When every year violent attacks occur on churches of predominately Black Americans and Confederate flags and soldiers continue to be romanticized, we imply #blacklivesdontmatter. When unemployment in Black America is almost twice as high as White America and we continue to say racism doesn’t exist, we imply #blacklivesdontmatter. When 1.5 million Black men are missing from daily living due to early deaths or incarceration, when we attribute it only to “their own violence,” and we fail to notice the systems that foster that paradigm, we imply #blacklivesdontmatter. When the average lifespan of transgender Black women is only 30 years old, and the only thing we know about transgender issues is that Bruce is now Caitlyn, we send the message; #blacklivesdontmatter.
White American religious and education systems have effectively taught us that having some basic concern and respect in our hearts for people of color is sufficiently demonstrating that #blacklivesmatter. We are taught that behaviors of individuals or groups of people are a result of their morals or merit, and not a response to the environment that they have to survive. We are cut off from the reality of other people’s environment. We are taught not to believe someone who tells us that their reality is different from ours. Often, our own lives as White people are so difficult that it’s hard to imagine worse conditions. To bear witness to the reality of many Black Americans can require experiencing a pang of empathy that takes courage and support that we don’t often have. When we do see our White brothers and sisters behaving inappropriately towards people of color we run into our own feelings of shame, embarrassment, and disbelief. As a country, we have made visible progress in reducing racism; progress that often gets sited as evidence that we’ve reached the finish line. These conditions leave us ill-prepared to embrace the #blacklivesmatter movement. We jump to an insecure place of imagining that the movement implies #blacklivesmattermorethanyou.
The #blacklivesmatter movement is not a response or competition to the suffering in our own lives. #blacklivesmatter is a message from those who remain resilient to systems of racism, to those who are at risk of internalizing a message that they don't matter. #blacklivesmatter is a response to the statistics that evidence that Black people are dying violent or tragic deaths and the public discourse that is responding with resignation, impotence, blame, or not at all. This paradigm of neglect routinely sends the message to Black youth that Black lives don’t matter. And as a nation, we need to combat that message, or all the gains we’ve made in history will become a lost dream.
Because of the daily implicit (and explicit) messages that Black lives don’t matter; #alllivesmatter falls short of being an explicit counter-message. A brief look at the magazine covers in the check-out line easily sends the message that #whitelivesmatter. #blacklivesmatter is not asking for special attention. The movement is calling for a sufficient amount of attention to prevent unnecessary deaths, brutality, and neglect that is happening through multiple systems occurring in our country (in our world I would add). The movement is demonstrating that in the face of adversity, there are people out there not only surviving, but saying "I matter" and "We matter."
A consequential amount of Black youth have been taught that they don’t matter. When your child runs to your arms for reassurance that they matter, you do not deny them a hug because “then you’d have to hug everyone.” I hope that we can offer Black youth some degree of that same love and support by joining in saying explicitly; “Black lives matter.” If a #blacklivesmatter on your Facebook newsfeed provides even a little shelter from a violent storm, let’s do it.
I’m hoping more people can see the #blacklivesmatter movement as an act of love to the youth of this country who are internalizing the all-but-hashtagged message that Black lives don’t matter. I hope we can begin to see, and begin to resolve the systems that lead to the deaths of many Black Americans. I hope that with the same vehemence that we teach our own children “You matter in this world,” we can support our brothers and sisters of color in saying, and then demonstrating, that Black lives matter. I hope all children can grow up knowing that they matter. I see that Black youth are not enough receiving that message; and so I stand by those who say explicitly; Black Lives Matter.