Since the movement began there has been a lot of discussion regarding the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” Not long after we saw the polarized messaged of “All Lives Matter” surfacing to compete with the mantra. “All Lives Matter” served its purpose, which was not to provide an inclusive clarification to the message of “Black Lives Matter” – as many who supported the term asserted. It created a debate and pressured the public to feel that they should have to choose to use one term or the other because to say “Black Lives Matter” implied a disregard for other lives. So for Black and White people alike there was a debate about which phrase best articulated how they felt because people who wanted to or did use the phrase “Black Lives Matter” never in any way wanted to suggest that only Black lives mattered.
It was the perfect distraction from the growing movement. And to be completely honest for supporters of the term “Black Lives Matter” it was very difficult to explain why it was imperative to use that specific phrasing when you did believe that all lives matter. I have listened to a number of explanations that people have used for supporting the use of “Black Lives Matter.” My personal take on the topic was that for decades the treatment of Black lives has reflected a disregard or devaluing of Black lives so while all lives matter, Black lives need to be affirmed that they matter in the wake of the trauma that they endure. But there is another nuance to the importance of “Black Lives Matter.”
The entire foundation of prejudice and discrimination is objectification. In order for one to validate their superiority, there must be an inferior. The superior becomes the norm and the inferior becomes the other. Racism makes this assertion. In our time the creation of the other is done through language: coin phrases and carefully selected adjectives.
A prime example of this is the Central Park 5. In the 80’s with the “war on drugs” and this mass shaping of Black males as criminals, the language of racism is what made it possible for 5 young Black kids to be imprisoned for over a decade before DNA evidence was allowed forth to prove their innocence.
This worked because the media described them as “a gang,” “wildings,” “a wolf pack.” The term “super predator” was being slung around by politicians and public figures whenever there was a case of violence or crime involving young Black males. That is how racism objectifies minorities and makes them not only non-White – the accepted majority and norm – but also as non-human. This made it okay to side step due process and logic. This made it okay to vilify these young men. Because they were not men; they were not human; they were not people. They were criminals. They were animals that needed to be put down.
We also see the same thing happening from the opposite direction. Out of ignorance to the way that language can shape and influence perception and outcomes, we often here oppressed populations referring to “they” and “them,” or there is the infamous “the man.” These nebulous terms that are used to describe the systems of oppression and the people that represent and perpetuate discrimination. The oppressed do not realize it but they also support and perpetrate the notion that they are the other when compared to White people. This kind of ostracizing of one particular race implies that it is okay to treat them differently than other races. Hence we have the disparity in criminal sentencing and the way that law enforcement engages Blacks and Whites.
On the opposite side of objectification is “white washing,” which is essentially the neutralizing of differences to create the perception that – in terms of justice and revolution – there doesn’t need to be any change because everyone is equal. Equal in this sense means that everyone is just like the majority and because the majority experiences no discrimination, neither do minorities. It connotes that the oppressed have the problem and not our society. That’s when you hear people claim that homeless people just need to get a job or that disenfranchised people are just lazy. While this is the opposite of objectification, it is equally as detrimental to justice and equality because it twists the contexts in which race and prejudice should be considered in measuring the needs of certain populations.
The point is that what is so powerful about the Black Lives Matter movement and the creation of this mantra is that it balances the scales. To support and speak that Black lives matter says that this group is not an other. Black people are not other. They are not less than human. Simultaneously it asserts that Black people are disenfranchised and do need a certain kind of consideration if we are to treat them and prove that they are people too. After so much thought I have become convinced that this is the reason that the phrase proved so strong and endured the opposition to be embraced by so much of the nation. In one easily spoken and distributed phrase is a deeply complex and revolutionary concept: there is no other; there is no they or them, there is only us. And we are all human and deserve the respect and treatment as such.
I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’
An Angry Black Man