I’ve been trying to process what has happened recently – not only the events themselves but also our reactions to them. Two men of color shot by the police. And what leaps out at us is that these aren’t isolated incidents. Five police officers were shot by a deranged sniper. And what leaps out at us is just how dangerous going to work can be for our police. At first people seemed to be taking “sides.” But our better angels appear to be bringing us together in remembering that all these deaths are tragic.
But what does still appear to be tearing us apart is the juxtaposition of “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” as if one can exist in the absence of the other. I deeply believe they are linked. Indeed, when I have been physically able to march in support of Black Lives Matter, I have alternated the two chants. But at this moment I’d particularly like to speak to those who are offended by “Black Lives Matter” and insist that “All Lives Matter” should be enough.
I agree! All Lives Matter ought to be enough. But it hasn’t been, and I believe we need to recognize and own that difficult truth. Slavery was officially abolished in the United States by the 13th Amendment in 1865. But it was soon replaced by what Douglas Blackmon rightly called “Slavery by Another Name”, and the Jim Crow laws. Then, despite the legendary work of one of the great heroes of my life, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960’s, we’ve had what Michelle Alexander has rightly called “The New Jim Crow”.
Yes! All Lives Matter. But too often that’s only been a catchphrase, and perhaps wishful thinking. The truth is that Black lives haven’t mattered as much as other lives in this country. And they haven’t for far too long.
I am reminded of the words of C. K. Chesterton. “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” There are exceptions to this broad statement. I have been fortunate enough to have known some wonderful human beings who despite the Christian ideal being difficult have indeed dedicated their lives to embodying it. But nonetheless, the statement is often spot on target.
Similarly, the ideal that All Lives Matter has not been tried and found wanting. It has, for the most part, been found inconvenient and left untried. I believe we need to be reminded that Black Lives Matter, because it has been far too easy for our culture to forget that if indeed All Lives Matter then Black lives have to matter! My brothers and sisters in the Native Lives Matter movement also need to be heard. For their lives too are much too often simply overlooked. Our country enslaved African Americans and came close to annihilating Native Americans and then, for the most part, simply relegated them to “other.”
I long for the day when indeed we will not only mean but in fact practice the saying that All Lives Matter. I hope to live to see that day. But now, at this moment, in this country, the sad truth is that all lives do NOT matter. And until they do, we need to be reminded that the promise of this country, made in 1776, is still unfulfilled. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Too many have been denied these “unalienable Rights.” Too many are still not included when we say “all”.
Yes, all lives matter. And because of that I will continue to support Black Lives Matter. When all lives matter, when all lives truly matter, I will gladly stop marching.