Why "All lives matter" is no answer to "Black lives matter"
So a guy named Dustin Lee Gunnells is driving in Towns County, Georgia on July 15. He's stopped by the cops. He is uncooperative. He reaches for a gun. He is grabbed. He reaches for another gun, this one in a holster at the small of his back. Cops, according to the official statement, get him "under control and disarm him."
Okay. Uncooperative driver. Actually reaches for an actual gun, not once but twice - both guns, by the way, were loaded and the one at his back was cocked. And there were at least four more guns in the car.
He is under arrest - but he is alive and well. Not dead.
If you took a guess as to his race, you'd be right.
Which brings me to something I want to say, I've been wanting to say, and it involves a rather long introduction
In response to the call of "Black lives matter," the chant of "Black lives matter" directed at politicians, the movement that has become known as "Black lives matter," a number of people among our pundit and political classes - as well as some well-intentioned ordinary folk - have responded with "All lives matter," simultaneously declaring their supposed concern with the issues the movement is raising and scolding that movement for its supposedly narrow, self-interested vision. They don't have the broad view. Not like me, I'm interested in everyone, not just some!
But the fact is "All lives matter" completely misses the point in the case of some, and intends to distract from the point in the case of others.
"All lives matter" would be a valid response if we actually acted like all lives matter, if we actually acted like all lives were equal in our eyes, if we actually treated all lives equally.
But we don't. We treat some lives as better than others, we treat some lives as more deserving than others, we act as if some lives are more valuable than others.
Shall we go down the list, from birth to death?
The infant mortality rate among African-Americans in the United States is more than twice that among whites.
Black pre-schoolers are far more likely to be suspended than white children. Black children make up 18 percent of the pre-school population, but represent almost half of all out-of-school suspensions.
In the K-12 years, black children are three times more likely to be suspended than white children. Black students make up almost 40 percent of all school expulsions, and more than two thirds of students referred to police from schools are either black or Hispanic.
Even disabled black children suffer from institutional racism. About a fifth of disabled children are black – yet they account for 44 and 42 percent of disabled students put in mechanical restraints or placed in seclusion.
Black children are 18 times more likely to be sentenced as adults than white children, and make up nearly 60 percent of children in prisons. Black juvenile offenders are much more likely to be viewed as adults in juvenile detention proceedings than their white counterparts.
Education, which we claim is the great equalizer, isn't: Black college graduates are twice as likely as whites to be unemployed and the overall jobless rate for blacks has been double that of whites for decades. A study found that people with “black-sounding names” had to send out 50 percent more job applications than people with “white-sounding names” just to get a call back.
For every $10,000 increase in pay, blacks’ percentages of holding that job falls by 7 percent compared to whites. The higher you go in the wage scale, the fewer blacks there are there.
About 73 percent of whites own homes, compared to just 43 percent of blacks. The gap between median household income for whites and blacks is astounding: about $91,000 versus about $7000. That gap has tripled in the past 25 years. The median net worth of white families is about $265,000; it's $28,500 for blacks, a little over one-tenth as much.
A black man is three times more likely to be searched at a traffic stop, and six times more likely to go jail than a white person. Not because they’re more prone to criminal behavior, but, according to a study by the Sentencing Project, because of an "implicit racial association of black Americans with dangerous or aggressive behavior." We just assume black people are likely to be criminals.
On the New Jersey Turnpike, blacks make up 15 percent of drivers, more than 40 percent of stops and 73 percent of arrests – even though they break traffic laws at the same rate as whites. In New York City, blacks and Hispanics were three and four times as likely to be stopped and frisked as whites.
Black Americans are victimized by the so-called War on Drugs: Despite roughly equal usage rates, blacks are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for simple possession of marijuana.
If a black person kills a white person, they are twice as likely to receive the death sentence as a white person who kills a black person. Local prosecutors are much more likely to upgrade a case to felony murder if you’re black than if you’re white.
Black people are sentenced to prison terms that are up to 20 percent longer than white people convicted of essentially similar crimes. They are 38 percent more likely to be sentenced to death than white people for the same crimes.
And a young black man is 21 times more likely to be killed by a cop than a young white man is.
And yet we refuse to face it.
The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago did a study using a weighted questionnaire with a range of possible answers which was designed to reveal unadmitted, even unrecognized, biases.
The results? More than half the survey respondents rated African-Americans as less intelligent than whites; 62 percent rated African-Americans as lazier than whites; and more than three out of four survey respondents said that African-Americans are more inclined than whites to prefer welfare over work.
And yet we refuse to face it.
In a test developed by University of North Carolina psychologist Keith Payne, called the Weapons Identification Task, most white people who take the test find that they associate black people with guns and white people with tools and non-violent images.
And yet we refuse to face it. In fact, we will go out of our way to avoid facing it.
Newly published research out of Stanford University finds that white people who are exposed to evidence of white privilege are likely to respond by creating a counter-narrative centered around the personal hardships they have experienced. Put another, probably clearer, way, whites who were shown evidence of white privilege and then filled out a questionnaire about their childhood memories would indicate that they have experienced more hardships, more difficulties, in their lives than those whites who were not shown that evidence of privilege first.
What the results ultimately indicated was that the people in the study - and, by extension, white people in the US as a general rule - may well accept the reality of white privilege in the abstract, but convince themselves that they themselves have not benefitted from it. That is, white privilege may exist, but not for them. They did not gain from any such privilege. They made it all on their own, baby.
We refuse to face it. We even adjust our memories to enable us to refuse to face it.
Which brings me back to "All lives matter" and the thing that I wanted to say, say to any of you out there who have thought to themselves any variation of "Well sure black lives matter - because all lives matter, don't they?"
"All lives matter" is a misdirection, a trick, a trap. "All lives matter" looks to take the harsh reality of racism that affects African-Americans from birth to death, from day to day, week to week, year to year;
it looks to take the daily stresses, the daily strains of things like seeing a cop car in your rear-view mirror and having to worry about if your rear license plate is on crooked;
it looks to take the hundred daily cuts of suspicious looks from security guards and store clerks;
it looks to take the unemployment, the poverty, the circumscribed futures;
it looks to take the institutional racism and police violence that make the cry "Black lives matter" necessary in the first place;
the vapid phrase "all lives matter" looks to take all of that and immerse it, sink it, drown it in a thick, syrupy-sweet, sticky goo of greeting card sentimentality.
Yeah, all lives matter, sure. And when we start acting like we really believe that, then it will become a reasonable response to the moral call "Black lives matter" - and not before.
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