Opinion: ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement has solid reasoning
Black Lives do Matter. While scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across the report from WCAX that the Black Lives Matter Flag recently raised at the University of Vermont Campus by the Student Government was stolen during the night of Sept. 24. This is disturbing. But what is more deeply disturbing is the array of racist and intolerant comments made on the WCAX link to the story.
As a clergyperson and a scholar of religion and race in America, it is clear to me that even in Vermont — the first republic to at least partially ban slavery (1777) — we have a long way to go. The most common refrain is, “ALL lives matter,” as if saying, “Black Lives Matter” denies the importance of all lives. I fear “all lives matter” is simply a defensive stance on the part of many of us white folks who recognize, deep down, the ways American society has denied equality and significance to Black Lives.
We know that in order to get the Constitution ratified in 1787 the 3/5 Compromise was enacted counting each black, enslaved life as only 3/5 of a person. We know that while the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery in the U.S. was passed 87 years later, northern states ignored the systematic dis-enfranchisement of black citizens in order to “preserve” the tenuous union.
We know that throughout the 20th century, as black women and men left the racial apartheid conditions of the South, northern cities practiced their own systems of exclusion to segregate and dis-enfranchise black citizens. (Red-lining in real estate is just one example.) And we know that despite passage of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Voting Rights Act of 1965, Black Lives still do not matter in the hearts and minds of many.
If all lives matter, why are the poverty and unemployment rates for non-white Americans in comparison to white Americans so disproportionate? If all lives matter, why are African American men and women being shot and killed by police officers at a rate of 2.5 times that of white women and men? If all lives matter, why are unarmed African American women and men being shot and killed by police officers at a rate of 5 times that of white women and men?
I guarantee you this is not because African Americans commit more crimes, use and sell more drugs, or any other unsupported, racist notion. And while I recognize that quantitatively more white women and men are killed by police officers each year, proportionally the rate for black Americans is higher.
As The Washington Post notes, white people make up 62 percent of the U.S. population and 49 percent of those killed by police officers. African Americans, on the other hand, are 13 percent of the U.S. population and account for 24 percent of those killed by police officers. And a black police officer shooting and killing a black citizen does not negate these disproportionate statistics. (Please note, this is not meant to disparage the work of those serving our communities!)
I encourage us white folks to put down our defensiveness and listen to the cry that Black Lives Matter. It is not an assertion of “race hatred;” it is not an assertion that other lives do not matter. “Black Lives Matter” is a call to us to recognize that we have been living as if only some lives matter. If every life matters, then we must be willing to make the changes in our economic and social structures and our personal lives that will fulfill this assertion. Recognizing that Black Lives Matter is a starting point.
Rev. Mary Kay Schueneman