When I was growing up, I lived mostly among people who look like me. Although I remember Hispanic, Native American, and Asian students in my schools, I don’t remember having Black classmates until my first year of High School – and that school was so enormous, everyone was lost in the crowd. The High School where I finished my K-12 education had precisely one – yes, 1 – African American student and we didn’t hang out (he was a jock). In all that time, I had no Black adults in my life except my cousin’s housekeeper, who I saw maybe, maybe, once a year because they lived at the other end of the country.
I chose a college in New York City, because I had fallen in love with NYC, partially because of the diversity. And I immediately plunged into a community full of African-American (and African) classmates, teachers, neighbors, medical workers, bosses, coworkers, employees, customers, service providers, co-volunteers, and people we volunteered for.
Having grown up in such an insular way, I made mistakes: I pissed people off, I offended some people, and I’m sure that I hurt some feelings. I made some friends. And I corrected my most beloved aunt when she tried to persuade me that CPT was a real thing, really…
All this to say that Black lives matter to me.
But more than that, Black lives matter to our communities and our country’s success. Art, music, food, law, medicine, science, business, politics, literature, manufacturing, agriculture, education, religion, sports – all areas of culture would suffer without the contributions that African Americans have made and make every day. To say nothing of the Black people who work with and for us every day.
Now that, medically, things have started to calm down and the medical community is getting another chance to look at the data with some distance, they are figuring out that the reason so many Black and Brown folks are dying of C19 is because they are catching it more often. And they are catching it more often because they are exposed more often because they are essential workers – heath care workers, bus drivers, train conductors, trash collectors, delivery people, cab and Uber/Lyft drivers, first responders, janitors, security personnel, farm workers, truck drivers, cashiers at grocery stores and drugstores, to name just a few. These workers are keeping the country running so that the rest of America can stay safely at home. People of color put their lives – and the lives of the people they live with – at risk. They also work disproportionately in jobs like retail, where people have been furloughed or laid off. Without them, America would be in a bad way.
Because Black Lives Matter to the United States.
But most of all, Black Lives Matter to the people, the children, the mothers, the sisters and brothers, and fathers, and grandparents, who deserve the same rights, the same respect, the same opportunities – the same advantages – for success that every other American receives as a matter of birth. They live in a country with a bill of rights and a promise of freedom and opportunities for the pursuit of happiness that statistically don’t seem to apply to them. They deserve those rights.
Because Black Lives Matter to people.
And this shit has got to stop.
The systemic discrimination – the deprivation of schools, the gerrymandering of election districts, the food deserts, the police violence, the unequal justice system, the hiring discrimination, the promotion discrimination, the dismal salaries, the red lining, the micro-aggressions, the statues and flags honoring rebels who fought to keep them in chains, and everything else – has to go.
It’s long past time.
You can say that blue lives matter – but look, it’s not a zero sum game. Just because Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that other lives matter less or don’t matter at all. Black Lives can matter without implying that other lives don’t matter. And it needs to be said out loud that Black Lives Matter – it must be said – because so often people act with a carelessness as if Black lives don’t matter. How many times have we read about the unnecessary use of force resulting in Black deaths? There is no way I could list everyone, the list is so long and goes back so far in time. In Minneapolis alone, in this year alone, four other Black people passed out from having knees on their necks before this one. How many white lives, how many blue lives were taken that same way this year?
You can say that you don’t see color, that you treat everyone the same. That’s not good enough because everyone is not the same. One of the things that makes America strong is the brilliance of the colors in our tapestry. Studies have shown that diversity strengthens teams by forcing team members to challenge each other’s thinking, pushing each other to come up with creative ideas, to solve problems in new and different ways. Without that diversity, you are only as strong as the strongest person on the team.
If you don’t see color, then you only see Black and White.
Or maybe you only see white. Look around you, around your school, around your neighborhood, around your workplace – if you only see people that look like you, then that is part of the problem because, when you think about Black people, you think about them as a group not as individual humans with the same capacity to love as you have. Read. Educate yourself. Volunteer. Reach out. Get to know people who don’t look like you. Earn their trust. Listen to their stories. Open your heart. Take chances, make mistakes, learn.
And then act.
Speak up. Speak truth to power. When people you love say ignorantly racist things, confront them. Set boundaries. When places you work perpetuate racist policies, change them. If you notice someone on social media promoting racist speech, flag them or unfollow them. Give your business to places that support African American customers. That job you can’t fill – hire an African American. If I learned nothing else at my last job, I learned that it’s ok to hire someone who isn’t a unicorn – with a little mentoring, they will surprise you by rising to the occasion. Boycott companies that refuse to crowd out hate speech.
A lack of action is an action in itself.
As I said above, I lack experience – even after all these years – and as I press the post button on this, my finger hovers hesitantly above the button because I fear that I will offend or hurt someone’s feelings or make someone angry because I’ve only walked in my own shoes. Please forgive me.
For the rest of us, remember: your actions are your only true possessions; you cannot escape the consequence of your actions; your actions are the path on which you walk.