I removed a comment from my Facebook post this morning. Its basic message was “ALL LIVES MATTER”. I was as kind and respectful with the one who commented as I was able, but I could not leave that comment on my page.
It isn’t that I think all lives mattering is a bad thing. I’m all for that. I would love to see that.
The problem is I see very clearly and close-up that some lives don’t matter. And that isn’t right, and it isn’t good, and it needs to be rectified.
I think that a lot of people miss the point of the Black Lives Matter movement, and other similar movements that are pressing for equity and safety and opportunity for those who are marginalized in our society. The point is not that these lives matter more than the “all lives” that some use to counter these movements. The point is that these lives already live under the oppressive and marginalizing weight of being treated like they don’t matter.
Last night I posted because I watched a young man be shot across the street. He was a black man, living in an underserved neighborhood—my neighborhood—and he was just walking down the sidewalk when he was struck with bullets and fell to the ground. There were lots of people out last night, on that same sidewalk on this block. Women, children, elderly people, and young men all shared the moment. We sprang into action. I called for the police and an ambulance. Several others ran to where the victim had dropped, peeling off their shirts and pressing against wounds, administering what first aid they could and keeping him conscious until help arrived. And after the event, I posted a plea for an end to this injustice, racism, classism, and access to firearms that transforms quiet blocks on the Westside into blue-lit, yellow-tape-covered, crime scenes.
Many responded with sadness, some with shock. One left the “ALL LIVES MATTER”.
They don’t. They matter in the sense that I believe in equity and that humans deserve love and respect and opportunity and safety and security as humans. They don’t in the way our society currently treats the brown and the black and the poor and the sick and the suffering. We are treated like shit. We are treated like our lives are not worth the air we breathe. We are treated as though our lives mean less to others than “rights” to have entitled and privileged and unfettered space for the most white and most rich and most cis and most male and most heterosexual. We are treated as though our lives don’t matter.
Here I will interrupt myself for a moment and clarify something. I’m not black or brown. I am poor and sick and queer, so I understand much of the marginalization that my neighbors experience, because I experience that too. But my plight is not their plight, exactly. I can pass for a normative, respected, acceptable person when I am not asking for money or ranting about the problems that disability creates. I can simply not share with others that I am unable to work and struggling to survive. But my neighbors can’t pass as white-bodied individuals. And no matter what other status or wealth or purpose or good works they may have associated with them on an individual level, they are judged first and foremost by the color of their bodies. And that judgement leaves them unsafe, disrespected, gunned down, impoverished, and more.
I live in an area where I am one of very few white people. It took me living here for over a year to even meet some of my neighbors. There was a suspicion that floated about me. Why was I here? What did I want? Why would I not live in a “better” or “safer” area? After all, I am white, so I should be able to easily find a place to be among the other white people. But I am poor and disabled, so I cannot afford to live among the other white people. And, as my neighbor so poignantly expressed last night, “None of them are buying you a house in the suburbs, are they?”
Nobody has offered me a place to live in the relative safety that they live in. Some will help with finances so that I can continue to eat and heat or cool my home and stay alive in my marginalized state. Many will judge me and treat me poorly and say bad things about me to others in order to discredit my claims that the system is rigged against people like me and my black and brown neighbors. “Lazy, free-loading, welfare queens” is how they see us—not as hard-working people of integrity who just happen to have arbitrary traits that prevent us from being valued in our society.
I stood outside and talked with my neighbors for some time last night after the shooting had happened. We talked about how nobody wants this for themselves or the ones they love. We talked about how a teaching career and a host of graduate degrees and the love of god and fellow humans means nothing, because we have that arbitrary trait of ours that negates all of the good, purposeful traits.
We are good people, by and large. We are families. We hold down two or three jobs. We learn from a young age to appease the system at all costs, to prevent increased suffering. We learn that even appeasing that system all the time will not necessarily prevent suffering—it might still end in us shot on the sidewalk. It may even cause us to be shot by the people who are sworn to protect and serve us.
I’m not black or brown-skinned. But I count myself as “we”. I count myself that way because I have been immersed in this culture, in this neighborhood, and in this experience for over five years. That is but a fraction of the years that these others have and will be marginalized due to arbitrary standards, but it is enough time for me to know and to feel the pain that is endured here. Not fully, of course, but in part, I feel what those around me feel. I hear their cries. I listen to their stories. I relate to their pain and fear and frustration.
I had PTSD long before I began living in a ghetto-like environment where people of color are trapped for lifetimes, and living to age 50 is a landmark worthy of parties bigger than the reception after most weddings. But being here triggers much, because the traumas of being black surround me, even though I am white. I’m not afraid of or in my neighborhood. I am afraid for my neighborhood, and the people within.
Our lives do not matter to politicians or manufacturing companies or many of the police or “decent” white people living in large houses in nice areas where you don’t even lock your doors at night. Our lives don’t come with the assurances offered to others. Our lives are lived moment by moment, challenge by challenge, and triumph by triumph. And we value life more than most, because we see the fragility, and we understand how quickly and without comment we can be removed from this world.
