In the interest of clarity for the audience, this blog entry is not an affront to the current nationwide slogan Black Lives Matter. Because, despite some stubborn reluctance to accept historical reality, the systematic campaign that has been waged against Black Americans in this country, to undermine and dehumanize our lives, is ample justification for many to cry out that their black lives do in fact matter. And although this hashtag propelled slogan has attained growing popularity over the past year – to be quite candid here – this modern battle cry is suitably applicable for nearly every decade of the black experience here in the United States of America.
This why I am partially conflicted over its usage today. From slavery to Reconstruction to Jim Crow to now, there has always been a struggle for racial and human equality for people of color. So, most definitely, black lives do matter, but I sometimes feel that this part declaration, part plea is being directed towards the wrong audience. Perhaps it is time to shift the focus of this rallying cry to another audience – ourselves. The fact that our lives matter should mean more to us than any other group in the nation. Sure, the American system should be challenged, but there are some limitations. And at this juncture, I am unsure how effective marches and protests, especially those of a violent nature, can be towards a system that has proven it is either adverse or ambivalent to black life. It’s like a perpetual petition for racial parity. An alternate strategy is required.
Now, before I proceed any further, allow me to state the obvious: There is certainly an earnest need for protest and civil disobedience, as no individual has the authority to wantonly strip another individual of liberty and life, and such acts should be fervently addressed. However, please realize that anger is being directed at a system that was never designed with your best interests as a consideration. And when I refer to system; I am speaking of the educational, judicial, political, employment system, and so on and so forth.
Now, an effective protest magnifies the power of a single individual into that of a collective, thus raising awareness to an issue and exerting pressure on those in power to affect meaningful change. So, to reiterate, I am not suggesting one should turn away from social or political activism. I just want to convey that the current system is a continual work-in-progress, and decade after decade requires some amending and modifying. So, while Black Lives Matters should surely be aimed at the current status quo, the aforementioned alternate audience – us – can certainly extract meaning and purpose from its message.
So, Black Lives Matter addresses the what, but the why component remains largely untouched. Why does black life matter? Again, stating the obvious, one can credibly argue that an individual has the basic right to life. Nonetheless, we have to delve deeper into the reason why life matters for a person of color. Well, a black life matters because a black life has value and worth. Simple right? Nevertheless, this simplicity is lost on many people – including some folk of color. Moreover, before I receive responses that all human life possesses value and worth, I can wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. However, I can also argue that no other ethnic group, aside from Native Americans, has sustained such a concerted effort to methodically strip a people of dignity, respect, worth, and life here in America. Therefore, with historical context in mind, it would appear that certain individuals need to be reminded that a black life has value too.
Furthermore, before I receive responses that argue that the distant past has no bearing on the present, I would beg you to examine your own perceptions and stereotypes that have been embedded in your psyche unknowingly, and in some cases knowingly. The uncomfortable truth of it all is that ugly racial stereotypes have been woven into the fabric of everyday life here in America. No? Well, please explain why a NYPD police forum that lit up with racist comments in the aftermath of the Walter Scott being gunned down from behind. I would guess it’s easier to express your true feelings when you’re anonymous. But I digress, let’s get back to why black lives matter.
Black lives matter because we offer a wealth of value to society. And that value, despite popular belief, extends well beyond the realm of entertainment and athletics. For myself, one of the hardest aspects of mentoring today is trying to convince young black youth that their lives have value when society states otherwise. They seriously feel their value is relegated to sports and entertainment, and their lives are devoid of purpose if those two career paths are not fulfilled. We have to change the narrative. Black Lives Matter should serve a dual purpose: 1) A defiant proclamation to an American system that all to often cheapens black life. 2) A positive affirmation to its own culture; reinforcing dignity, respect, and integrity. The fact of the matter, black life should not only matter when someone determines that black life does not matter, or matters significantly less than everyone else.
The aftermath of tragedy should not act as a catalyst for enlightenment, for the racial injustices, decade after decade, should serve as a sobering reminder that many view black life as insignificant and unimportant. Regardless of the situation, it being a case of Trayvon Martin or Walter Scott, we should remind one another that we do matter – in a consistent, nationwide effort. We cannot remain largely inactive until a tragic moment begs us to be proactive, and thus we are left in a reactive state, unprepared and discombobulated. And what does unprepared and discombobulated look like? It looks like wayward throngs of angry citizens; most likely clashing with police and being destructive to one’s community – which solves nothing. Because once the cameras leave for the next sensational headline – and they will leave – one is left with a broken community with no viable resolution to the original issue.
What does proactive look like? Proactive is gradually changing the system from the inside out. Going forward, we can no longer solely depend on others to offer up change in our communities. Proactive is being engaged and participating in more than just presidential elections. Your life is probably affected more at the state and local level than the national level. We’re talking local proposals, state senate and house, state attorney general, judges, mayor, governor, state secretary of state, etc. Proactive is being involved in some kind of community organization that maintains steady, open dialogue with local government.
Proactive is committed involvement to the educational system, ensuring our youth receive the best education possible. We should be in the business of nurturing and guiding future leaders that will have our community’s best interests at heart. Leaders that include lawyers, physicians, government officials, and yes – law enforcement. Proactive is rejecting a culture that celebrates violence, treats our women with disrespect, and welcomes willful ignorance. Proactive is mentoring. Proactive is economic empowerment. Proactive is understanding that your black life matters, as there exists potential for greatness because you are a descendant from greatness – no matter how hard people scrub and re-imagine history. Therefore we are all accountable and should carry ourselves like our lives mean a damn. I matter. My family matters. My friends matter. You matter. And that is just a matter of fact.