Yesterday, a friend of a friend on Facebook accused me of being naïve for defending #blacklivesmatter, and in my response to this gentleman, I said I’d write a blog that explains why race matters, and that while it’s a nice notion to say that all lives matter and skin color doesn’t, it’s that belief that is truly naïve.
So here it goes.
To begin with, there’s our nation’s history, a history that involved the enslavement, rape, murder, and oppression of ONE RACE: Africans–blacks–stolen from their homes to become the slave labor of the New World. Those black lives didn’t matter: they were considered subhuman; unintelligent beasts only slightly more useful than animals because they could communicate with their masters. “Niggers.” Our history even includes a Supreme Court case that declared ONE RACE—the black race—to be property. That was Dred Scott (1856). Black lives didn’t matter then.
The Civil War was certainly a step forward, as were the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, but that only led to a legacy of sharecropping, a condition hardly better than slavery, compounded by Jim Crow laws that prevented black people from voting, participating in politics, and all other manner of Southern life.
Then in 1896, we have another Supreme Court decision (Plessy v. Ferguson) declaring racially based segregation legal. And from the end of the Civil War up until 1954, blacks were not allowed to attend certain schools, work certain jobs, go certain places; they were lynched, hung, shot, stabbed, killed in just about every disgustingly brutal way possible, and only rarely were their white killers brought to justice. Black lives didn’t matter then either.
Indeed, black lives only just started to matter when brave men and women across this country stood up and protested in the Civil Rights Movement, demanding that the government do more to protect the rights of blacks; demanding “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content their character.”
But still, to this day, black people are judged by the color of their skin. They are pulled over more often. They are policed more aggressively. They are incarcerated at a rate almost six times that of white Americans. One in three black men will end up in jail at some point in their life.
This is NOT because black Americans are inherently more lawless or violent, and the fact that I have to state that is sad in itself, and yet necessary. Because too many Americans would rather justify what happened to Michael Brown—what happens to black people all the time—than question it.
The simple truth is that when I, a white man, walk down the street, drive my car, offer to walk a lady up a flight of stairs, the world smiles, not because I am special or different, but precisely because I am not. But when a black man does these things, to many he is perceived as different, as dangerous, as a threat. And because of that, he is more likely to have the kind of experience that Michael Brown or Eric Garner or Tamir Rice or more recently, Sandra Bland did, that too many black Americans have with police.
So let’s be real: from this nation’s inception to its present condition, black lives don’t matter. Not as much as white lives anyway. And that’s exactly the message that was sent to every black American on Tuesday when the grand jury in Ferguson decided not to charge Darren Wilson with a crime. His life mattered more than the life of Michael Brown.
Was Brown a saint? No—from the testimony and evidence, it sounds like Brown did some really stupid things that day. But does that mean he deserved to be shot six times with his hands in the air, as numerous eye witnesses have stated? Does that mean his killer, Darren Wilson, ought to walk away scot-free without even facing a trial to determine his guilt or innocence?
Right now, too many people say “yes” to those questions.
To them, I say: #blacklivesmatter.