There were no news vans or helicopters last night on my block. There were only those who live here and those paid to come here and help. This young man was gunned down in the street, and only those who live and work here even know about it.
Sure, there might be an article on Monday about how many shootings and homicides happened in Chicago over the weekend. But this young man may not even be mentioned specifically, and all the people with power to change the situation will pass over that article and give it over to statements including drugs, gangs, “black on black” crime, or “ALL LIVES MATTER”. They will give it over to excuses, and not to the truth of the matter.
The truth of the matter is that we do not matter. The sick, the aging, the black or brown, the woman in hijab, the man with prison tattoos, the person with the name you don’t know how to pronounce, the mother who has three jobs to provide for her children, the veteran on the corner with a sign and a paper cup asking for care and respect and the ability to live—we don’t matter. And we feel the weight of that every day. We know you don’t believe we matter. If you did, you would change your actions and fight for our rights and stop saying that “ALL LIVES MATTER” to justify your ignorance and lack of care for the most vulnerable in our society.
If all lives really mattered to you, you would stop purchasing fast fashion to save the lives of Bangladeshi men and women. If all lives really mattered to you, you would demand that social security support those who are disabled without years of suffering and waiting to be heard and offered care. If all lives really mattered to you, you would be screaming at your representatives to put an end to the sale of handguns and assault weapons in our country. If all lives really mattered to you, I wouldn’t be trying to crowdfund my existence because you would be generously donating funds or making certain that there were safety nets for those who need them in this country. If all lives really mattered to you, you would reassess your views regarding women and birth control and safe access to abortion to make certain that you were not looking at the issue from a privileged viewpoint. If all lives really mattered to you, you would fight for the rights of the formerly incarcerated, sex workers, and juvenile offenders. If all lives really mattered to you, you would call for an end to the “war on drugs” and private prisons and mass incarceration. If all lives really mattered to you, you would celebrate love between people, regardless of their gender, and use the pronouns and names that transgender or queer individuals have chosen for themselves, and stop looking sideways at men in dresses, or women with shaved heads, assuming that they are “wrong” somehow, for being who they are. If all lives really mattered to you, you would be outraged by the oppression of, marginalization of, or limited rights of any and all people or groups. If all lives really mattered to you, they would matter equally.
I can hug a homeless, mentally ill, prostitute on the corner and wish him a good day and ask how he is doing. His life matters to me, regardless of anything he does or does not do. And if all lives matter, then he should have healthcare and medication and safe housing and opportunities to make money in other ways than selling the only “capital” he has—his body. If you wouldn’t go near such a man, then all lives do not matter to you.
If you would not sacrifice a portion of your own comforts and securities to make certain that all others had equal, or at least basic, comforts and securities, then all lives do not matter to you.
And if you cannot admit that you treat lives in a hierarchical manner, placing some lives higher than others, then you are in no position to say “ALL LIVES MATTER”.
This post is harsh. But I won’t apologize for that, because it is necessary.
People with extreme privilege need to stop pretending at care for all lives. Instead, all people need to care for one another in a manner that demonstrates we want a world without privileged status—we want a world where each life matters as much as our own.
I don’t see that from most of the people who say things like “ALL LIVES MATTER”. I don’t see that from many of my acquaintances or my Facebook “friends”. I don’t see that from most of my family members. I don’t see that in my neighborhood or in my city or in the way that the problems we are facing are addressed. I don’t see equity. I don’t see lives that matter. I look out my window and I see a sweet young man, who passes my home almost every day, bleeding on the sidewalk—shot, wounded, and not mattering much at all.
So, please, for the love of all that is good, stop pretending and making excuses and going forward without challenging the systems that are oppressing others. Grow. Think. Listen. Consider. And then change, so that you are participating in a society that offers equal rights and equal benefit and equal status to all.
Don’t say all lives matter until you are doing everything you can to honor every single person living on this planet, and have your actions be intimately tied to the care and concern for every single one of those lives. My guess is that following this suggestion will create a situation where only a handful of people I know—maybe less—will be able to say that all lives matter. The rest need to sit and study and wrestle with the concepts of privilege and oppression and injustice and equity for a longer time and with more intent.
Yes, all lives matter. But no, we aren’t treating people in that manner. So start treating people as though they matter, or stop fucking saying that they do.
This morning the blood is washed away and people are out doing work. The men across the street are working on fixing a car. Next door to them is a man working diligently to rehab a house that has been boarded up for about four years. I’m sitting in my office, overlooking the children and the young people and the men and women moving about. We just go on. We just keep on doing life in the best way we know how, in the midst of trauma and terror and task forces and terrible social support systems. We are resilient and we are strong and we are good. We keep fighting for change and working toward peace and summoning hope and praying for better situations.
Even if you don’t show us our lives matter, we know that they do. So we live our lives, in the best possible ways we can. Our lives matter to us. We hang on to one another, and we work together, and we keep telling our stories, hoping the world will one day hear and respond. Hoping one day we will see that our lives matter, that all lives matter equally, on a global scale.
May that day come soon.