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By now you’ve probably seen the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Created by three Black women in response to the killing of Trayvon Martin—and now the subsequent high-profile killings of other unarmed Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement—it is a hashtag often used after statements that expose the oppression and violence that Black Americans still face today as a result of systemic and institutionalized racism. You’ve also probably seen #AllLivesMatter.
Since the rampant police killings of unarmed Black Americans have become more exposed in the mainstream press, people have taken to social media to voice their outrage. But there have also been folks who have spent more time attacking the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter than attacking the reasons we have to use it.
Let me be clear: Saying that “all lives matter” immediately after saying “Black lives matter” minimizes and discredits the unique and distinct challenges that Black Americans are facing in this country today—and it needs to stop!
Of course, we know that all lives SHOULD matter, but it doesn’t mean that all lives are treated equally in this country. Pretending that racism doesn’t exist does not make it so, and that’s exactly what #AllLivesMatter does.
#BlackLivesMatter is not a competition to declare whose life matters most; it’s a reminder of the ways that Black lives are still often treated as if they matter less.
The comic above seems kind of silly right? You wouldn’t spray water on a building that isn’t on fire while you watch one burn down next to it. But that is EXACTLY what people are doing when they discredit the movement for Black lives and the reasons that we fight.
And the reasons are clear. Black Americans are more than twice as likely to be unarmed when killed during encounters with police as white people, according to a Guardian investigation. It’s statistics like that which show the need for hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter. But the truth is that the systemic racism that Blacks face is not only an issue of life and death. It’s the fact that a résumé with the name David is more likely to be picked for a job interview than one with the name Dante. It’s the fact that 1 in 3 Black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime and that a report by the Department of Justice also found that Blacks and Latinos were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. It’s the fact that Blacks are twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police. It’s the fact that 27.4% of Blacks live in poverty.
The reality is this: We are NOT a post-racial society. Discrimination based on skin color still exists. We have come a long way and we have a lot to celebrate, but we can’t forget that the journey to where we are now didn’t happen because we silenced those being oppressed. It happened because those voices got so loud that people couldn’t help but listen. When we say that #BlackLivesMatter, we are fighting for our LIVES. We are fighting for our FREEDOM. We are making our voices known. Please don’t try to silence us–instead, help us create a society where all lives truly do matter.