On Aug. 9, 2014, underneath the scorching sun lay the lifeless body of an unarmed black teen: Michael Brown, riddled with bullets. Amidst controversy, tragedy and hope, Black Lives Matter was born – a movement dedicated towards familiarizing our modern Western society with names of black men, women and children, all victims of state-sanctioned violence who would have otherwise faded into obscurity, such as Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and John Crawford III.
Nonetheless, there seems to be name after name added to weekly headlines with an alarming rate of violence that is indiscriminate of age or gender within the black community. From Freddie Gray being so severely “tossed around” that he sustained a severed spine, to Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old being fatally shot in daylight for playing with a toy gun in an open carry state.
However, it seems every time a black person becomes a horrific hashtag that reignites the dire need of structural change in a system that doesn’t prioritize black lives as important or equal, there’s always a large contingent of folks ready to utter the same ignorant retort of, “Black people need to fix their/our communities first before worrying about [insert extreme act of racism here].”
This is mainly rooted in an anti-black ideology that steers the conversation away from acts of discrimination that affect the black community on a daily basis.
As a result, white privilege is dismissed and the systemic racism relayed by prejudiced anti-black rhetoric is discredited.
Various efforts to address real problems are met with blatantly racist rhetoric, with conversations like: “Black man shot by police? Let’s talk about ‘black-on-black’ violence. Black children being disproportionately expelled from school, taken away from their parents and placed in child social care? Let’s talk about absentee black fathers. Black women demanding better childcare options in low-income neighborhoods? Let’s talk about ‘welfare queens’.”
Like any other community, the black community faces a lot challenges such as inner city gang violence. Tragic incidents require structural changes to be put in place as preventative measures.
However, the “fix your problem first” argument negates the human rights of black communities and dictates that human rights are a privilege to be earned, based on arbitrary “measured concepts of good behaviour.”
This alienates and dehumanizes Blackness by reducing black communities’ value in comparison to white communities that don’t have their equality “burdened by the collective respectability of their entire race.”
For example, blogger and writer Lincoln Anthony Blades explained, “When young, white men shoot up schools, churches and movie theatres, there is no demand on the entire white race to ‘better’ themselves so they can achieve access to the equality endowed upon them by the Declaration of Independence or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – nor should there be.”
Black communities do not need to “fix” themselves in order to gain basic human rights and be treated as equal human beings – neither do any other communities.
With that being said, an essential step towards achieving the goal of demanding equal human rights for black communities, is acknowledging the Black Lives Matter movement. Unfortunately, a lot of people fail to understand the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, and as result, have resorted to creating #AllLivesMatter. The central problem to the #AllLivesMatter is that it denies the systemic racism that black people face.
This problematic matter is conveyed by five paragraphs of examples on Reddit: Imagine that you’re sitting down to dinner with your family and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don’t get any. So you say “I should get my fair share.” And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, “Everyone should get their fair share.”
Now, that’s a wonderful sentiment – indeed, everyone should, and that was kind of your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad’s smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn’t solve the problem that you still haven’t gotten any!
The problem is that the statement “I should get my fair share” had an implicit “too” at the end: “I should get my fair share, too, just like everyone else.”
But your dad’s response treated your statement as though you meant “only I should get my fair share,” which clearly was not your intention. As a result, his statement that “everyone should get their fair share,” while true, only served to ignore the problem you were trying to point out.
That’s the situation of the “black lives matter” movement. Culture, laws, the arts, religion and everyone else repeatedly suggest that all lives should matter. Clearly, that message already abounds in our society.
The problem is that, in practice, the world doesn’t work that way. You see the film Nightcrawler? You know the part where Rene Russo tells Jake Gyllenhal that she doesn’t want footage of a black or latino person dying, she wants news stories about affluent white people being killed? That’s not made up out of whole cloth — there is a news bias toward stories that the majority of the audience (who are white) can identify with.
So when a young black man gets killed (prior to the recent police shootings), it’s generally not considered “news,” while a middle-aged white woman being killed is treated as news.
And to a large degree, that is accurate — young black men are killed in significantly disproportionate numbers, which is why we don’t treat it as anything new.
But the result is that, societally, we don’t pay as much attention to certain people’s deaths as we do to others. So, currently, we don’t treat all lives as though they matter equally.
Just like asking dad for your fair share, the phrase “black lives matter” also has an implicit “too” at the end: it’s saying that black lives should also matter. But responding to this by saying “all lives matter” is willfully going back to ignoring the problem.
It’s a way of dismissing the statement by falsely suggesting that it means “only black lives matter,” when that is obviously not the case. And so, saying “all lives matter” as a direct response to “black lives matter” is essentially saying that we should just go back to ignoring the problem.
Therefore, an essential part of being anti-racist is supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
Inspired by Lincoln Anthony Blades work!