I’m white. With blue eyes, pale skin, and 98% of my genetic composition coming from various parts of Europe, I’m fully seen as a white guy. Sure, I couldn’t exactly qualify for the KKK or any other hate group (I do have some – very little – Western African background, as well as being a quarter Russian-Jew), but for all intents and purposes I’m a white guy who benefits from being white in the United States. I’ve worked very hard to get where I am in life and admittedly I’ve typically outperformed my co-workers, be they white or black. But the fact remains, I can point to specific examples where I’ve benefited heavily from being white. I can point to the times I’ve been pulled over, to how I’ve been treated in certain jobs, to how my aggressive “go get ‘em” attitude in business is valued rather than viewed as an “angry white man.” Right or wrong, being a white male in the United States (or really, almost anywhere in the world) is pretty fantastic, all things considered.
Yet, acknowledging such things is why I can say Black Lives Matter. I know, people want to respond with, “All lives matter!” But such a response ignores the entire point behind saying Black Lives Matter. If you truly and honestly believe that all lives matter, then it follows that you should say black lives matter. Let me explain:
To say “all lives matter” would require us to actually act like all lives matter, but we don’t. Currently in the United States a little over 1 in 4 African Americans live in poverty (compared to 1 in 10 among white Americans). The household wealth disparity between white families and black families is astronomically high (13 times higher, or $141,000 compared to $11,000). African American men are 6 times more likely to face incarceration than white men and are likely to face longer sentences as well. And, of course, we can point to the disproportionate attention African Americans receive from police. Most recently, Dylan Roof murdered people in cold blood and was treated to a bullet proof vest and Burger King. A young black girl in a school, however, was ripped and thrown from her seat for the simple act of doing what teenagers frustratingly do; not listen. In almost every facet of society – from political representation, to income, to availability of middle/upper class jobs, to treatment in general, to education – whites have a distinct and proven advantage over African Americans.
The above facts cannot be disputed. They actually exist and to question the existence of such a disparity is akin to questioning the existence of the moon. The question is the cause, but even then we’re left with two very disturbing conclusions. Either:
A) Within the United States exists a system that is not only indifferent to black lives, but even hostile and purposefully oppressive to black lives. While we might say “all lives matter,” our system tacks on, “but some lives matter more than others.” Yes, “All lives matter” is a wonderful talking point, but when looked at in practice it’s more a punch line than an ideal. The disparity is caused by a system meant to promote white supremacy, to ensure that white people get ahead with greater ease than their non-white counterparts.
B) Non-whites are inferior to whites. That there’s something to being of European ancestry that makes a person superior in terms of ability to obtain wealth and work hard.
Now, some well-meaning people might try to decline option A, but what are we left with other than option B? All arguments that aren’t option A tip-toe and conclude with option B: they’re lazy, they don’t work as hard, they expect government handouts, if they want better lives then they can work for them, the problem is their culture, and so on and so forth. No matter what, it all boils down to one sentiment: “They” are inferior.
I would hope that in 2015 I wouldn’t have to point out why such a sentiment is absurd, but sadly I do. No human, and I mean not a single human in this world, is inferior due to race, ethnicity, or culture. Individuals have strengths and weaknesses, but not races. All human lives are both worthy of dignity; that means all lives, irrespective of ethnicity or race, are just as capable of success as the next person. From a scientific perspective there’s no evidence or reason to believe that different races are “superior” to other races; there’s smart people and dumb people, hard working people and lazy people, in all races. Skin color has no impact on a person’s work ethic or intelligence.
If we (hopefully) reject option B, then we’re left with option A, that the system has failed an entire people. And not just failed an entire people, but worked against an entire people. To say “Black Lives Matter,” then, is to act as a reminder that black lives matter…as much as all other lives, therefore, treat them that way. No one is asking white people to give up the comfort of privileges, but merely to ensure that everyone enjoys the same privileges we enjoy. That is to say, no one is asking for the median income to drop among white people, but rather let’s promote a system that allows the median income to rise among non-whites. No one is asking white people to face the same brutality from police, but rather allow nonwhites to enjoy the same respect from police that white people are afforded.
Sure, it’s okay to disagree with the methods of the Black Lives Movement and even some of the rhetoric, but despite methods and rhetoric the message remains necessary and poignant. One doesn’t have to subscribe to the methods or rhetoric in order to appreciate and embrace the message, that we have a system that is violent towards black lives. And we have to work towards reconciliation, because without it the violence will only increase, spread, and become worse.