While it’s true that “all lives matter,” the way this phrase is being used in our public discourse is to distract attention from the voices of our Black and Brown brothers and sisters who are subject to daily fear and random acts of brutality.
No white person needs to fear that they will be stopped for getting into their own car in their own driveway because they “look wrong” for their neighborhood. The Black Lives Matter movement is a way of trying to end the mistreatment of black and brown people that began in this country from its founding and has continued through acts too countless to mention here – ranging from omissions to micro-aggressions to redlining to murder. Too often “All Lives Matter” is a way of dodging the guilt that white people own, not because we are white, but for every moment we have failed to speak out against oppression.
If you are blameless, have you never told a “black” joke? Have you always made sure that your colleague who’s a person of color gets to speak in a discussion? Have you never averted your eyes and scuttled past a black man as you pass him on the street? Have you never failed to cross the room to welcome someone to the party, the cafeteria, the boardroom? It’s not that we should feel BAD because we are white. It’s that BEING white comes with certain responsibilities, including to try to eliminate racism every chance we get. Our black and brown brothers and sisters can NOT duck racism. Ever.
It’s not just the “one” act towards George Floyd (which to be clear, was murder) that spawned the protests. It’s the failure of our nation to prevent all these acts – including dozens of unarmed black men, women, and children who have been killed by police just in the last few months. The protests have largely been peaceful and there is evidence that the looting and violence was started by right-wing sympathizers and egged on by our president.
It’s almost time for my older grandson to have “The Talk” from his parents about how to behave to reduce the chance of getting murdered. I pray that my younger grandson, now a babe in my stepdaughter’s arms, can grow up in a world that is a bit safer. I thank the organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement, and their non-Black allies, for lifting up their voices.
Here’s another way of looking at it – when it’s Mother’s Day, and your child says to you: “Why isn’t there a Children’s Day?” The standard response is “Every day is ‘Children’s Day.'” Well – every day, every week, every decade has been “White People’s Day” since the founding of this country. Now it’s time to focus our positive attention on black people. The first step is to try to get our heads around what they’ve endured. “All lives” or “blue lives” shuts down this dialog rather than opening it up. It’s a way of covering over our guilt with layers of anger.
As a white person I have been able to live in the “Whiteness Protection Program” and I can duck back into it any time I like. Not saying anything, missing dozens of opportunities to listen to my brothers and sisters about what their lives are like. The Black Lives Matter movement gives all white people a chance to listen.