I remember being offended the first time I learned about the Black Lives Matter movement. The presidential campaign was just getting underway, and the earliest advocates in the movement were often seen on the news interrupting Democratic political events. They were angry. They were interfering with the ability of others to freely express their beliefs and ideas. Who can forget former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley being famously booed off the stage when he dared to exclaim that all lives matter. I didn’t get it, and apparently neither did O’Malley. Of course, I wasn’t the only one offended. Lately, it has seemed like every white person on the planet has taken to declaring that all lives matter. It’s time for us to stop doing this, at least until we can honestly say that it is true.
It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. It was a single picture that changed my whole perspective on the Black Lives Movement. On the surface, the above picture reinforces what I initially believed about this group. I know it’s 2016, but I still get offended by vulgarity being used in public. To me, it’s classless and counter-productive to a cause. But if you allow yourself to get hung up on the signs in the front of this photo, you will miss the truly illuminating one just behind the orange banner. It simply reads: All lives will matter when #Black Lives Matter. That one sign best articulates the message that this movement has been trying to communicate, and reveals exactly why white people declaring all lives matter are actually the ones being offensive.
A black man who was recently shot in Miami, despite the fact that he was laying in the street, despite the fact that he was unarmed with his hands extended above his head, and despite the fact that he was fully cooperating with police on the scene, clearly illustrates that black lives are still not viewed the same way that other lives are. Racism, particularly toward African Americans, is still alive and well in America (despite how often white people like to claim that it is a relic of the past). If some have taken to claiming that having a black president somehow proves that we have overcome our racist past, then what does the shooting of Charles Kinsey prove? Just in case you missed this little detail, the white male sitting next to Charles, and the one suspected to be holding a gun, was not shot.
Saying that all lives matter, when the evidence indicates otherwise, is offensive. Instead of trying to “out shout” black lives advocates, we should be joining with them. In fact, as a Christian, it should be my goal to live a life that truly affirms the value of every one that bears the image of God. Simply saying that all lives matter, while not taking steps to ensure the truth of those words, is hollow. Saying it, doesn’t make it true. We have to actually live it. If all lives matter, then we need to stand up for all lives.
This week, L-Mani S. Viney wrote a compelling article in Vanity Fair in which he addressed why it hurts when people say “All lives matter.”
Do all lives matter? Of course! And you will be hard pressed to find any African-American who would say otherwise. But we will continue to say Black Lives Matter until African-American lives are given the same value as the lives of people from other countries, our police officers, your property, a lion named Cecil, and a gorilla named Harambe.
This little essay is not an endorsement of the Black Lives Matter movement. You will not see me out in the street protesting with Black Lives Matter advocates. I will not be donning a black tee shirt. There is simply too much baggage, and bad ideology, associated with this movement that I cannot endorse. However, I can acknowledge the legitimacy of their anger. I can raise my voice against racism. I can vote for politicians who acknowledge the lingering reality of discrimination in our nation and are committed to doing something about it. When I see discrimination taking place, I can do everything within my power to stop it. And, most importantly, I will not say the words “all lives matter” until I am convinced that as a nation we actually believe that all lives matter.