The Black Lives Matter movement is one of the most important movements happening in our country today. The fact that the history of it was completely erased is a testament to why the most marginalized voices need a chance to speak.
Three queer black women started the hashtag #blacklivesmatter after the death of Trayvon Martin and that was the catalyst that started the whole movement. The rights of black people in America was already something in question and something brewing in the community but after the trial for Trayvon let his killer go free there had to be something for the people to rally behind.
The fact that the hashtag and entire movement were hijacked from these three queer black women and straight black men were heralded as the originators and heroes of this movement is where it already faced its first obstacle.
It is still being said from unsupporting groups that Black Lives Matter is a marginalized slogan and that “All Lives Matter.” In fairness to the All Lives Matter movement, of course all lives matter.
No one has ever claimed that all lives do not matter. But it is black lives that are the ones in lethal danger because of dangerous stereotypes.
It is black lives that have been used and abused since they were taken from their homeland in Africa and built this country on their backs. It is black lives that had to live through civil rights, getting hosed, beaten, arrested and killed just to have the same rights as others. And it is black lives today that are in danger from police brutality, white supremacy and ignorance. It does not matter how “respectable” the black community acts and portrays itself, it does not matter.
What does matter is that black children are being shot in the streets for “looking suspicious,” wearing hoodies, playing with BB guns, being in the wrong place at the wrong time and encountering racist cops.
All lives will matter when all lives are equal.
I have heard two wonderful metaphors for the Black Lives Matter movement and why it is so important.
The first states how representatives from each race can sit down for a nice dinner. Everyone gets a plate of food except for the black representative. The black representative says, “I deserve food.” The others proclaim, “We all deserve food,” and keep on eating. Though this is absolutely true it does not fix the fact that the black representative does not have food.
The other representation were statements from one of the international ambassadors for the Black Lives Matter movement, Janaya Khan. She says that the movement is not meant to place black people as “better than” or “more important than” other races. It is looking at the quality of black life beyond just mass incarceration and police brutality. It is also looking at the disadvantage the black community has when it comes to quality education, housing, and employment. It is also looking at the disenfranchisement, poverty, homelessness and marginalization that the black community faces on a daily basis.
Andrea Smith talks about black lives in her piece “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy.” She explains how black lives being treated as lesser than is not a coincidence or just a result of slavery, though it is a huge part. It is very hard to move up in the system in the United States when you started from the bottom and there are institutions making sure you stay down there.
Anti-black racism started with white supremacy’s logic of slavery. They thought and made sure that black bodies were “slaveable,” and by viewing black bodies as property they will always be slaveable. There are different versions of slavery, from actual slavery to sharecropping to the prison-industrial complex. This type of slavery directly correlates to capitalism.
Capitalism makes human bodies commodities to sell and exploit. To keep this system running without question or backfire from marginalized groups they created a racial hierarchy, so that groups that are still exploited can feel like,
“At least I’m not black,”
which means at least their bodies are not slaveable and they are therefore better than black bodies. The logic of slavery is also seen in the prison-industrial complex, which much of the black community falls system to. It is important to note that prior to the Civil War most prisons were filled with white people, but after slavery was banned the ones who were enslaved by masters were now enslaved by the government in prisons. The criminalization of blackness coincides with blackness as property. This historical analysis is important as to why the Black Lives Matter movement even needed to be started, being black has always been rendered a crime in the United States.
The systematic targeting of black people adds to the anti-black rhetoric in the United States. According to the BYP100’s “Agenda to Build Black Futures,” the work of black single mothers, trans black women and lower income black people are exploited, underappreciated and abused. The prison-industrial complex is nothing more than a business that capitalizes on getting as many black and brown bodies cycling through its facilities.
They do not want restorative justice, they do not want people to get help and become better because they will not return to prison and they will lose money. The myth of meritocracy is very real because we live in a hierarchal economic society. There will be no racial justice until we achieve economic justice and if black and brown people make up the majority of those making minimum wage then they have no power to rise up.
Wealth and “trickle down” economics does not exist, being colorblind to that notion adds to anti-black racism more than one could think. Though individual black people do become part of the wealthy 1% the community as a whole only makes up a fraction of America’s wealth.
By stating that All Lives Matter, one is erasing not only the struggles and injustices of individual communities but blanketing the accomplishments and successes of those communities against white supremacy. Black voices are not heard, not understood or appreciated in most spaces. They have been silenced for a very long time, called angry, ungrateful or disrespectful if they speak against the white gaze in any way. That is why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important.