The Truth Humanity Forgot: All Life is Sacred.

The other day I wrote about why I believe “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” ought to coexist as rallying cries that mutually reinforce and support one another. I ended up rubbing some raw nerves and received a lot of disagreement on that. Because of conversations with people I’ve had since then, articles shared and read, and my own personal thoughts; I feel I am beginning to understand this issue better.

First I will address the “All Lives Matter” phrase. On the surface, it is a phrase that affirms the value and importance of all life. However, looking deeper at how the phrase has been used and how it originated, it seems as thought that hasn’t been its intention. When the phrase “Black Lives Matter” first became mainstream, it was almost immediately followed my “All Lives Matter”. It was made to appear as a call to affirm life, but at the time it was the value of black lives that was in the most danger. The prevalence of “All Lives Matter” at that time only served to erase the differential treatment and discrimination of blacks both currently and historically. This is most obvious in the way “All Lives Matter” was introduced and used in the dialog. Simply, they were never used together as mutually supportive phrases. The situation went more like this:

Black People: We’ve been treated like second class citizens for too long! We will no longer accept the widespread abuse, discrimination, and murder of our people! Our lives our just as important as everyone else’s. Black Lives Matter!

(Mostly) White People: You don’t have it so bad. Stop making yourselves the center of attention. We’ve all got difficulties in our lives, and yours are no more important than ours. All Lives Matter.

Of course things weren’t so clear cut or black and white at the time, but that does seem to be how the conversation (if you can call it that) went at the time, and continues too. “All Lives Matter” was never meant to be an affirmation of all life, if it had, then the dialog might have gone more like this:

Black People: We’ve been treated like second class citizens for too long! We will no longer accept the widespread abuse, discrimination, and murder of our people! Our lives our just as important as everyone else’s. Black Lives Matter!

Non-black People: We totally agree! The institutional war on our black communities is a threat to us all! We will never live in a society of acceptance, equality, and community as long as racism and murder is allowed to continue! Black Lives Matter! All Lives Matter!

You see, an affirmation of all life would necessarily include the affirmation of black lives. It would recognize that there are people who are particularly at risk of having their lives taken from them. It would empathize with the struggle and rage of the black community at being marginalized and abused for so long. It would recognize that a crime against the least of us is a crime against us all. The “Black Lives Matter” movement would be strengthened by an affirmation of all life, but “All Lives Matter” has been used only to undermine and erase the differential discrimination that the black community suffers from. It has been largely a response from white people who would rather ignore the reality of differential discrimination because that would require an acknowledgement and addressing of white privilege. A true affirmation of life would require one to stand in solidarity with those whose lives are filled with discrimination and suffering. That’s the type of world I would like to see.

That was my intention of writing my last blog post. I’m frustrated with the fact that the black community has to (mostly) stand alone in the face of racial prejudice and discrimination. I thought that “All Lives Matter” could strengthen their cause if used correctly. However, the history of the phrase is tainted with conflict, selfishness, and ignorance. “All Lives Matter” could have been a wonderful rallying cry, but we cannot hope for it to emerge from the shadow cast on it when it was used to ignore oppression rather than address it. However, I still feel strongly that the “Black Lives Matter” movement ought to be reframed if it is going to gain any real traction outside of the black community. Now I’ve not been active in the movement so perhaps I have no place to speak on the issue, so you may take what I say with a grain of salt or otherwise dismiss it altogether. Though, because I’ve been relatively detached from the movement, I believe I have a valuable perspective to add to the discussion that may not be present. Here I go.

First of all, a bit about myself. I am a young, middle class, white male with no criminal record. I also have a college degree and live in one of the most affluent suburbs in Illinois: Naperville. That is to say, that I am the very pinnacle of privilege in this country. I have in the past avoided serious trouble only due to the fact that I was white and lucky enough to have received a high-quality education and could thus articulate myself well. I did literally nothing to earn my differential privileged treatment. It was but a consequence of circumstance. I’m saying this because I am likely the last person at risk of police brutality, poverty, workplace discrimination, or any other of the BLM issues. Despite this, I feel that if the BLM movement is going to affect any real change in this country, it will be essential for people like me to become involved in the movement, or at least offer unfaltering support.

