Due to the recent racial tensions across America, Black Lives Matters has come to the forefront of many conversations concerning race and race relations. If you mention the organization (or even the phrase) to anyone, their reaction could be from glowing pride to absolute vitriol.
As a spiritual leader, I make it a point to listen to those around me and hear their thoughts and feelings, especially during this cultural reckoning. Through my religious work, I have been surrounded by African Americans, European Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans. I have also been fortunate enough to grow up around this diverse mosaic of ethnicities.
Within my circle of influence, I have heard from many who genuinely believe that the Black Lives Matter organization’s origins have dubious roots at best. Some have said that BLM is racist. Others think they have a hidden agenda is to overthrow the government. Does this mean that every person who utters Black Lives Matter is a card-carrying member with a hidden agenda to bring the United States to the brink of civil war? Of course not!
First: a bit of history. In 2013, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi formed the Black Lives Matter Network. Alicia Garza described the network as an online platform that existed to provide activists with a shared set of principles and goals. Patrisse Cullors (born June 20, 1983) is an American artist and activist. Cullors is an advocate for prison abolition in Los Angeles and a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. She also identifies as a queer activist.
Our executive branch actively sews doubt about BLM and its mission. On several different occasions, when reporters asked Vice President Mike Pence if black lives matter, he responded, “All Lives Matter.” While the phrase “All Lives Matter” seems innocuous on the surface, it is a counter-phrase for those who refuse to give credibility to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Still, the phrase All Lives Matter begs the question: Do all lives really matter? And furthermore, does the term imply that all lives have equal value? Or is it merely just a means to undermine the BLM movement?
To be clear: Everyone knows that white lives matter. History shows that white people – from the early settlers, through World War I and II, and until now – were (and continue to be) valued more. White people were not subjected to redlining, or The Tuskegee Study, or generations of slavery.
There are more examples of this today. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate for black women is almost five times that for white women in the United States. In 2018, thousands of minority children were separated from their parents at the U.S-Mexican border and held at ICE detention centers. Today, people of color have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. A report from The New York Times estimates that Black and Latino people are three times more likely to get infected than their white neighbors.
While we tend to focus on people of color, other groups deserve attention as well. Healthcare workers are understaffed and continue to lack sufficient Personal Protection Equipment to fight the pandemic. Let’s not forget about the alarming rate of school shootings that have terrorized a generation of young Americans. Their lives matter too.
These scenarios have attainable solutions to save lives, but we still have not implemented these changes. A bigger question should be who decides what lives matter. As a nation, we all should be deeply concerned about who can control these conversations and decide to make changes. In my opinion, lives seem to matter only when money is involved. Those who hold the money in this country tend to be the ones who decide which lives matter. Those in power tend to follow the money. While some authority figures are beginning to use their power and money for good, until then, we need to speak up and insist on the change we wish to see.
During this season of multiple crises in our nation, we have an opportunity to rally the people and unite as a country to make a significant change in the way we view and value life. But unfortunately, the best and the worst rise to the top. Some African Americans still believe the only way for their lives to matter is through violence and looting. Others want to divert the conversation to black on black crime. Many whites are becoming increasingly open about their disdain for blacks.
These are hard truths to see in the open, but I believe as far as race relations go, we as a country cannot return to the silently racist society we have lived in since the waning of the civil rights movement. We need to face these issues head-on. With that in mind, I also have hope when I see blacks, whites, Hispanic, and Asians standing up for what is right and demanding equal treatment for all Americans. These demographic changes among protesters tell me that we are moving towards positive change.
I wish Vice President Pence were right in saying that All Lives Matter. I want to believe that we all live and exist on equal footing. However, today, you do not have to look that hard to see that is not the case. Until we bring about the change that we desperately need, we need to insist that Black Lives Matter. Only then will All Lives Matter.