In this guest post, Dr. Betsy Lucal reflects on the importance of #blacklivvesmatter. Dr. Betsy Lucal teaches sociology and women’s and gender studies at Indiana University South Bend. This is her first blog.
When I heard this morning that Hillary Clinton went to Iowa and said, “All lives matter,” I knew I could be silent no longer. When I heard Bernie Sanders on NPR insisting that “lives matter,” I knew I had to speak up.
To insist that all lives matter, to refuse to say–unequivocally–that BLACK LIVES MATTER is to deny the specificity of the pain African Americans feel right now. It is to deny the specificity of the pain African Americans have felt for centuries.
To insist that all lives matter is, for me, the most blatant statement of white privilege that someone could utter right here, right now. To refuse to say–explicitly, specifically–that BLACK LIVES MATTER is to deny history, to ignore the present, and to accept a future where black lives continue not to matter.
When I heard about the massacre in Charleston, I was angry, sad, outraged, embarrassed… But I was not surprised. And, that, too, is a reflection of white privilege. That, too, is a reflection of just how much black lives have not mattered, do not matter, and cannot matter in a white-dominated, white-centered, white-identified society like ours.
Writing in The New York Times, philosopher Shannon Sullivan explained: “America is fundamentally shaped by white domination, and as such it does not care about the lives of black people, period. It never has, it doesn’t now and it makes me wonder about whether it ever will.” That statement has been part of the signature on my emails since the moment I read it. Until then, I had not seen this truth rendered so eloquently, so brutally, so honestly.
Thinking about the deaths of Cynthia Hurd, Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson and Daniel Simmons, Sr. makes me sick to my stomach. It makes me want to cry. It makes me want to wail and scream and fall into a pit of despair.
But then I heard about how Bible study began again last night at Emanuel AME, just a week after their deaths. I heard a member of the church talk about how the AME church welcomes everyone. I hear black folks saying, yet again, that we must not give up; that we must not give in to hate. And I know that despair is not the answer. Honesty is.
And honesty requires a long, hard look at the past, present and future of race in the United States. Honesty requires us to consider how Charleston is both the home of this church and the home of slave auctions. You see, I visited Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church once. I beheld the beauty of this place where people have worshipped since 1816. As soon as I heard about the murders and where they took place, I thought, “I’ve been there.” As soon as I saw pictures of the outside of the building, my heart sank again. I had been there. And, as I recalled standing there, looking around at the beautiful space, I couldn’t help but think about the location that was next on that tour of Charleston.
From Emanuel AME, we went to the site of Charleston’s pre-Civil War slave auctions. We stood on a street corner and heard about how Africans had once been auctioned at that very spot.
It is because of that history that we must—if we mean it—say BLACK LIVES MATTER. Given that history, given that legacy, given the countless deaths of black people at the hands of white people, we must be willing to say BLACK LIVES MATTER. If anything is ever going to change, we must understand why saying BLACK LIVES MATTER is a necessity right now.
We must say this not because other lives do not matter. We must say this because our actions have shown generations of Black folks that their lives do not matter, that their pain does not count, that the lives taken from them deserved to be lost.
Africans who died on slave ships bound for the United States, Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, John Crawford… The list grows ever, sickeningly, longer. These lives were not “lost”; they were taken. All of these lives were taken for no reason other than the belief that white people are better, more deserving, more important, more worthy.
Saying BLACK LIVES MATTER is not enough. Not by a long shot. We must act as if BLACK LIVES MATTER. And unless we do, we must accept that saying all lives matter will never be enough. Because it only reminds us that they don’t.
For more information on #blacklivesmatter see http://blacklivesmatter.com.