Words mean stuff.
When white people hear “black lives matter”, many are distracted by the word black, and it leads them down the path of “Hey, ALL lives matter! Why are you singling out black people to receive special treatment?”
If this is what you think when you hear that phrase, then you have misunderstood the intent. The intent – and the part that resonates with most black people – is not the word black, but the word matter. “Black lives matter.”
Don’t feel bad. So much misunderstanding since the movement took hold could have been avoided had the message been better conveyed by simply adding the word too: “Black lives matter too.”
Also. As well. In addition to the lives of white people. As much as the lives of any other people.
The point is not to seek special treatment. The point is simply that black people want to feel as safe as white people do when police officers are around.
If that last bit sounds odd to you – i.e., black people don’t feel safe around cops – then congratulations! You enjoy what’s called white privilege. White privilege does not mean that anything special has been handed to you or you have plenty of money or your life has been easy. It simply means that you can go walking around in a city park, see a police officer on patrol, and breathe a sigh of relief that in that moment you are well protected from the bad guys.
That’s certainly how this white guy feels when he encounters cops on patrol. I’m happy to see them and they make me feel safe.
This is not the reality – or at the very least the perception – of millions of black people in America today. For many, the sight of a police officer causes stress and fear that you might be mistaken for a bad guy, questioned, detained, and – if you say or do the wrong thing – end up dead. Such an outcome would never cross my mind because I have the privilege of officers seeing me and assuming that I’m a good guy.
So imagine that you’ve heard story after story of people who look like you being misjudged and mishandled by police. Never in my life has someone communicated a story to me that police had it in for people who looked like me. Imagine how stressful it must be to go through life in a crime-ridden neighborhood, worried every day that a stray bullet will take you out or that your teenage son will be forced into one of the gangs that sprays those bullets. When you call the cops, they don’t come. Imagine that you not only don’t trust the police, you fear them. Then imagine reading about Trayvon, Tamir, Michael, Alton, Philando . . .
At some point, you find yourself crying out “Don’t we matter?” “Don’t our lives matter?”
That’s what the movement is about. People – your fellow Americans – wanting no more than to feel safe in their own communities.You might not agree with some of the rhetoric or the tactics that their activists have used, but at least understand the words that inspire those activists: black lives matter.