There is no way, in a brief blog, that I can do justice to breaking open the Black Lives Matter movement. I do not believe I can be a voice FOR those leading the Black Lives Matter movement, especially founders Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors, but I would like to be a voice WITH them. Especially in light of the most recent shooting of a Black man in Baton Rouge, Alton Sterling: Enough!
I have heard and seen the defensive “All Lives Matter” retort from people with access to the media as well as people in meetings or in my personal life. I sought out the wisdom of the three founding sisters to make sure that I was articulating these thoughts with respect and integrity, and I’d like to quote a handful of things they offer at blacklivesmatter.com, and I quote:
“Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression. #BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important–it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. …when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide reaching and transformative for society as a whole. We’re not saying Black lives are more important than other lives, or that other lives are not criminalized and oppressed in various ways. We remain in active solidarity with all oppressed people who are fighting for their liberation and we know that our destinies are intertwined.” The founders go on to lay out, however, the various oppressions to which Black persons and their communities are subjected in an ongoing fashion, such as genocide, poverty, hetero-patriarchy and White supremacy, all understood as forms of state violence. “…the fact is that the lives of Black people—not ALL people—exist within these conditions – (again a) consequence of state violence.” – end quote –
Let me humbly offer a parallel that may help (or may not). In Catholic Social Teaching, the theme of espousing a “preferential option for the poor and vulnerable” in no way suggests that wealthy people are not also loved by God. God loves all, created all and wants human flourishing for all. However, we understand that economically disenfranchised persons are excluded from full participation in society and flourishing and therefore need particular attention and solidarity. The Black Lives Matter movement does not present itself as a religious project, so this parallel is likely flawed, but the point is, when the Catholic Church suggests that our focus should be on those who are marginalized, unheard and unseen, in imitation of the life of Jesus, it would be ridiculous to say, “yeah, but what about the rich people.” They have the resources they need. From those who have received much, much is expected.
The founding women are understandably protective of their work and words. I am not trying to speak for them or to interpret their work for the White community. But I am saying that recognizing the dehumanization of Black people, particularly in the U.S., via mass incarceration, systematic economic oppression, suppression of educational resources, and the pervasive devaluing of Black lives on the streets by police officers and others, calls us to stand as allies. We cannot dismiss the disproportionate burden of Black people by trying to make it easier on ourselves.
There is a complex network of action steps necessary to dismantle the weight of racism broadly. The action steps before us are bound to make many of us tense and uncomfortable. We need to talk with one another. We need to listen. We need to study. We need to speak out. I believe that there are means to create “safe space” even if it fails to keep us from feeling defensive or awkward from time to time. Learning and growing is never easy. As Ms. Garza, Ms. Tometi and Ms. Cullors remind us, we cannot get to unity first without navigating the struggle. But if we have the courage to work for justice, especially with our Black sisters and brothers, the entire human community will benefit. Again, I quote, “When Black people get free, everybody gets free.”