When the grand jury decision came down for Darren Wilson, I was packing up for my wedding trip to Florida. I stayed up late into the night, watching the live streaming footage from activists on the ground, responding to the news with peaceful indignation. And when the decision came down in Staten Island, I was in Barcelona on honeymoon.
Nevertheless, I've followed these events rather closely, following many citizen journalists, and contributing plenty of tweets and retweets to get the word out about what's been happening in Ferguson, New York City, and so on. But I've just not had the time or emotional energy to post about all these events and their implications on this -- my blog about privilege.
As millions have noted before me, there's a regrettable pattern to the killings listed above -- the victims were all black males, murdered by police officers under extremely dubious circumstances. #BlackLivesMatter became the rallying cry as activists around the country felt the need to emphasize the sheer humanity and intrinsic value of people of color. Even today they march the streets of Madison, Wisconsin as they lament and protest the killing of yet another young man of color.
Indeed, black lives matter, and for many people this may seem self-evident. Especially if you (still) believe, as so many do, that we live in a post-racial color-blind society. You might wonder why the statement needs saying at all ("aren't such statements divisive?") and the temptation for you might be to respond with a more inclusive statement -- ALL lives matter!
Certainly many folks have responded with this statement. And while yes, it's true, that all lives matter, we must really inquire to the spirit behind such a response.
I, for one, agree that all lives matter. As a Christian, I believe that all people have intrinsic value and are to be loved, held in high esteem and dignity, regardless of race, class, gender, sexuality, or any other individuating factor. And I'm plenty sure that those who have hit the streets behind the #blacklivesmatter slogan also agree that all lives matter.
But saying so doesn't really get us anywhere, does it?
I mean, how many unarmed black men and boys must be killed by those who have sworn to serve and protect them, before we see these events not as isolated incidents, but as reflecting a pattern of deadly racism, violence, and injustice? How many before the police and justice systems of this country are fundamentally reformed?
And why should so many die in the first place?
The answer that we are receiving from this society and its institutions, with each black life that is so handily discarded, is precisely that black lives don't matter. Thus the slogan you've heard at protests is a counter, a defiant rejoinder -- "nay, black lives do matter!"
If you agree that black lives matter (like all other lives), then you really ought to check your privilege at the door, sit down, and listen up. Now is not the time to assert that all lives matter. That statement doesn't edify anyone, it only serves to denigrate activists and diminish the statement that they are taking to the streets. If you truly agree that black lives matter, then let's afford them the dignity and respect to say so, until we (the rest of society) make it abundantly clear to them that we agree, until it's no longer necessary for us (the rest of society) to be reminded of it.