Black Life Matters
[October 1, 2015]
In 1787, at a place likely not too far in Philadelphia from where I’m typing these words, lawmakers came together to propose that slaves in the US would be considered 3/5 of a person. Black people would not be considered “whole” until 1865.
In 2015, in the US and abroad, we are using language to assert that Black Lives Matter.
The 150 year struggle from “wholeness” to “existence” is troubling. Indeed, that there is a cry for existential properties for any person or group of people is fascinating, particularly when juxtaposed with an outcry for the same type of rights for — you guessed it — Cecil the lion.
We get it. Black lives DO matter. I would not be studying ways to empower Black families if I did not believe that the mantra is valid. Nor would I have frozen my toosh off in marches in the northeast demanding justice for a myriad of Black people murdered by police. Nor would I have written articles or other blogs that describe the impact of discrimination on Black families and communities.
But I’d like to make one thing clear: having life is not the same as living life. The policy and legal perspective behind the #BlackLivesMatter movement note that Black people should have a right to life and not lose said life for things like, oh, walking, driving, playing, etc. (just ask Jon Stewart). I am on board for Black people living. But as applied psychologists, we’d also like them to live well.
For this blog series, my colleagues and I assert that while Black lives are essential to our selves, work, and purpose, we are more interested in the matters that pertain to the quality of Black life. Thus, in our lab (Racial Empowerment Collaborative: REC at the University of Pennsylvania), we will promote thoughts, theories, research, and products that will address aspects of the Black experience, including family issues, educational achievement, coping strategies for racial trauma, and other issues directly related to being Black in the US.
Some of the same lawmakers who considered us once to be 3/5 of a person said that citizens have “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” We’re just trying to get to the “Happiness” part for Black folks a little more quickly.
After all, it’s only been 150 years.