Black Lives Must Matter

Another summer, more cases of complete disregard for the sanctity of life in the form of Black Lives.

Having friends and congregants who are police officers and realizing they have a very difficult job, I know it is not fair to generalize. But at what point do we say, we have a problem, a core, deeply-rooted yet rotting on the vine problem, here?

There is an ingrained lack of identification with the Other. This lack of seeing Black lives as the equivalent of our White lives is exasperated by our media's portrayal of Black lives. Black lives are rarely portrayed in full, rarely nuanced, usually a little less than fully humane. Black lives are portrayed as Other, disconnected from us and our lives.

The problem is also exasperated by a bias that says young, male, and Black means being extra prone to crime and criminality. As far as policing goes, I imagine in the police officer psyche, the disproportionate rate of crime by young, Black males creates a bias that increases the level of stress when officers interact with young Black men. Yet even if the statistics regarding crime were not themselves biased - which they are in a vicious circle - the legal system cannot rightly function if biases are allowed to rule the day. The legal system cannot rightly function when biases go unanswered. And the legal system will completely breakdown when those operating on the basis of biases unjustly kill Black lives and go unpunished. These biases must be answered to and changed.

Moreover, the lack of understanding of Black culture, history, and sociology exasperates the problem in a tremendous way. How many of us deeply know the history of slavery, Jim Crow, the Great Migration, White-Flight, Urban blight, cultural appropriation, etc.? All of these things lurk in the background of the current crisis. If officers don't know this extremely pertinent backstory, a source for deep empathy and connection goes missing. (Thankfully, there are models of how to teach history to police officers in training.)

More than anything, however, is White people's dismissing of the crisis. This dismissal is easily seen in the quaint appropriation of the phrase "Black Lives Matter" into "All Lives Matter."

That all lives matter is a given. Jefferson wrote "All men are created equal." However, neither is a living reality. And that is the point! That is the point in the phrase "Black Lives Matter." There is no equality here. There has never been. We say all lives matter, we say all men are created equal. We say these things while Black lives are unjustly killed by those vowing to protect and serve, and while we remain in every way unequal within a system that assures inequity.

In our current reality, as in our history, some lives matter much less than others. Some lives have mattered far less for more than 300 years. Some lives have mattered so far less that they were seen as property and used as human instruments with which to build a nation. Black lives did not matter in 1789 when slave owner George Washington was sworn in as president and in reality forfeited real American freedom by never confronting American's original sin. Black lives did not matter in 1889 as Jim Crow laws were creating a new form of slavery replete with Black bodies hanging from trees. Black Lives did not matter in 1989 when the war on drugs was nearing the utter destruction of Black communities and beginning the unjust mass incarceration of Black lives.

All of a sudden, Black lives are included in "All Lives"? What happened to bring about this sudden inclusion? Is it real inclusion or just a convenient straw man that enables more ignoring of the crisis? If it is real inclusion, than the equality - economic, political, and cultural - it points to must be made real. Where is the movement to make full equality actual and not just lip service?

The sad fact is, in 2016, Black lives don't matter at all. Because mattering less means not mattering at all. "Justice delayed is justice denied." We need to confront this fact and begin fixing it, or all this talk about equality, independence, and exceptionalism is at best a lie and at worst the equivalent of bullet in an officer's gun piercing another Black life.


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