The first rule of Fight Club is “you don’t talk about fight club.”
However, the first rule of Debate Team is “you must talk about your opponents ideas — you must talk about them so much you understand them inside out and can make their points better than they do.” Because it is only after close listening and careful understanding that two people (or more) can explore the merits and drawbacks of particular ideas. A debate is supposed to be a single conversation about a single idea, not two monologues happening in tandem. [/end rant]
As I continue to think about what is going on in our country, read articles and survey my Facebook feed, there seems to be a lot of talking past one another. Each group insists on its own point, but these two points aren’t mutually exclusive.
I’ll freely admit that I am a newcomer to this conversation, so please keep that in mind.
Black Lives Matter
The “Black Lives Matter” Campaign came into being after George Zimmerman was acquitted for killing Trayvon Martin. The campaign highlighted that a civilian killed another civilian for “looking suspicious”and also drew attention to racial profiling. The campaign gained national attention when it mobilized to protest the way Michael Brown’s body was treated after he was killed in August 2014. Brown’s body lay uncovered in the street for hours after the event while police officers chatted nearby. Was the area an active crime scene where investigation was needed? Absolutely. But it was hard to shake the image of a young man’s body being treated as nothing more than road kill.
As I understand it, the Black Lives Matter Campaign is the advocacy of basic human rights for black people. They want to be treated with the same level of dignity that people of other backgrounds are treated with. Essentially, they want to be treated as human beings, not as something less than that. The Black Lives Matter Campaign insists that black people should be treated equally and that will require an overhaul of our political justice system (policing, sentencing, enforcement and more). Black Lives Matter is not an attempt to say that black people are better or deserve special treatment, it is an assertion that black lives matter as much as white lives, asian lives — really any human life.
The Black Lives matter campaign believes that all lives matter. The reason they are drawing attention to how the Black community is treated is because they can document how the black community is being treated differently that other communities in terms of surveillance, arrests, sentencing and profiling. In other words, they are drawing attention to the fact that, in American today, black lives don’t seem to matter as much as other lives.
All Lives Matter
The All Lives Matter Movement started as a protest to the Black Lives Matter Campaign. Those who started the All Lives Matter movement felt like the folks at Black Lives Matter were campaigning for special treatment for black people. They felt the statement “Black Lives Matter” insinuated that other lives did not matter and that BLM was using media coverage to heighten racial tension for the purpose of anarchy and discord.
Those in the All Live Matter movement believe that all lives matter, that people should be treated the same regardless of race. They believe that drawing attention to someone’s race only fuels racism and division. Those who are a part of All Lives Matter want people to love one another regardless of race or background. In fact, they don’t even want to talk about race or background, they just want to love people.
In other words
In other words, the All Lives Matter camp says “Black lives don’t matter more than other lives” while the Black Lives Matter camp says “Black lives don’t matter less than other lives”. So if we’re all saying the same thing then what is the big deal?
The Real Issue
The real issue is about the importance of race in human interactions. The All Lives Matter camp says that race and background don’t matter, that we should treat people as people and love them the best we can. While I believe most people in the Black Lives Matter camp would say they agree with that idea in theory, they can’t help but look at the inequality of the political justice system.
If we truly believe that people are the same — that white people are just as likely to obey or break the law as black people — then our prisons should represent that. There should be a breakdown in prison population that is roughly equivalent to the population breakdown of the country, but there isn’t. While blacks account for roughly 13% of the U.S. population, they account for 24% of the prison population. Is that because black people are more prone to lawbreaking and rebellion? No. It is because they are more likely to be sentenced for it. Additionally, when we compare the severity of sentencing for similar crimes we find out that black people are penalized more for doing the same things as white people.
Then there is the whole issue of classifications for crimes. Why is it that the drugs prevalent in the black community are considered worse offenses than the drugs most typically found in the white community?
Lastly, the Black Lives Matter Campaign is helping us to see how deeply embedded racism still is in our culture. As individuals we may not be racist, but we support structures and systems that are. For instance, who decided that “nude” was peach colored instead of plum colored — whose nude body are we talking about? Also, why do bandaids disappear on my skin rather than stand out? They could literally be any color — the adhesive works just the same — so why choose tan? Also, why is “tan” tan? My friend Quovadis’s tanned skin looks very different than mine.
I very much believe that all lives matter and I want to love people equally, without prejudice or distinction — but I know I don’t. I live in a world that assumes “white” is normal, the baseline against which everything and everyone else is compared. So the only way I feel like I can really love people equally is by acknowledging that their lives are different than mine, in part because of their decisions, but mostly because of how people perceive them based on their race. I wish it weren’t so, and one Day it won’t be, but Today it is.
The important thing to remember, though, is that while we may start in different places, we are moving in the same direction. We are companions on the journey towards equality and love. The narrow road is wide enough for us to walk side by side if we are willing. But that willingness can only come from careful listening and the desire to understand. We differ on methods, not the goal — it is good to remember that.
As always, thanks for reading friends.