Unpacking All Lives Matter

Years ago, when I first heard the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” my first thoughts went something like this: “Well yeah, of course they do. But all lives matter.” I think I even posted something from my Christian perspective along the lines of “We are all really lucky that we all matter to Christ because we’re all walking around here acting dumb a lot of times.” I thought I was being helpful.

But really, I was ignorant. Thankfully, I have since learned the error of my reasoning.

The words Black Lives Matter have been a rallying cry since they first became prevalent in national and international dialogue. But especially in America, they have stirred up two groups of people on decidedly opposite sides of the proverbial fence. When Black people and their allies hear those words, they are a call to justice for senseless violence against members of the Black community. These three words are literally asking, “Is the life of a Black human being not worthy of value and protection?

Unfortunately, and I don’t know how to say this except for bluntly, certain others hear those same words, and can’t or won’t utter them without immediately following up with “all lives matter.” While “All Lives Matter” as a statement is not factually incorrect, it is ignorant. And as any student of history well knows, ignorance only fans the flames of racism.

Black lives, brown lives, and the lives of every hue constitute all lives. But if one of the groups of lives is left out, the word “all” can’t be used. One would have to say “Some Lives Matter” or “Not All Lives Matter.” Which, since we’re being honest, is exactly the problem in these United States. And that’s essentially what’s being said here. When one group of people has to educate their sons and daughters on how to protect themselves from the police (you know, the ones who are supposed to protect said sons and daughters), while other groups of people don’t even have to think about that, the scales are tipped. When violence and broken educational and correctional systems work against one group in great disproportion, the lives impacted are not mattering. In simpler terms? You cannot have a dozen donuts if one donut is missing. You cannot have a perfect rainbow if orange is missing. You cannot have a five-point star if one point is missing. Do you see where I’m going with this? If Black people are facing more injustice, discrimination, and police brutality than others—systematically and historically—their lives are not mattering.

“But,” cry out those who just cannot bring themselves to agree with those facts, “why do we have to pay attention to just the Black lives? Isn’t that racist to favor one group? If we said, “White Lives Matter, everyone would say that was racist.” Well, you see here, white lives in America have always mattered. You just don’t have to verbalize it. The very systems that have built and sustained this nation were designed by white people, with white people in mind, and have historically worked in favor of white people. Considering that this country was built on the backs of Black people, literally, and has been further strengthened by an intellectual and tactile work force of immigrants from every nation on earth, that systemic framework stinks.

The notion of white supremacy is not American made, though it made America. How else do you explain British, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese men sailing to Africa thinking they had the right to kidnap, traffic, and sell HUMAN BEINGS to other white men? How do you explain denying human rights to a group of people in treating them like animals to be bred and abused? To destroy their family structures and deny them education, healthcare, and the right to practice their cultures and traditions and religion? The only prerequisite to this vile and abhorrent blight on human history: skin color. Not only is that the impetus for slavery, that stupid notion is the backbone of colonization (a whole other blog post, just you wait).

In the United States, the Emancipation Proclamation made slavery illegal. But the abolition of slavery just led to systemic and concerted efforts to keep black people from claiming their stake in their country. The terror inflicted by the original domestic terrorists, The Ku Klux Klan, lynching, Jim Crow, White Citizens Councils, corrupt police forces, Redlining, right on up to even the subtlest of discriminatory practices today is the legacy of that evil.

When God said He made human beings in His image, He meant it. All of us. Equal. So, when Black people are denied equality and protection throughout multifaceted levels of American life to the point of loss of life? All lives are not mattering.

Do you remember attorney Jake Brigance’s closing arguments in the film A Time to Kill? In his defense of a black father who avenged the kidnapping and rape of his 9-year-old daughter by two grown white men, Brigance asked the jury to close their eyes and listen to a story. In the story, he painfully recounted the disturbing details of the assault of this little girl. It visibly shook most people in the courtroom that day. When he was finished, all he said was this: “Now, imagine the girl was white.”

All it took was this shift of perspective to set the all-white jury on a path away from convicting the child’s father. A Black child horrifically assaulted left room for argument. But when the child was white, it became an open and shut case. While this example comes from a work of fiction, it is based in reality.

If you really care about All Lives Matter, then Black Lives Matter. And until those three words become a cohesive point of agreement among all Americans, Black Lives Matter is not going away.

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