed version as a display of true compassion and inclusion, as apposed to dissent.
Shaking her head disapprovingly, she disregards my input and continues chanting ‘black lives matter’. Once she is done being angry, I think to myself, she will abandon her dogmatic need to emphasize solely the lives of black people.
Later that night I reflected on the interaction between the young lady and myself. I had an idea of where she was coming from, yet felt my persuasion held substantial weight. By deductive reasoning, if ‘all’ lives matter, black people are necessarily included. All means all – end of story, point made!
Throughout the days following the march I encountered numerous conversations and debriefings held by various predominantly white social circles. As a result of those encounters my point of view grew increasingly weak; seizing to hold the initial weight allocated it. My allegiance to the mantra ‘black lives matter’ returned.
Many sanctimonious, non-colored people advocated reformation of our racist judicial system, but in the same breath argued the need to replace black with all. The prerogative displayed by their sense of urgency, coupled with a tone of ownership to the movement, concerned me.
Consciously or not, their rhetoric posed a threat to the cause by superseding the current movement’s agenda with one of its own; the inclusion of non-colored people also claiming victim to police brutality. When presented with statistics documenting disproportionate accounts of police violence towards blacks, versus whites, its relevance was eagerly dismissed. If one white suffered at the hands of police, they argued, that one deserved representation. White people insisted on being threaded into the movement. Short of proclaiming reverse discrimination, they expressed feeling neglected and invisible.
The movement now seemed up for grabs by non-colors, who leaned toward a universal complaint of police brutality toward all people. I began to understand and embody the conviction expressed by the young lady’s roar. Switching black to all essentially diluted the black community’s urgency to obtain fair treatment from police.
It also reinforced the dominant culture’s power and agency, which has never been an issue to the degree it has been for blacks. Morphing the chant to all changed the face of the current movement’s victims; giving voice to those already privileged with platforms to be heard. It was a verbal rape of sorts, muffling and discounting the black voice in lieu of uplifting that of the dominant.
Three simple and to-the-point words, ‘black lives matter’ asserts value, power, and agency for a community historically denied it. It’s a push for grand-scale awareness and stakes claim to inherent human rights. This realization sank in, and I knew it was my responsibility to leave the chant alone and honor the people it was originally intended for.
Fifty years post Civil Right’s Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights, and America has yet to see the kind of social shifts that would remediate perpetuated racism and discrimination. None of us has a right to alter or syphon from the efforts of those attempting to accelerate the kind of social change necessary to uplift the lives of blacks in America.
White lives matter. Asian lives matter. English lives matter. All lives matter… we all know this. By referring solely to the lives of blacks by no means takes away from the inherent human value of any other race; rather, seeks to tend to a people continually denied theirs.
Many suffer inequality and understand the woes of being under the thumb of stratified social systems, but historically, none to the extent as blacks. Bar-none. By denying any damaging impacts of slavery on the black community society forgoes the much-needed dialogue regarding the dehumanization that was necessary for enslavement to have happened.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) stemming from childhood abuse to war, receives mass attention from the medical field and society. Those suffering from PTSD are sympathetically offered an array of resources to help meet survival needs while treatment and social support are sought. Having been subjected to circumstances beyond their capacity to endure, PTSD patients are exempt from taking personal responsibility for their symptoms.
Often struggling with their capacity to fully participate in their own lives, they are given leniency and understanding. Diagnosis or treatment of PTSD is not contingent on validation or documentation of actual traumatic events. Yet, we are asked to minimize, even refute, circumstances blacks have been asked to endure and tolerate.
It is no secret that slave masters: beat, tormented, raped, impregnated, sold, bargained, degraded, neglected/abandoned/sold children they bore, tore families apart, and overworked African-Americans. It can only be assumed these behaviors are considered legitimate and appropriate considering the continued omission from historical textbooks, and lack of amends.
Society’s failure to protect blacks against slave owner brutality, and now, police officer brutality, suggests a lack of regard for their lives, and displays a warped sense of consciousness. Even though it is criminal and punishable by law to fail to protect a person at risk of harm, this law doesn’t seem to apply to the well being of blacks.
Instead, erroneous racial ideologies, pseudo equality, and cries of reverse discrimination continue to circulate, diluting the black community’s plea for a witness to their continued afflictions. Perpetually denied humane treatment, they are caste aside and forced to render for themselves, and lick their own wounds. They are told to get over the slavery thing, buck-up, and participate in society like the rest of America; make-believe all is fair in the land of milk and honey. Picking up the pieces from blows initially thrown by our country’s forefathers, they are forced to swallow and bury the blame and guilt. This is a far cry from the rhetoric outlined in the DSM-IV Reference book for PTSD.
Many people express bewilderment as they question the nature and effectiveness of the social unrest that has taken place in Ferguson and across America. Shaking their heads in disbelief, they are unable to comprehend looting and burning of one’s own community as a means to peace and equality; to which I ask you, how much injustice or maltreatment are you likely to endure before driven to such extreme measures yourself? Perhaps, and hopefully, you and I will never have to find out.
Black lives matter because an entire nation has repeatedly said they don’t.
Black lives matter because all lives matter.
But not all lives have included our black citizens.
Until all lives truly matter, there will be social injustice, unrest, and disparity.
Until all lives matter, there will be tension between the haves, and have-nots.
Until all lives matter, police will continue to kill with complete impunity.
Until black lives matter, those killed will disproportionately be blacks.
Until black lives matter, I will march and support my fellow black brother and sister and chant their chant….Black lives matter.
And only when the chant all lives matter is actualized in practice and belief, will I chant it. In the meantime, I will treat all humans with respect and dignity. I will not regard myself any better or less than others, who like me, are equally at the mercy of the human condition. I will strive to see the inherent value in each of our precious souls, casting my vote for inclusion of all lives into the matrix of society. Operating from a place of equality and fairness I will strive to do this consistently and in a loving manner.
Black lives matter because all lives matter – I pray we begin to act accordingly.