When do black lives matter? or, Dear Fellow White People


In the span of 48 hours, two horrific police killings of black men were captured on camera. 
Rinse. Repeat. 
While details are still forthcoming, specifically the one from Baton Rogue, the situation in Minnesota appears to be nothing more than an impromptu execution. And for the umpteenth time in so many years, we’re left questioning what can be done to stop police violence. It is quite the worthy question and certainly we need a way to stop the killing of unarmed people, especially black men, without compromising the safety of police officers. But for all the rage, the one culprit we don’t want to point to as the cause of these killings is ourselves (white people).
Now I don’t mean we’re personally responsible or that we personally enacted laws that led to such incidents. I’m not even suggesting tacit support of such unfortunate events. Instead, I’m referring to a system that we’ve inherited that, even if we didn’t create it, we are its beneficiaries. Our grandparents may not have benefited from it, but in 2016 we do. 
When my great-grandfather came over from Kiev in 1912, he wasn’t white. That is to say, he had white skin, blue eyes, and probably couldn’t get a tan if he wanted to, but he wasn’t *white.* He was a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe, a Jew and a Slav. In 1912 that didn’t qualify him to be white. For those of Irish ancestry, the Irish immigrants weren’t white in the 1800s, neither were the Italians. Instead, such races with light skin were brought into the “white” category for various reasons. They were white, but weren’t *white.* All that to say that while my great-grandfather and grandfather didn’t benefit from any system of privilege, by the time I came onto the scene in 1983, I was a beneficiary of a system made for white people. Somewhere between 1912 and 1983, Russian Jews found a way into the white system, as did all those from Eastern Europe, Italians, and the Irish (save for over in the United Kingdom). 
In the modern era, I typically have little to fear when stopped by a police officer (though in New York, unless one is wealthy it’s always good to carry a bit of fear with the NYPD). I also have some form of upward mobility ahead as of me. I work hard, promote myself, and I can move up. If my career stalls, I can go pursue a graduate degree almost anywhere in the world. The fact is, I’m a white American male and while not rich or powerful, I have the world before me. 
The same cannot be said for my brothers and sisters of darker skin. The upbringing of my white niece and nephew is significantly and profoundly different from that of my black friends with children, even those who are middle class. Essentially, we’re raising an entire generation of African Americans to obey the police no matter what, to “accept their role” in society, to dress a certain way, to speak a certain way, to act a certain way. Decades removed from codified segregation and a century removed from slavery, we’ve still made little in the way of progress from a cultural and sociological point of view. The mentality we attempted to instill into slaves is eerily similar to the mentality we attempt to instill into their free descendants. 
So, what do we mean when we say black lives matter? If our utterance of that phrase ends with the intention of stopping police brutality, then we have a very limited vision of equality. We shouldn’t have to fight against police brutality in a free society, especially for any particular race. The right to remain unmolested by law enforcement when innocent is a given, built into our constitution. Fighting for an end to police brutality, especially for black men, isn’t so much a fight for racial justice as it is just a fight for common sense and liberty. 
No, when we say black lives matter we must mean more than, “stop killing black men.” We have to mean more, or we’re merely speaking empty words. When 1 in 3 black children are born and raised in poverty (compared to 1 in 4 Hispanic children or 1 in 10 white children), when there’s study after study showing that African Americans face an uphill battle in obtaining a job and/or education, when there’s proof that upward mobility is almost non-existent in black communities, when all evidence points to the system of Jim Crow still very much alive and active – not a specter haunting us, but a living being behind the scenes and psyche of our leaders and ourselves – we must demand change. When we say black lives matter we must look beyond police brutality cases and peer deep into a system that denies equality to an entire race of people simply because of the color of their skin. 
And we who are the beneficiaries of a system meant to protect white people, we who unintentionally benefit from such a system, are in the best position to eradicate such a system. The Civil Rights movement gained momentum and made the gains it did when white people stood with their black brothers and sisters and said, “enough is enough.” It was pressure from white people, those who benefited from segregation, that helped tilt the battle towards the side of justice. It’s not that we’re the heroes or that we need to save anyone, merely that we benefit from a system of oppression and are therefore in the best position to overturn it. The oppressed can only eradicate oppression through violence; but the oppressors, in peace, can choose to stop oppressing. 
This is not some “white guilt,” nor am I “cuckholded” as the vile and racist alt-right would claim. We owe it to our black brothers and sisters to work for change. Not merely because they’re human or because oppression is a cancer that always spreads to other races, but because we are family. We have a moral obligation to other humans to ensure they receive justice. Not for any utilitarian purposes, but merely because it’s right in its own right. Shall we deny them justice? Shall we deny a good work? Or will we finally rise up and say no more? Will we finally pursue what is right and good? The answer to that question is important, because lives depend on it, especially black lives. 

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