Death is always tragic. Murder is always abhorrent. Shooting police officers for doing their jobs is reprehensible, as is the pattern (is that word even strong enough? No) of police violence against black Americans in the US. Outside of any slogan, in the normal conversational sense, of course all lives have meaning. Of course all people matter. All people have human rights. That’s not up for debate with me.
But as a political slogan, in the current US climate, saying that “all lives matter” is a deliberate erasure of the fact that in the US, right now, black lives are valued as less than. We see this in our schools, in our legal system, in our prisons, in our media, in health outcomes, everywhere in our culture. This is systemic racism. It exists not because individual white people are racist (though many are), but because the system is rigged. That’s the legacy of our history. No one alive today created this system, but those of us who benefit from it (that means me) have a moral duty to recognize this reality, to check our privilege, and to listen to what the humans at the receiving end of this structural violence have to say.
I realize the irony of getting on my soapbox to say that us white people need to listen more. I do it because my friends and colleagues who are people of color tell me that it matters to them when white people (try to) amplify their voices. Because that’s the only way that some white people will ever hear this message. Because to have said something after Orlando, as I did, and to stay silent now would be even worse. Because as someone who claims to be a human rights activist, to stay silent about this would be racist.
Saying that “black lives matter” is an affirmation that black lives SHOULD matter as much as other lives, especially as white lives. Right now, in America, today, they don’t. Not as much as white lives do, or -indeed- as blue ones do. Saying that “black lives matter” is not a claim that other lives (including police lives) don’t matter. If you hear it that way, I’d encourage you to think about why that is. I’d be happy to have a mutually respectful conversation about it, in whatever medium you prefer.
The dream of universal human rights is about erasing the age-old reality that life is a zero-sum game. That you can only win if someone else loses. We should all keep dreaming, but it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to do our part.
I’ll stop talking now.