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PhilosophyCenter | Musings

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter

Many of us who remember the civil unrest in the streets of the U.S. over racial injustice in the 60s are watching with heavy hearts at how much ground we’ve lost since. The Black Lives Matter movement, not long ago considered fringe, has become an irresistible force sweeping across the country like a tidal wave, a juggernaut that we can hardly imagine will fail, this time, to compel real and lasting change and finally put a leash on the feral dog of so-called white supremacy and racial bullying that has inflicted untold anguish on the innocent.

The problem with the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” of course, is that it shouldn’t need to be said. It is perfectly obvious to anyone whose psyche has not been contorted by hatred, but there are those who have refused to use the phrase, insisting instead that “All Lives Matter,” not out of any sense of universal equality and intrinsic human worth, but rather for political ends, to avoid conspicuously aligning themselves with the legitimate and longstanding grievances of black communities. The shameful history in the U.S. of racial prejudice, oppression, and human rights violations perpetrated against blacks has made it necessary to declare the obvious because to this day, every essential social agency—economics, education, justice, law enforcement, politics, health care, and others—systematically excludes or marginalizes blacks as though their lives do not matter. Leaders who promote or endorse this systemic violence, overtly or through opportunistic silence, are complicit in its crimes and should be held accountable. The tragic and needless deaths of George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, and others is nothing new to black Americans but a recurring nightmare that has left them, their families, and their children terrified in a way that “white lives” may find hard to grasp. “Black Lives Matter” is not singling out black lives as though they matter more than other lives or matter uniquely. It is the inevitable reaction to a truth denied—the truth proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence in the acknowledgment that “all men are created equal.” And while the language used by the founding fathers was necessarily limited by their awareness, we recognize today that “men” includes all people without exemption based on race, gender, age, sexual or gender orientation, ethnic background, religious or political convictions, or any other of the diverse variations on the human theme.

In the Black Lives Matter movement, we are witnessing a dialectical event that, not by accident, has coincided with the pandemic and with unprecedented spasms of global weather, as though Life as something beyond our will is trying to get our attention, to wake us up and steer us away from self-destruction. The common lesson among these three is that we’re all in this together, and even more profoundly, that there is one Life, one Logos in which we, each and all, participate. What affects my Chinese counterpart in Wuhan affects me. An assault on our black neighbors in Minneapolis is an assault on all of us. Ravaging the planetary ecosystem through reckless overproduction, rampant consumerism, and the delusional pursuit of unchecked economic growth is suicidal. Those leaders who have turned a blind eye to the existential crises we are now facing, who stoke the flames of hatred and divisiveness, are as anachronistic as the Confederate flag. Because there is only one Life, one precious Life that we did not create, all lives matter, and because we have enabled and tolerated racism, yes, to be sure, black lives matter. Our black brothers and sisters, along with others who have taken a stand with them in their good and heroic cause, are offering us yet another wake-up call, alongside super hurricanes, firestorms, floods, the dying off of entire species, and the coronavirus. If we are to have a future, then by all the signs, we had better wake up soon.