Black lives don’t matter, but they should

Photo by The All-Nite Images

Photo by The All-Nite Images

They put up a community board, sort of a Facebook in meatspace. They started us off with some posters: Black Lives Matter proclaimed one, the heading over a portrait of Michael Brown. Black Lives Matter proclaimed a second, over 12 portraits in rows of four, columns of three, all people of color killed by police.

Most of the sentiment over the next couple of days went that way. But someone, or maybe more than one someone, came by and vandalized the posters.

They crossed out the “Black” on the first poster and wrote “all” next to it in big letters. They put a post-it note over the middle four faces on the smaller poster, wrote, “All lives matter!” over it.

But all lives don’t matter, and this act of vandalism, while probably well intentioned, demonstrates it. If Black lives actually mattered, this anonymous person would not have felt the need to change the signs. If Black lives mattered, then “Black lives matter” would be an acceptable statement. We wouldn’t hear the silent “but” that drives the vandalism. Black lives matter, but Latino/a lives don’t. Black lives matter, but Gay lives don’t. Black lives matter, but… Or, perhaps worse, Black lives matter more.

The “all lives matter” correction contradicts rather than adding to the message. If the most likely well-intentioned community member had perhaps stuck the sticker to the side of the poster, or had not crossed out the Black in deliberate strokes, maybe we could make a case otherwise and maybe not. Then it would just be a matter of focus. “All lives matter, and today we’re focusing on Black lives, because of this specific series of misdeeds directly targeting Black women and men.” But now we have a refutation.

Black lives don’t matter. Not enough to call out racism directly and specifically.

If they did, you wouldn’t have obliterated those Black faces with your sticker.

If they did, the Ferguson protests would have been quite unnecessary.

If they did, Trayvon would be turning 20.

If they did, the diversity meeting would have been attended by a representative sample of the community population—and would therefore have not been 70 percent Black.

If they did, Black male unemployment would not be nearly double White male unemployment.

If they did, tests for subconscious or implicit bias would not reveal a deep-seated racism endemic to White Americans that is all the more serious the more they deny being racist.

If they did, we could talk about our history of slavery and Jim Crow with open hearts, willing to risk guilt, shame, anger, and possibly recrimination—because if Black lives really mattered, it would be worth the pain to thrash this all out.

If they did, 70 percent of the people currently mass incarcerated in the U.S. would not be people of color.

If they did, Black folks would not be de-facto segregated into neighborhoods of poverty. Would have grocery stores and schools that were as good as those in White neighborhoods because they would be the same neighborhoods. Would get identical healthcare and the same health outcomes. 14 percent of lead actors would be Black. Would be represented in other media at population prevalence rates. Could get into the same colleges as White folks without athletic scholarships at the same admission rates. Would not be over-represented in the infantry.

My friend broke my heart the other day. I called him to ask if he wanted some time in my classroom to talk about micro-aggressions—carefully checking that this in itself was not a micro-aggression. In some contexts it might have been. And he was happy to oblige, excited for the work—but admitted being dead, bone tired.

Sometimes, he said, when I wake up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror and see my Blackness, it just makes me ache. I just want to go back to bed and not face it any more. If I could wake up White one day, just for a day, so I wouldn’t have to deal with the racism for 24 hours—what a rest that would be.

If Black lives mattered, he wouldn’t have to feel this way. This brilliant man, compassionate, passionate, driven, loving, giving, amazing, spiritual, gifted… this brilliant man would not feel he needed to give his life—every day, waking to sleeping, sometimes even in dreams – would not have to give his life to oppose racism, to try to raise his color to dignity.

I am very, very angry about this. Because I am an American by choice, you see. I was raised in England and could just as easily have chosen to be British. I chose this place based on our fundamental values, and those include the equality of every child, woman, man, regardless of race or faith or stature, wealth or who we choose to love.

It makes me really mad that some of my fellow citizens, the people *I* choose to love, don’t have the same rights as me. Fundamentally, being neither White nor tall nor healthy, straight nor pretty nor thin, means you do not have the rights and privileges that I have simply by virtue of having been born White, healthy, blue-eyed in a deeply racist, sexist, heterosexist nation.

Black lives don’t matter, but they should. They bloody well should. And if you aren’t as mad about this as I am, maybe you should really consider getting worked up over it. Even if you have no empathy or compassion for other humans and no sense of innate justice, you should still be mad. Because your rights have asterisks next to them.

You have the right to free speech. *

You have the right to freely assemble.*

You have the right to practice whatever faith you choose.*

You have the right to not be shaken down by the police, to only be searched under reasonable suspicion.*

You have the right to a competent attorney in the event you are tried for a crime.*

You have the right to carry a gun in your own defense.*

*If you’re White.

Black lives don’t matter. Because if they did, we wouldn’t need to keep having this little chat.

So, yeah, all lives matter… as an aspiration. But we all know some lives don’t matter. Michael Brown didn’t matter—not enough for a trial, anyway. Treyvon didn’t matter. Not enough for a conviction. Not enough that John McNeil could defend his own life with lethal force when he, a Black man, shot a White man charging him on his own property, his 15-year-old son at risk. Not enough to clear death row of the 70-86 percent Black convicts who await the enactment of their sentences there.

Black lives don’t matter.

Are you satisfied with that?

— Jason Dias

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