There are still some who find it necessary to say ‘All Lives Matter’ when others chant ‘Black Lives Matter.’ The problem is when talking about ‘all lives’ people are missing the point of what is and has been going on in our country from its founding.
It took a compromise to have our Constitution ratified and it is called the Three-Fifths Compromise, which is found in Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 and reads: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”
So from day one we looked at African Americans as less. In every action since, including the Civil War, while clearly progress has been made, we still have systemic racism and economic inequality rampant in our nation. We need only look at statistics to see that today, “The White-Black economic divide is as wide as it was in 1968.”
Although my life matters, the simple fact is I was born with white privilege and in every aspect my life is safer than someone who is born Black or Brown. My white privilege is not something I earned, rather it is something society bestowed on me. Society looks at me differently than it does my Black and Brown sisters and brothers and therefore I am treated differently. The fight we face in our country and around the world is to have people first accept and then act to insist Black and Brown lives must matter as much as mine does. Today, unfortunately, we still live in a society that makes it abundantly clear to those who are Black and Brown their lives don’t matter as much.
Every person of white privilege must regularly look in the mirror and judge themselves. Ask if they really understand this and then ask what they will do about it. Over the years there have been many times I have made myself look in a mirror and ask myself: Am I racist? Do I always act in the way I say people should? If I am totally honest the truth is not always and while it may not have been intentional nevertheless, I sometimes failed. The first time I took that look in the mirror I was 16 years old and just had the honor of presenting my high school’s citizenship award to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was an incredible honor to meet him and get the chance to talk with him. This was in New York, February 1963, six months before King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in D.C. It was a seminal moment in my life.
One of the most quoted lines from that speech is “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Through the years that line has often been interpreted by many to mean we should live in a ‘color blind’ world. That has never made sense to me. Dr. King was a realist and I don’t think he ever meant we should not see each other as we are and that would include the color of our skin be it white, Black or Brown. He didn’t mean we need to pretend we don’t see color but rather the goal to strive for must be to see each other, color and all, and still be able to not judge each other by that. When that goal is reached we will know our society is truly moving forward.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.