The Cowardice of All Lives Matter
Trigger Warning: I can’t overstate the traumatic nature of the content below.
I can hear you.
When you say, “All lives matter”,
I know one thing.
I don’t know where you’re from.
I grew up white in Alabama. I heard the rest of the country talk about how backward and racist we were, but even I know racism doesn’t have an address.
I don’t know how old you are.
We millennials explain that racism is a generational problem.
“It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”
We inherit racism and pass it on. Some let the gene die, others go out of their way to cultivate it. It’s true that we are a product of our environment and circumstances. It’s also true that we can choose to educate ourselves.
I don’t know your socio-economic status.
You’ve heard the myth. Racists are knuckle-dragging Klansmen who live in trailers and rage at the world they don’t belong to. I think you may have called them deplorable, no?
I would disabuse you of that illusion. Robber barons past and present have delighted at the division and low wages that racism sows.
I don’t know that you vote Republican.
I’ve heard racial slurs drop from the lips of lifelong Democrats.
But I do know one thing.
You do NOT know your history.
You’re too scared to.
Because once you know it, you can’t un-know it. I can’t unsee what I’ve seen and un-learn what I’ve learned.
I’ve visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC. I’ve walked through oak-lined slave plantations in South Carolina. I’ve been to the National Lynching Memorial in Montgomery. I’ve driven far out of the way to see the Woolworth Lunch Counter in Greensboro. I’ve walked up to the doors of Central High School in Little Rock. I’ve paid my respects at Martin Luther King Jr.’s final resting place.
American History, not the history that gets taught in middle schools, is terrifying. Our history is bloody. Our history is infuriating.
And you know what?
We haven’t learned a fucking thing.
Do you know why America enslaved Africans for 400+ years? Do you know why America raped, bred, tortured, murdered, and extracted labor out of them?
Novel European diseases wiped out the people originally destined for slavery. Christopher Columbus didn’t just sell 9-year-olds into sex slavery and cut off ears. He also spent his time scheming how to subjugate the Arawak people,
“They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…They would make fine servants…With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”
It was not to last; smallpox wiped out up to 95% of the pre-Columbian population of North America.
That genocide left a labor vacuum and our brutal nature abhors a vacuum.
Enter the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
It’s estimated that around 15% of enslaved people did not survive the Middle Passage. That is to say nothing of the half that didn’t survive the journey to the slave port.
In America, ‘the land of the free’, what awaited them on Southern plantations? Let’s peruse the slave codes for a sample:
“Anyone operating a school or teaching reading and writing to any African-American in Missouri could be punished by a fine of not less than $500 and up to six months in jail. Slaves could not assemble without a white person present. Marriages between slaves were not considered legally binding. Therefore, owners were free to split up families through sale. Any slave found guilty of arson, rape of a white woman, or conspiracy to rebel was put to death. However, since the slave woman was chattel, a white man who raped her was guilty only of a trespass on the master’s property. Rape was common on the plantation, and very few cases were ever reported. (emphasis added)”.
The Bible condones slavery (and not just the Old Testament).
“Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.” — 1 Peter 2:18
Now, consider your family. Perhaps you have a stick figure bumper sticker of them on your Honda Odyssey’s rear window.
Would you do anything to protect them?
Would losing them to a callous disease destroy you?
Imagine that instead of a guiltless twist of fate, your boss profits from taking them away from you.
Your boss has also been raping your wife.
Your boss has been whipping you bloody.
Your boss has also been executing members of your community for as long as you’ve known him.
Hard to imagine? Want to quit reading?
I haven’t even scratched the surface.
Try this one on for size.
“They allege that one of said n…..s whose name was “Ginger Pop” died from the effect of cruelties inflicted upon him by the Said Utz (overseer) in nailing the privates of Said n….. to the bedstead and then inflicting blows upon him until Said n….. pulled loose from the post to which he had been pinned by driving an iron tack or nail thorough his peniss or privates.”
That quote is from a trial court record in 1853 in Louisiana.
This behavior was not unique.
One Sunday morning in 1899, just as they were leaving church, white Atlantans learned that a black fugitive who had allegedly killed a white man and raped his wife had been caught and would soon be lynched in a nearby town.
Thousands rushed to the railway station, the lucky ones finding places aboard crowded trains departing for the lynching site. The black fugitive, Sam Hose, would never be tried in court. Whites knew he was guilty. They also knew exactly how they wanted to torture and kill him.
In a half-hour of ritualized savagery, Hose’s torturers methodically cut off his ears, his fingers, and finally his penis and testicles, all of which were held aloft for the crowd to admire. Then Hose was doused with oil, and the pyre over which he was chained set ablaze.
