Off the Record: Why ‘Black Lives Matter’

Why does the motto “Black Lives Matter” strike such a negative reaction among some people?

Protestors chant the motto at demonstrations protesting the killing of unarmed Blacks at the hands of law enforcement. The George Floyd killing is the latest, and perhaps the most outrageous example of what demonstrators are protesting.

Invariably, their chants are met with counterchants of “All Lives Matter.” At one recent demonstration in New Ulm, a reporter heard someone nearby shout, “Get it right! All Lives Matter!” as if calling for recognition of the worth of Black lives is somehow wrong. As if insisting that respect be given to Black lives somehow demeans the lives of Whites, police, and other members of society.

It is certainly true that all lives matter, every single one. After all, one of the founding documents of this country declares that “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”

So why do protestors feel the need to insist that “Black Lives Matter?”

Perhaps it is because for so much of our history, Black lives have NOT mattered, not as much as White lives, anyway. Blacks were introduced to this country as slaves. They were abducted, pulled forcibly from their homelands and their families, packed on slave ships and sold like cattle in the slave markets in the American colonies. Slaves in America definitely knew their lives didn’t matter. The U.S. Constitution made that clear when it declared they would be counted as only three-fifths of a person for purposes of deciding representation.

After the Civil War ended the practice of slavery in America, Whites in the South continued the degradation of Black citizens. Through violence, lynchings and Jim Crow laws, Blacks were relegated to second class citizenry, even up to the mid-20th century. Their lives didn’t matter.

Segregationist policies like redlining kept Black populations out of white neighborhoods. Those that did move into a white neighborhood might find a burning cross on their lawn to remind them that their lives didn’t matter.

Today, even with civil rights legislation, Blacks are reminded every day that their lives don’t matter, at least not as much as others. It may be racial slurs at work, a noose in their locker at school, not getting a job or a promotion, or being pulled over by police for driving a suspiciously nice car or walking home with a bag of groceries.

So when a Black person gets killed by three vigilantes for jogging through a neighborhood, or dies when a police officer kneels on his neck for nearly eight minutes as he lays handcuffed, Blacks shouldn’t be resented for reminding us that their lives matter, just like ours. For too long, too many of us seem to have forgotten that fact. We need to be reminded.


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