Recently, I caught the tail end of a Fox News video clip featuring Greta Van Susteren proclaiming the Black Lives Matter movement is without merit and politicians soft on the subject ought to fight against the movement, reinforcing the softer, sandbox-friendly message that “all lives matter.”
I was walking out my front door, off to the gym, and had no time to fully engage Van Susteren’s maddening claims, but en route to my destination, I became pissed off, nearing the point of rage with her reckless, uninformed and uncaring commentary; however, as I do with many of her assertions, I decided to let it go and move on, certain such sentiments were limited to her circle and didn’t appeal to most Americans. I was sure the anti-Black Lives Matter rhetoric would blow over and all those young and vibrant organizers who have pushed the movement into the media spotlight and American consciousness would eventually receive their justification, gaining recognition and soon support. It happened for the Tea Party. It even happened for the people seeking justice for Cecil the Lion. Why not Black lives? Certainly, everyone is watching the news like me. Certainly, they know that hardly a week goes by without some Black life being snatched away too soon, violently and without provocation or retribution. This is especially true when Black people encounter police officers. According to FBI data, while Blacks make up only 13 percent of the US population, they accounted for 31 percent of deaths associated with police shootings in 2012 alone. Further, in his 2015 article “This chart explains why black people fear being killed by the police,” Vox staff writer German Lopez reveals that according to a ProPublica analysis of the FBI data, “Black teens were 21 times more likely than white teens to be shot and killed by police between 2010 and 2012…” So, #blacklivesmatter… It’s kind of a no-brainer. Or is it?
Weeks after being angered by the Van Susteren, I awoke to discover that it’s not as obvious as it may appear. No. The proverbial light bulb hasn’t been switched on. Talking heads, headlines, politicians and all the crazies of the world are jumping into the ring seeking to dustup and annihilate the youth-inspired Black Lives Matter movement. Most notably, boss man of the crazies himself, Fox News host of “The O’Reilly Factor” Bill O’Reilly recently proclaimed that the Black Lives Matter movement is actually a “hate group” and that he’s personally working to “put them out of business.” Chiming in, fellow Fox News chum and “Fox and Friends” co-host, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, asked a black guest, “Kevin, why has the Black Lives Matter movement not been classified as a hate group? How much more has to go in this direction before someone actually labels it as such?”
This attitude, and others like it, uncovers the ever-present rhetoric of White privilege that maintains through message and practice notions that without question White lives must be central in any debate about access, protection and justice. The very concept of the All Lives Matter reactionary project proves such. Moreover, the marginalized cannot discuss their disenfranchisement when it comes to access, protection and justice unless they are including within their own rhetoric acknowledgement of the few Whites who also face such atrocities and even garner support and recognition from other Whites. Under this practice, Black Lives Matter movement organizers are encouraged to be “inclusive” with their message and leadership. It is considered “polarizing”, “divisive” and “militant” to place a Black life at the forefront of the discussion, even though, as abovementioned, those are clearly the lives at the forefront of the atrocities. The former is why Van Susteren feels the need to declare that “All Lives Matter,” and Hasselbeck and O’Reilly announce that the Black Lives Matter movement is a “hate group.” This rhetoric of White privilege is why O’Reilly wants to “put them out of business” (and thinks he can). This rhetoric goes beyond Fox News hosts, of course. Some politicians, pundits and even Blacks in the media have taken on similar stances in reaction to the movement.
Further, the very existence of White privilege allows for the mind-blowing ignorance, denial and debating when it comes to the need for a Black Lives Matter movement in this country…and around the world. The privilege permits Whites to ignore the numbers, deny the need and debate the existence of the obvious. People can rally to fight for dog rights. Whale rights. Lion rights. Even the rights of trees. Legislation is proposed, recognized and adopted. No questions. Bring up Black boys being shot dead in the street by police officers and Black women dropping dead in jail cells and suddenly no one understands the numbers, no one can recognize the problem, and no one sees merit in pushing any meaningful agenda. Because no one has to.
Here’s the thing: the Black Lives Matter movement is necessary because, the truth is, Black lives don’t matter. Disproportionately, from the moment a black child is born into the world to the moment he or she maybe/perhaps makes it into adulthood (without dying or being driven mad as he/she witnesses others being murdered) and dies, this person faces so many consequences to life that overwhelmingly communicate that their life or the taking of their life didn’t or doesn’t really matter. Even with hard work and sacrifice and playing along and getting along, a Black life is always at risk of being snuffed out because his music was too loud, she was giving an officer too much lip, he was walking home from the store with Skittles, or he was in a car accident and seeking help. Few non-Blacks can imagine the pain and worry that injects into the daily lives of black fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers a constant fear of death. When the front door opens and closes in the morning there are no promises that everyone will return home that night in one piece, physically or mentally.
This reality reminds me of a simple, yet loaded situation I was involved in this spring. My sweetheart and I were walking through downtown Columbus, Georgia late at night. It was a weeknight, late, maybe a little after 11:00 p.m. The restaurants were closing, but the streets were beautiful with twinkling lights, providing a romantic setting for our stroll. We were hand in hand. Newbies. All batting eyes and blushing. Chatting about nothing much as we headed back to our hotel. At some point, a police cruiser swerved over close to the sidewalk before us and stopped short. Immediately, and I mean immediately, my heart started pounding. Something red erupted within me. My sweetheart squeezed my hand and we stopped walking. Then, perhaps noticing our fear, one of the officers kind of lowered his head and nodded at us, as if to say, “You’re fine.” We nervously continued on our path, actually stumbling back into our conversation (not sure what psychological tactic that was). Maybe fifteen steps later, my sweetheart interrupted me and said, “So, we’re not going to talk about it?” I laughed and admitted, “I was scared as hell.” We both agreed, “That could’ve been it.” The latter statement illustrates how most Blacks feel when they see a police car, or a police officer. Even when they’re not doing anything illegal. Even when they have a doctorate, a lectureship at a top college and ten books under their belt and their date is a finance genius whose work likely impacts the lives of everyone on that street, they know neither one of them is above getting a bullet to the chest for whatever reason. And when they’re dead, their success won’t be the story that’s told. They’ll be a sh*t-starter. A troublemaker. Another Black life that just didn’t matter.
Because of White privilege, there are things about my community, about the lives of people within my community that I just never expect those outside of my community to get or understand, or want to get or work to understand. Not our pains. Not our sorrows. Not our achievements. Not even our triumphs. But there are a few things I want them to do. I want them to leave the Black Lives Matter Movement alone. To accept that, alas, they don’t know or understand everything. They should spend more time listening, more time supporting. More time fixing. Less time working to put people simply seeking to protect lives “out of business.” —Calaya Michelle Reid