Since when is it threatening to ‘matter’?
By Mike Eddleman
Imagine if when black Americans rallied behind the cause of bringing attention to a string of deaths at the hands of police and neighborhood vigilantes they had settled on the moniker “blacks are the superior race.” Maybe they could have called the movement “blacks before whites” or “black lives first.”
But black Americans set the expectations much lower when choosing a message and simply called the movement Black Lives Matter.
It is simple really. To matter is the most basic request. It implies a margin of importance, a life of equal importance among others at most. It is not remotely superior or exclusive and only the most creative paranoia can twist it into something threatening.
We should have been shocked and embarrassed at the reality that “Black Lives Matter” was how low these frustrated Americans were willing to set the bar. Imagine if you had to tell someone you “matter”.
But many Americans couldn’t even bear that simple title, immediately growing defensive and rabid in their disdain for an activism they clearly chose not to understand.
But if you are white, you just don’t get it. You can’t.
I don’t understand it because I don’t experience it, but that doesn’t mean that I am not aware or concerned. It doesn’t mean I can’t acknowledge it is real or worth addressing.
Human beings are uniquely equipped to be empathetic and aware, but we must choose those over fear and division. Many across the country have rallied against the Black Lives Matter movement since it was announced because of that inclination toward fear and division.
Is it really offensive to say they “matter”?
There are not a limited number of lives that can matter. Yours, mine, theirs and those people over there can all matter equally, so we shouldn’t fear that a recognition that Black Lives Matter leaves anyone suddenly on the outside looking in.
But for many blacks in this country they have reasons – and data – to make the argument that it seems like black lives don’t matter as much.
White lives have mattered in this country for nearly 250 years. Whites made a point for 150-plus years that their lives and freedoms undoubtedly mattered more than any others. Even if we point to the slow creep toward equality – dating back to the freeing of the slaves in 1863, continuing through the fight for civil rights in the 1960s and carrying into the violence protested against today – we can hardly say we have acted like All Lives Matter very much in our history.
Why is it we can’t let black Americans have a slogan that doesn’t include white people? Are we so fearful of someone of a different skin tone, or so invested in the ridiculous stereotypes of our fellow human beings, that agreeing they “matter” without the caveat that we do too is too much to swallow?
I have two adult daughters and three grandchildren who are biracial. When we made recent plans to spend a family weekend at a rental in Castroville, the first question one of our daughters asked was, “Is it a racist place?”
My first thought was “why would you ask that?” But I had to remind myself that I have never once experienced the racism they face and fear.
The longer I am in their lives the more I am aware of how racist – overtly or subtly – so many in our country can be. I cannot tell anyone what it is like for someone to make negative assumptions about me based on the color of my skin. I cannot explain to these young women why I never have to worry about being shot by a police officer, or think about being discriminated against because of someone’s perception of my race.
I haven’t experienced these discriminations, but that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize them.
In agreeing that Black Lives Matter we don’t have to discuss the subtle racism of access to education or employment discrimination. We can just talk about names, including Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Botham Jean, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. All dead. All unarmed. All killed by a police officer or citizen that decided they could take justice into their own hands.
It should sadden us all that black protests in America have gone from seeking the right to sit at the front of the bus, eat in the same restaurant or attend the same school as whites to simply wanting the country to recognize their lives matter.
But that’s where we are, and Saturday that message came to Liberty Hill.
Some of the loudest pre-protest reaction to a planned Black Lives Matter event in Liberty Hill Saturday proved to be a textbook example of racism and wishful thinking about a cause many people choose not to understand or just won’t accept.
You’d have thought Liberty Hill needed to raise the drawbridge, fill the moat and prepare for the siege of sieges Saturday.
A protest in support of Black Lives Matter was coming and, according to many wringing their hands online, law and order and civility in this generally quiet little town was apparently going to disintegrate in a coup led jointly by left-wing agitators and angry minorities.
The good news, though, turned out to be that the only troublemakers were the ones on social media who “shared” their racism and intolerance by spreading rumors and trying to minimize the point of what was billed as – and proved to be – a peaceful protest. Those ridiculously paranoid, hateful and fearful comments were only seen by 28,000 people on Facebook, so maybe our embarrassing secret is still safe.
We all harbor racist notions that we must fight, whether we are white, black, Asian, Hispanic or any other recognizably different group of people. If we don’t fight them, the only option left is to justify and accept them. To fight them we have to be aware of those weaknesses, resist them and not let them guide our reaction to people who are different.
I’m positive that those who didn’t want the “riff-raff” that comes with a Black Lives Matter protest don’t approve of kneeling at sporting events either. Basically any response someone has to see or acknowledge that might make them uncomfortable is intrusive and unacceptable.
That was a large part of the pre-protest protest on The Independent’s Facebook page late last week. There was going to be violence and mayhem because, well, that’s what people have been told would happen.
There was no intent to consider the message or assume the best about people, attempting to suspend the negative stereotypes of those who protest.
Shared among those against a local protest were old, tired, reaching statistical anecdotes in an effort to explain away the problems blacks face today as simply black problems. For every twisted anecdote, though, there is an unarmed dead black man who should be alive.
They said racism is not a problem here so a protest wasn’t necessary here, but their reaction before anyone even showed up proved otherwise. They tried to remind readers that “all lives matter” in an ironic effort to shame blacks for not being inclusive.
The next time a cause so basic as verifying that the lives of a particular group of people matter comes to Liberty Hill maybe everyone can address that basic request with the most basic support.
Let’s not be so quick to narrowly stereotype those in a protest as being destructive or trouble-makers.
Prove that Black Lives Matter to you and perhaps you won’t have to feel so uncomfortable when someone decides to share their message and struggle in our town.