The crowd of white men, women and children watched with fascination as his body burned to a crisp.
Once the lynch site had cooled down, souvenir hunters rushed in to claim Hose’s remaining body parts from the ashes.
Hose’s knuckles found their way to an Atlanta grocer, who displayed them in the window of his store.
— Philip Dray, The Lynching of Black America
I’ll agree to move forward in history only so long as you understand that I could list stories like this for hours.
Heard of the Tuskegee Study in my home state of Alabama?
Black men were observed like lab rats for 40 years to see the long-term effects of untreated syphilis. Penicillin was released only a few years after the study began.
The men were told they were being treated.
They were not.
Heard of Tulsa? White mobs wiped one of the most affluent black communities in the country from the face of the earth in 1921.
President Trump held his first rally in three months there. The Trump campaign scheduled the rally on a holiday meant to celebrate the end of slavery, June 19. He delayed it by a day after the nation’s dogs complained of a deafening ringing in their ears.
What exactly were the rights those states were so interested in?
Philadelphia, Mississippi ringing a bell?
That’s where the Klan murdered three civil rights workers in the summer of 1964. In that same year, the Klan burned 20 African-American churches.
I can hear you.
You’re interrupting to tell me that things have no doubt been awful for people of color, but that was in the past. Nowadays, everything is fine!
We had a black president!
But you can’t argue with statistics, so here are just a few:
“During the 2015–2016 school year, Black students represented only 15% of total US student enrollment, but they made up 35% of students suspended once, 44% of students suspended more than once, and 36% of students expelled.
The US Department of Education concluded that this disparity is “not explained by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color.”
In New York City, 88% of police stops in 2018 involved Black and Latinx people, while 10% involved White people. Of those stops, 70% were completely innocent.
In one US survey, 15.8% of students reported experiencing race-based bullying or harassment. Research has found significant associations between racial bullying and negative mental and physical health in students.
From 2013 to 2017, white patients in the US received better health care than about 34% of Hispanic patients, 40% of Black patients, and 40% of Native-American patients.
Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than white women, even at similar levels of income and education.
Black Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested. Once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted, and once convicted they are more likely to experience lengthy prison sentences.
Black Americans and white Americans use drugs at similar rates, but Black Americans are 6 times more likely to be arrested for it.
On average, Black men in the US receive sentences that are 19.1% longer than those of white men convicted for the same crimes.
In the US, Black individuals are twice as likely to be unemployed than white individuals.
Once employed, Black individuals earn nearly 25% less than their white counterparts.
One US study found that job resumes with traditionally white-sounding names received 50% more callbacks than those with traditionally Black names.
In the US, Black workers are less likely than white workers to be employed in a job that is consistent with their level of education.”
So what do WE do?
Start by recognizing your own shortcomings from your past. Here are a few of mine:
For most of my childhood growing up in Alabama, I had a Confederate flag on the wall of my bedroom. I wore Confederate flag shirts to middle school dances. Hell, I had a Confederate flag belt buckle. I even had a black friend that expressed discomfort at my shirt. I shrugged it off as his misunderstanding.
I’ve heard racist jokes and said nothing.
If you go far enough back, I’ve told racist jokes.
As an adult, I try to check my biases, but they’re implicit. I recognize that. I challenge you to recognize that yours are too.
I recognize my enormous privilege as a straight, white, cis-gendered male. The lottery of birth handed me that privilege. No merit on my part earned one bit of it.
I enjoy that privilege with every traffic stop that doesn’t end with me getting murdered.
I enjoyed my privilege as a kid by not getting murdered for playing with a pellet gun.
I enjoyed my privilege as a kid by not getting murdered for stealing a few items from my local gas station.
My privilege is starkly contrasted against the murders of innocent people of color. White on Black.
I need to clear something up before I go on.
In many ways, I love America. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to all 50 states. I’ve made friends from all backgrounds in many, so I know the character of Americans, both old and new. I grew up thinking America was the best place on Earth. Summer was a Frito pie at the neighborhood ballpark. Autumn was a pile of leaves to jump into. Winter was hot chocolate. Spring was the beach.
After having seen much of the rest of the world, I will always be proud of my country. Honesty is part of love. As I would tell a friend when they’re going astray, I have to tell America the truth.
America can be better.
America should be ashamed.
America can fix this.
No volume of white tears and no weight of white guilt can help.
But you can.
Please join us: there’s room for everyone in this movement (even bad writers like me).
Special thanks and love to my editor :)