But, All Lives Matter–don’t they?
Attending the MLK JR Day Rally and March today at the University of Oregon’s Autzen Stadium was both encouraging and fitting. It is only right to remember and celebrate the life and work of perhaps the greatest American of the 20th century, a true giant in the social revolution that we call democracy. In addition, it is only right to remember that Dr. King did not die peacefully in his sleep after a long life but that he was gunned down in his prime and assassinated for his vision of a new American way–a way of peace, justice and dignity for African Americans. His voice both motivated positive change and held a mirror up to the institutional racism so deeply embedded in our culture. It is only right.
I was encouraged by the several hundred individuals who showed up to honor Dr. King and demand justice–right now–for African Americans in our community and across the nation. There were infants and elders, People of Color and Whites, LGBT and Straights–a real cross section of the increasingly diverse Eugene/Springfield populace. Don’t get me wrong–the area has always prided itself on being different, special. It’s just that in the past most of those folks were White; different, perhaps, but still White. That’s changing and that’s good. Very good.
As I listened to the speakers I started to think about the value of life, liberty and the pursuit of–well, at the risk of being cliche’, happiness. There is the argument that “all lives matter.” Well, don’t they? I’ve heard this more than once from seemingly sensible, well-meaning White people who really don’t want to acknowledge their White privilege. Why differentiate, they say, based on race–“all lives…” includes African Americans, of course. Of course?
Tell that to Tamir Rice’s grieving mother and family. Tell that to the countless mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends and families of the numerous African Americans who continue to die at the hand of a system of institutionalized violence based on race. Is there anyone out there who really believes that Tamir would have been rolled up on by the Cleveland police and shot dead without question if he had been White? If so, hey–I’ve got a bridge and some beach front property to sell you (in the middle of a desert, of course).
Obviously, everybody’s life matters. Duh…However, when a society’s unspoken norm or base-line is White, the inclusive “all” is disingenuous and dangerously false. “All” just doesn’t make the cut. “All” is a feel-good, get-out-of-jail card for those well-meaning White folk I mentioned earlier. Read between the lines and “all” often subliminally codes for “White.”
But here’s the deal–I’ve looked in the mirror that Dr. King held up for White Americans to reflect upon and I’ve seen the potential for equality and justice in it. I’ve seen that this country must, as instructed by Dr. King, uphold the dignity of African Americans if it is to be truly great. I know the dream is still possible and alive. And, I know that I live in a country that is sick and suffering under a long history of active (and passive) violence, ignorance, bigotry and fear, i.e., the sin of racism that stains our current culture and, if we don’t get it together, our future.
And, it is because I know these things, I stand with African Americans and say
“BLACK LIVES MATTER.”