The appropriation of black movements and symbols emphasizing black self worth by white people with the aim of “unracializing” discourses on police brutality, economic disparity, and any of a slew of other social issues is one that needs to stop. Nothing is more befitting of a nation that seeks wholeheartedly to dissuade itself of its racist history than to deny colored people the right to battle and combat that history, but the fact that a lie fits in with our national illusion of post-racialism does not justify the lie.
The historically objective reality is that all lives do not matter, and we move to prove it again and again and again at nearly every available opportunity. We proved it during slavery, we defied legislation to prove it during Jim Crow, and we gutted our own Civil Rights Act two summers ago to prove it in the polls. It is an American phenomenon that we have yet to escape, and one that we rather attempt to mask and unmask whenever we see fit.
The notion that the movement to recognize that #BlackLivesMatter somehow delegitimizes white life is preposterous and laughable, but unfortunately not out of keeping with most American discourses on race. Our history of slavery, segregation, discriminatory housing practices, police brutality, racial profiling, economic and market discrimination, forced sterilization, and every-day compliance with racist institutions and practices in no way affirms that this country agrees that the lives of people of color matter in any significant way. Students at Wake Forest University rolled their quad in celebration of the decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, somehow forgetting that at the core of this issue lays a slain 18-year-old and a mother and father who will never again see their son. On this campus, it can be constantly and consistently overheard that the protests were “useless,” “unnecessary,” or “stupid,” another reminder that most people believe that #AllLivesMatter, but black lives don’t matter enough to warrant anger.
The historical unfounding of the idea that “all lives matter” is not limited to American domestic policy; we undermine it abroad as well. Consider that the recent uptick of notoriety given to ISIS/ISIL/Daesh occurred only after western (white) media members were beheaded by the group despite the fact that by the time of those executions the group had already killed far more Muslims in Iraq and Syria than it will ever kill media members from the West. There was no outcry, because Iraqi and Syrian Muslim lives do not matter. In the Iraq War, the number of documented civilian deaths at the hands of the US military approached 150,000. Additionally, the use of white phosphorus in Fallujah has resulted in a harrowing spike in congenital birth defects greater than 17x that reported in Hiroshima and Nagasaka after the use of the atomic bomb, as reported by Democracy Now!. The use of white phosphorus against civilian populations is in direct violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Nuremberg Principles, which outlaws inhumane acts against civilian populations. Despite its illegality, the use of white phosphorus against a civilian population, as admitted by the Pentagon, was tolerated. It was tolerated because Iraqi civilian lives do not matter. In Palestine this past summer Israeli rockets killed over 1,500 Gazan civilians. The US appropriates $3.1 billion dollars to Israel each year, most of which will be used to buy American-made munitions and arms to wage wanton war against civilian population centers. It is tolerated because Palestinian lives do not matter.
White America often engages in the farcical idea that it has leveled the playing field and thus equal goodwill and recognition for all will rectify things. These constitute what Dr. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Chair of Duke University’s sociology department, calls “whites’ sincere fictions” in his book Racism Without Racists. The historical non-fiction makes it evidently clear that all lives do not matter as much as other lives, and the public demand that the inherent worth of these lives be recognized is necessary and justified. The illusion of equality is a joke, a myth, a fabricated attempt to forget that “we know full well we are exploiters,” as said Jean Paul-Sartre in his preface to The Wretched of the Earth. White indignance at the notion of black people demanding to be recognized and respected as human beings is only an exercise in fabrication.
We do not need to constantly affirm the worth of white lives—our history does that for us. Our history will continue to do so as long as we do not allow black people to assert their own self-worth in the face of the multitude of institutions that seek to rob them of their dignity. If you decry #BlackLivesMatter as racist or preferential, you’re just another obstacle between the masses of people who have not been privileged by our racist history and the fulfillment of their own worth, which they pursue righteously and justly. After all, Sartre also promised that the violence of the oppressed could heal the wounds inflicted by the oppressor, and it may just be that our time of wounding is finally near its end.
*AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article was written before a New York Grand Jury declined to indict the officer responsible for using an outlawed chokehold to detain Eric Garner, who died as a result of his brutal arrest. Video of his death can be found here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1ka4oKu1jo
Yet another affirmation that no, All Lives do not Matter.