Why Black Lives in Particular Matter

The Black Lives Matter movement has swept society, through social media and t-shirts and activism. It’s been impossible to miss. And as it sweeps along, it’s also impossible to miss the murmers of people who don’t understand the point: “why isn’t it all lives matter?”

As their website clearly spells out, “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.” It is tied specifically to the oppression that black people experience, while also acknowledging other systems of oppression. For example, their other activist aspects of other intersectional issues emerge, focus on diversity, queer affirmation, intergenerational support, black women, and transgender people. It’s largely about the specifically black intersections of oppression, particularly by the police. But that does not mean there is in any way a devaluing of other lives.

Of course, there is much understandable poor comprehension as a result of this. The phrase “all lives matter” is seemingly innocuous and affirming to all identities, hence why celebrities are still responding with it in ignorance of the context. As one said, it “was inclusive of everyone, but not meant to undervalue the Black Lives Matter movement or to suggest police brutality against blacks is acceptable.” The problem, however, is that current American society does not value black lives in particular, being the particular issue that Black Lives Matter seek to call attention to. They are, of course, aware of intersectionality, and of the issues many social groups and individuals face. Calling attention to one in light of horrific deaths is not such a bad thing.

Furthermore, people take “Black Lives Matter” as suggesting white lives in particular don’t, which is a curious assumption. Said one black conservative writer, Black Lives Matter is guilty of “horrifically evil messaging that white lives do not matter.” This is, of course, in no way true. Black Lives Matter obviously believes that all lives matter. All lives mattering should go without saying as a basic human principle. It’s missing the point to suggest otherwise. And leaping to the assumption that black lives matter means white ones don’t also suggests a curious binary of racial thought in the US, black and white defined against each other, which is rather unpleasant and ignorant of many other racial and ethnic groups. There is no binary, no hard categories, and that’s the sort of message intersectionality seeks to call to. Everyone’s place in society is complicated and individual, a result of a number of factors regarded differently by society, generally speaking. It isn’t quite a perfect way of thinking, as previous discussions in this course have noted, but it is still a vital step forward.

And as mentioned above, it isn’t just retaliating against white police on black man violence that Black Lives Matter calls attention to, but rather a whole host of systemic issues. For example, for Mother’s Day, activists bailed black women out of prison to reunite with their families. It is intended to “to call attention to how the money bail system (in which an arrested person is kept in jail awaiting trial unless they can pay a hefty bail) disproportionately affects black families and communities,” drawing focus to economic intersections of race and oppression. And that’s the sort of valuable service Black Lives Matter: showcasing how one intersectional region of society is impacted. It’s not a devaluing of other regions, but merely an affirmation of the value of a facet of society whose suffering has gone on too long.


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