Personally speaking, I do support the movement. I find it utterly unacceptable that we as a people have allowed such injustice to continue for so long. I consider it the responsibility of every able-bodied person to stand up for those people who are marginalized, oppressed, and suffering. Despite that, I also understand that most people are so focused on their own lives: their jobs, their families, their friends, their house, their car, their bills, etc.. Because of this, most people don’t want to spend their time and energy supporting causes that don’t effect them. On one hand I find this manner of thinking horrifyingly selfish, on the other hand I know that I do the same thing. I don’t believe this manner of thinking is ever going to change for people, even myself.

Here’s the thing, though. The racial discrimination in this country isn’t just some fringe issue that has no deleterious effect on white people. It effects us in a fundamental way that belittles our own lives. This quote comes to mind from Martin Neimöller:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out- because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out- Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out- Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me- and there was no one left to speak for me.”

This quote illustrates an important point to me and that point is this: If the value of anyone’s life is determined by surface characteristics, group membership, or personal beliefs; then all of us are in danger. The value (or lack there-of) of someones life should never be determined because of anything. Life has value. Period.

The discrimination against a group of people shouldn’t concern you only if it’s your group being targeted. It effects the culture we live in on a profound level as long as this type of behavior persists. If black people are discriminated against because their black, that means that white people- like me- only have value because their white. I don’t want to be valued because of my whiteness. I want to be valued unconditionally.

People have been quite adamant in claiming that the value of all life doesn’t need to be asserted. I disagree wholeheartedly. Yes, the value of life is self-evident. That makes it all the more egregious that our society doesn’t treat it as such. In the world we live in, the value of a person is determined by many things: skin color, financial affluence, social status, religious beliefs, gender identity, weight, mental health, and the list goes on. Even if I’m not at risk of black discrimination, the fact that that type of behavior is allowed also allows for other types of behavior- namely the ascribing of value to people based on accomplishments. This is the situation that I, personally, face on the daily basis. I’m only valued by my peers as long as I remain educated, get and work a job, work towards a nice house, and all other manner of socially sanctioned ways to determine a person’s value. That means that I have to work my butt off to prove myself as worthy to other human beings. This is absolutely unacceptable. A person’s value is inherent, it ought not need to be proven.

This desacralization of life itself is pervasive in our society and creates many of the problems we face: racial discrimination, LGBT discrimination, mental illness discrimination, homelessness, war, poverty, and the list goes on. As a culture we have spent so much time and energy trying to decide who is worthy and who isn’t, that we’ve forgotten the basic fact that we all have value. This is a self-evident truth that we all know in our hearts and minds. This is the reason so many people think that it goes without saying, but nn a culture where so many people’s lives aren’t valued- it needs to be said. In fact, I think it’s the most important thing TO say especially given how self-evident it is. When a movement is founded on a platform so unquestionably true and just, it cannot possibly be toppled. No amount of arguing, belittling, or fighting can diminish the resonant truth that all life matters.

This is the truth that I believe all social movements must root themselves in in order to make a difference in this world. This foundation would not only create an unshakable root that will make social movements unbeatable, but it carries a vein of truth that would unite the mostly separate movements of BLM, LBGT rights, immigration reform, ecological activism, prison reformation, world peace movements, and any other movement focused on justice, compassion, and human rights.

This is the point I was trying to get at in my last post. I had thought that “All Lives Matter” might be able to become the banner under which we could all unite and agree to make real change because I thought it signified this deep, abiding truth that we all know to be true. I have discovered that “All Lives Matter” cannot possibly represent this truth, but it doesn’t change the fact that this truth needs to be talked about, fought for, and respected. I have considered a new banner, similar to “All Lives Matter” but without it’s racist connotations: All Life Matters. Perhaps that’s too close to the controversial “All Lives Matter”. That is something that we must all decide.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know this. Humanity has forgotten just how sacred life is. Life has value in and of itself. We need to collectively remember this for all our sake. Discrimination is not just a black issue, a gay issue, a Muslim issue. It is an affront against the gift of life itself. That is an injustice that we all ought to feel personally connected to. As Macklemore said in the song Same Love, “No freedom ’til we’re equal. Damn right I support it.”

What do you guys think? Is a reframing of social issues called for? Is the sacredness of life already central to the dialog? Should it be? Is there a better way to bring this issue to the forefront?

Please do share your thoughts with me. This is an issue that is very close to my heart and, I believe, all of our hearts. It’s going to take our combined, collective will to make a difference. For that type of unity, we need a dialog in place.

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