I don’t write about this enough, and I probably should, because it tears me up
inside every time I hear about yet another person cut down in their life by the
persistent, never-ending, never-abating, never-prosecuted violence directed at
black people, particularly black men, in this country. We all know that every
life matters, that all lives matter, but for those out there who use that
rejoinder as a stern rebuke to those of us who chant that black lives matter,
why don’t I see them crying out against this same injustice? Instead we’re
parsing words? We’re parsing which individual lives matter, which are being
lifted up to show the injustice that had cut them down?
I care about all lives. I’m a lifelong pacifist, and I believe any life lost
unnecessarily is a tragedy and an injustice, that any violence is unacceptable
in a society that rules itself with laws. But I cannot abide the sneering
tut-tutting ignorance inherent in the “all lives matter” crowd. These are the
same assholes who want a white history month, the same idiots who advocate for
“men’s rights” as if there were no one out there to act as a champion of white
male privilege, as if that were needed. It’s not.
I don’t say “all lives matter” because I don’t have to live with the kind of
perpetual fear that black people must be shouldering in this decaying Republic.
When I get pulled over by the cops, because of the whiteness of my complexion,
I don’t have to worry about whether I will survive the encounter. If there’s a
domestic disturbance in my hood, I don’t have to worry about calling the cops,
I can call them right over, because I can feel confident that I won’t then be
arrested or beaten (or both) by cops; but if I were black I’d hesitate before
picking up the phone. I’d wonder, If I call the cops, is that going to make
this situation better or is it going to make it worse? As a white person,
fundamentally, I’ve not been given much reason in this country to believe that
cops are not on my side, but if I were a black man I’d have a whole lifetime of
reasons to question that belief. I’d have a lifetime of getting jammed up for
no reason, frisked on the street in violation of my fourth amendment rights; a
lifetime of people assuming I look angry just because I’m not smiling; a
lifetime of getting pulled over for a broken taillight and getting searched; a
lifetime of needing to be careful in order to survive any of these encounters.
As a white person, I have to wonder. I wonder sometimes if I were in that
situation, if I were a suspect, and I ran away, would the cop shoot me dead? Or
would he patiently chase after me like he’s supposed to?
But the most disgusting part, for me, the part that turns my fucking stomach
every time, is the immediate aftermath of one of these killings. On the news
the day after, without fail, we’re inundated with pundit after pundit, news
presenter after news presenter, speculating as to why he may have had it
coming. In the case of Trayvon Martin, this is a child basically whose life
hadn’t even started when he got shot down by a man who most clearly was just
out hunting black people for sport. Yet, as early as the following day, Bill
O'Reilly is out there on the teevee to tell us all about how Trayvon once got
caught at school with a plastic baggie that had a few crumbs of marijuana shake
at the bottom. We get to see his Facebook photos where he and his friends try
to look tough, like many children of all races do on Facebook. We get treated
to stories of how he got suspended from school a couple of times (nevermind
all the evidence that suggests black children are disproportionately suspended
more frequently than white
for the same offenses). None of these facts were lies, but none of them were
germane to the subject at hand: Trayvon was still murdered unjustifiably.
Sure enough, that pattern continues to this day. The day after Alton Sterling
got killed, we hear on TV that he had a criminal record and that he was
resisting arrest at the time he was killed, as if the punishment for resisting
while having a record should be death, as if he somehow deserved to have his
life ended because of it. The same has been happening with Philando Castile’s
killing, with the additional on-air character assassination extending to his
girlfriend who was in the car with her young daughter when this happened. I
don’t see the “all lives matter” crowd crying over what will now happen to that
innocent little girl, forever traumatized by witnessing that.
Over the past couple years, it’s become a lot clearer to me why so many black
people in the US cheered when OJ Simpson got acquitted. Sure he was obviously
guilty as hell, but he was also railroaded by a system that was biased
against him as a black man. I do think OJ Simpson is a murderer, but I also
think the LAPD offices who worked on his case were flagrantly racist assholes
who tainted the case with their racism and made it impossible for justice to
effectively be served. In a country where you’re innocent until explicitly
proven guilty, the obviousness of their racial bias made it impossible for them
to convincingly prove Simpson’s guilt beyond the shadow of a doubt, and
therefore it was an imperfect result but it was the correct result for what
It is, overall, obvious that all lives matter, that nobody should be killed
unjustly, but that’s not what Bill O'Reilly and his ilk are saying when they
sneer down at the rest that purple lives, blue lives, green lives, matter just
as much. Yeah maybe they do, but nobody has to come out and say white lives
matter. Nobody has to point it out, because society already works in a way
that values white lives just fine. There is a “, too” implicit at the end of
“black lives matter” but it shouldn’t have to be spoken. Black people in this
country have a history that is unique, and saying “black lives matter” is
understanding how that history shapes society’s perception of black lives, and
it is also having the awareness to know that right now black lives are not
valued as much as white lives, and this requires correction if we are really
truly to become a more perfect union, and rise above our own unique history.
Instead, “all lives matter” is a way of shutting down the discussion, of
feigning “colorblindness” in the face of obvious racial bias, as if the scourge
of racism could just be willed away with words somehow. It can’t, and it won’t.
It is a dragon we must all fight together and finally reach the true ideal
of equality and justice for all that we lay claim to.
Rise up, space cadets. This battle will not be won without every one of us.