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 children 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 happened.
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.