A Brief History
The Black Lives Matter movement is most known for vocal protests against racial discrimination in community policing and the justice system. However, it is not only that.
It is a movement led by people of color, calling for an end of race based oppression in its many forms and contexts. White allies of the movement are asked to take on supporting roles in order for people of color, who have lived experiences of these forms of oppression, the opportunity to be heard and given a chance to express their needs to a wider community.
The phrase “Black Lives Matter” was created following the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer in 2013. It gained national attention after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. Black Lives Matter has also been at the forefront of drawing attention to other incidents, such as the death of Eric Garner in New York in 2014 and the killing of Tamir Rice, a twelve year old who brandished a toy gun and was shot by police in 2014.
While the Black Lives Matter movement has gained the most attention for protests against police brutality and concerns about the justice system, it is also active in a number of other issues that disproportionally effect communities of color.
Why not say “all lives matter?”
Black Lives Matter was the rallying call of black people. To change this to say “All Lives Matter” co-opts the powerful language of the movement, while simultaneously diminishing the voices of color that have for so long gone unheard. It changes the focus in such a way that the lived experiences of people of color are negated, downplayed and readily ignored. The Black Lives Matter movement has specifically asked allies to not change this language.
Our First Principle says: That we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. As Kenny Wiley, a Director of Religious Education of color from Colorado said in an address to the 2015 UUA General Assembly, “This is an unrealized promise.”
The reality lived by people of color in our country is that their lives matter LESS. Decades after the end of the civil rights movement, inequality abounds. There are significant disparities in community policing and in the justice system. Discriminatory housing practices are the norm, and until the recent Supreme Court ruling, considered legal. There is unequal access to quality education due to disparate school funding and overcrowding – schools are more segregated today than immediately following desegregation. On top of all that, there are numerous overt and covert racist behaviors still displayed by individuals. When these issues are disproportionally affecting communities of color, it is hard to see people of color being included in “All Lives” because that is not the lived experience.
The Unitarian Universalist fit
The 2015 Unitarian Universalist General Assembly adopted an Action of Immediate Witness to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. While AIW’s are only binding to the Assembly that adopted them, it bears note.
If, as Unitarian Universalists, we believe in our first principle of each person’s inherent worth and dignity….
If, as Unitarian Universalists, we believe in our second principle, of justice, equality, and compassion in human relation….
Then we must stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter movement. We also must be willing to listen to those firsthand accounts of oppression. We must not co-opt language in order to make white people a bit more comfortable. Discomfort with the language is nothing compared to the injustices that are finally being discussed.