#BlackLivesMatter began as a hashtag that quickly became movement, in the wake of the extrajudicial murder of Trayvon Martin, only to be echoed after those to follow, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner in New York, and countless others between and since then… And the risk disregard for their bodies. That part is key. Not long after the death of Trayvon, pictures of his lifeless body with open glossy eyes pointed skyward were plastered all over television screens, worldwide. The internet exploded with fervor, complete with mockery and its own hashtag – which I will not display here, because I will not give it life or publicity, as if to mimic the boy’s body as it lie lifeless. A key component to the Michael Brown murder was how his bleeding body was left lying in the middle of the street for 4 hours, only to later have it simply tossed into a van to be hauled away, as if a discarded rag doll. As we’ve seen in those cases and others, we’re not afforded dignity even in death. The bodies themselves were criminalized and dehumanized. They were things. Problems. Not someone’s child. Not our children and certainly not their children. In the case of Tamir Rice, details of his past could not forfeit his life, so they dug up information on hood father’s past, as though that would disqualify him from the right to life.
Every 28 hours, another black man, woman or child is killed by law enforcement or by extrajudicial “vigilante” actions, in the United States. I hesitate to even call it “vigilante” justice because that implies that wrongdoing and justice have something to do with it, when in fact these behaviors are nothing more than a means of maintaining supposed or imagined social order. It says to us, this is how you must look, behave, what you must listen to, where you can go and where you cannot, and if you ever violate those unspoken, un-agreed-upon rules, your life is the price. Your humanity is the price.
At the very same time, urban communities all over the country are experiencing gentrification in full swing, where the same neighborhoods that experienced white flight only a few decades ago are seeing a resurgence of real estate development and the return of white middle-upper class residents, to neighborhoods that now have a long, rich history of black people and black culture. These neighborhoods are being taken over, residents priced out of their own homes, bought out, entire areas renamed, only to have the longstanding residents regarded as nuisances. Columbusing, as it’s become appropriately named is an epidemic. No remorse for the human beings being trampled over. And does anyone think we don’t notice? Of course we do! Spike Lee certainly does. But what form of resistance could we possibly concoct? Why should we need to?
What’s missing? Humanity. Margaret Biser appropriately states:
“Addressing racism isn’t just about correcting erroneous beliefs — it’s about making people see the humanity in others. We need better education that demonstrates the complexity and dignity of all people; continued efforts from community organizations and faith communities to give justice its due; and better media portraying people of color as people, not caricatures or symbols.”
The inability, incapability, unwillingness to see Black people as human beings. Human beings meaning of course, white. This is where whiteness is essentially, normalcy. When we use words like “normal”, “American”, and “mainstream”, we essentially mean “white.” Don’t believe me? Ask Dove. And I argue it is that very distinction that allows so many people to dismiss our humanity. We are not “normal”. We are “other” and that makes us appropriate to dismiss. Why do we say “Black Lives Matter” instead of “All Lives Matter”? Simply put, ALL LIVES DO MATTER, but it is apparent by the status quo and everyday life, for which we have no sanctuary or recourse, that Black lives in particular are seldom included in the “all”. We need to constantly state and remind all, that our lives are included, when one says “all”. In fact, that’s all that we’ve ever said. We have never ever made the statements that we have in the demand for rights and basic human dignity and quality of life because we did not know that we were human and deserving of protection; we argue for fair treatment in order to remind white people of our humanity. Stokely Carmichael states:
“I knew that I could vote and that that wasn’t a privilege; it was my right. Every time I tried I was shot, killed or jailed, beaten or economically deprived…. I maintain that every civil rights bill in this country was passed for white people, not for black people.”
We already know that we are human. Evidently, a large portion of “our” american society doesn’t. Or not human enough, by their definition.
Then in walk the apologists. Assimilation and neocolonialism at its finest. I present to you, Stephen A. Smith, who recently spontaneously argued that we cannot say #BlackLivesMatter in lieu of “all lives matter” because according to him, there is no outrage when we harm one another in our own communities… Regardless to the fact that culturally, the same disregard for black life that was socialized into the white/mainstream mindset was also ingrained into Black people, thereby making one informed by the other, such comments are completely ignorant. IGNORANT. Ignorant as in, lacking knowledge, and then not desiring to learn more. There is plenty of outrage. There are whole organizations dedicated to such outrage. There is also work being done in various communities to address the issue from within. Respectability politics is not how we win. This is not how humanity will triumph. It implies that there are safe havens and rules to be followed that are clearly defined, without exception. But as we’ve seen time and time again, we have no sanctuary.