Imagine a friend asking you, “My life matters to you, right?”
What would your response be? Would it be, “Well, yes, your life matters to me, my life matters to me, all lives matter to me.” How do you think this response would make your friend feel? Do you think it would make them feel like you cared about them?
Or would you respond, “Of course your life matters to me. Why do you ask?”
When I first read the slogan, “Black Lives Matter”, that was my response. My response wasn’t dismissive of the statement by saying “all lives matter”. It was acceptance: of course black lives matter. And then, I wondered why black people felt the need to make this statement?
- When African American children are three times more likely to live in poverty than Caucasian children;
- when unemployment rates for African Americans are typically double those of Caucasian Americans;
- when African American men working full time earn 72 percent of the average earnings of comparable Caucasian men and 85 percent of the earnings of Caucasian women;
- when 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police;
- when Black Americans are 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for selling drugs and 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for possessing them;
- when one in every three black males born today can expect to go to prison at some point in their life, compared with one in every six Latino males, and one in every 17 white males;
- when African-Americans with college degrees are twice as likely to be unemployed as other graduates;
- when the unemployment rate among blacks is about double that among whites;
- and when whites with felony records fare as well in job interviews as African American men with clean records…
The message black people receive from American society is pretty clear: No, they don’t matter. The fact that the statement “black lives matter” even generates a response at all is an indication of how uncomfortable American society is with the idea that black lives might actually matter. Because if black lives truly mattered to us, we would care about mass incarceration. We would care about redlining. We would care about lack of education and job opportunities in primarily-black neighborhoods. We would care about the unarmed black men, women, and children who have been killed by police because they were deemed “a threat”. Black lives would matter to us. We would be forced to change our society, a society that has benefited many of us.
So, instead, we say “all lives matter”. Because if a friend came to you and asked you if their life mattered to you, you’d say “all friends matter to me”. And then you’d start talking about how much your other friends matter to you, to try to prove to this friend how much they do matter to you. This is what you’d do, right?
Sources to the statistics listed can be found in a previous post, We Can Do Better.