CULTON: Black Lives Matter

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve covered several rallies, marches and protests in our communities in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, following the unjust death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by white police officer Derek Chauvin after he held a knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

I have been impressed with these marches and how the southwest Michigan community has responded to Floyd’s death by calling for change. However, it’s become clear that not everyone in our community has supported these peaceful demonstrations. One of the most common responses I’ve heard to these rallies and marches is “all lives matter.”

The phrase is bound to cause me to roll my eyes and question who raised that person. Didn’t their mother ever tell them that not everything is about you all the time? To black Americans, “all lives matter” is more than just eye-roll worthy — it’s actively harmful. As Catrinka Johnson, pastor of Connor-Mayo AME church, put it during Dowagiac’s rally, the phrase is like “a slap in the face.”

Yes, all lives matter. No one ever said they didn’t. However, black lives are, and have always been, under attack in the U.S. by systems that have been put in place to keep them down and support white supremacy. These systems have been in place since the time of slavery. Just because they are dressed up in modern disguises doesn’t mean they have gone away.

According to a study of police-shooting databases, African American men are two-and-a-half times more likely than white men to be killed by police. A 2018 study published by the Boston University Law Review found the arrest rate for disorderly conduct, drug possession, simple assault, theft, vagrancy and vandalism was at least twice as high for black Americans vs. white Americans.

Black lives are endangered even outside of the criminal justice system, with institutionalized racism reaching into education, housing and healthcare. Even the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected black Americans, as they have experienced a death rate 2.4 times higher than white Americans, according to Scientific American.

Black Americans have been fighting against these systems for centuries in a way that white people have not had to. Now, they are asking for equality — for the world to know that their lives matter — and for reasons that boggle my mind, some people feel that is too much to ask for.

If you feel attacked by the simple words “black lives matter,” you should probably take a deep look inside yourself to figure out why that is. Instead of reacting with the defensive “all lives matter,” listen to what your black neighbors and community members are telling you.

“Black lives matter” has never been an insult. It has never been code for “white lives don’t matter.” “Black lives matter” is instead a simple statement of fact, one spoken loudly in the hopes that white society would recognize it as truth.

Black lives matter. Black hopes, dreams, ambitions, children, men and women matter. As has been said by many people far more educated and articulate than me, all lives can’t matter until black lives matter.