Picture this scenario – Anytown, U.S.A., which has a small population of Black and Brown people who generally try to live by the same rules and regulations that everyone else around them abides by. These are folks who go to work, pay their taxes, try their best with parenting, and even participate in their community. By and large, these are people any community would be lucky to have.
Black and Brown community members are regularly harassed and dismissed (simultaneously!), however, by the white people around them. The same people who are solidly doing their jobs and being good citizens remain in constant fear that some event will befall them that ends their life prospects, their economic future, or their lives themselves for no other reason than being Black or Brown. Some of it is because there are stereotypes associated with being a person of color, such as being historically made out to be a threat or a menace. Some of it is because of pure, irrational racism that drives home unfounded (and normally proven to be untrue) assumptions and beliefs about people of color ranging from them being international terrorists associated with Al-Qaeda to being domestic terrorists associated with the Crips. These Black and Brown folks have become accustomed with this manner of living, with a regular worry that something needlessly oppressive will occur and that they will have no recourse to avenge any wrongs or injustices.
Over time, there was a buildup of these injustices and no reckoning. Black and Brown people (and even some white ones) noticed the pattern of injustice, who it continued to follow and negatively effect, and the policies enacted to maintain and protect oppressive institutions. Rather than remain resigned in their collective disappointment of their local government and community, they decided to engage the public at-large via massive demonstrations and a media campaign to re-educate the masses regarding the plight of Black and Brown people. The best method of quickly explaining that mantle, they decided, was to scream out with all of their souls, “Black Lives Matter!” They were met with a heavy police presence despite the largely peaceful protesting (an oxymoron in itself), something considered appropriate since there were a lot of Black and Brown people who were (justifiably) angry at the continued oppressive state they lived under. Quite frankly, when Black people get mad, white people get nervous.
One way they responded to the nervousness was to claim that “All Lives Matter” in defiance of “Black Lives Matter.” Fortunately, in Anytown, U.S.A., bad things can happen to anybody, and a young white woman met her unfortunate demise in Anytown as a result of police misconduct – she was gunned down needlessly while unarmed and not resisting or posing any danger. One might expect that there would be a response, since she was a victim of injustice. Perhaps a march down Main Street shouting, “All Lives Matter,” holding signs with pictures of her. But in Anytown, U.S.A., there was no march down Main Street. There were no signs with this young woman’s picture on it. There was a news report and a quiet firing of the officer, with rumors of a civil suit emerging in the aftermath. Anytown continued with business as usual, unconcerned with lives mattering as justice has been done (to some degree).
John Torrey Ph.D is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and a contributing professor in the Africana Studies unit at SUNY Buffalo State.