I want to talk about the definition of matter. I want to talk about why, in this country, we don’t relate to that definition in the same way. Regardless of the scientific rules about matter, we are systematically structured to inhabit that matter in different ways, and that is why we must say continuously and loudly that black lives matter. They are matter. They matter.
Definition of “matter:” “that which occupies space.” Definition of matter: “be of importance.”
As a white woman, I have never questioned that I was matter, and I have never questioned that I did matter. When police shoot a black man running in the grass in South Carolina, when they choke a black man saying he can’t breathe, when they kill a black boy with his arms in the air, when they intimidate a black woman in her car, when they refuse to persecute a man who acted out of fear of a black teenager, they tell the black community that they don’t see them as matter, that they don’t matter.
When James Baldwin gave his address “Notes from a Hypothetical Novel” in 1960, he presented his mostly white audience with a primary character in his hypothetical piece: a drunk, black man in Harlem who falls and hits his head against the railing and goes on to die of tuberculosis as the girl he was going to marry is “picked up in a nightgown on Lenox Avenue screaming and cursing.” To look at this man is to look at suffering. To look at his betrothed “screaming and cursing” is to look at pain. Baldwin asked his audience to stare at this suffering, to gaze directly at this pain because he knew that white Americans were brought together by what they didn’t “want to face,” and he said: we must face this pain.
As a white American, I can say: this is true. I think there are things I do not want to face. I don’t want to face the next video that I will see. I don’t want to face the amount I haven’t seen. And I think that because I don’t see myself as racist, I am sometimes unwilling to take ownership of my place in the current system, of my responsibility to it now. I have signed up for protests I have not attended. I sent money to Black Lives Matter once. In my body, in my body of matter, in my body that, in this country, matters just because of its color, I have made excuses and faced only what I want to face.
I believe that this is irresponsible. I believe we must move to take action and forcibly make change. Believing in something doesn’t cut it; belief doesn’t absolve me from action. I know we also need to face what we don’t want to face, and I think once we do that, we will see that more movement is required — we will notice that an actual weight needs to be pushed. We must stand behind every elected official that will create and pass laws in support of black lives. They know what matters and who matters. That is why I am a part of Americans United for Black Lives, and there’s no question that you should be too.