ADITI KAPOOR | 10 JUNE, 2020
Why the Slogan Is #BlackLivesMatter And Not All Lives
Black Lives Movement’s goal is not to undermine all lives but instead, become a part of it
8 Minutes and 46 seconds— that’s the time it took, for now, ex-cop of the Minneapolis Police Department, Derek Chauvin to take Gorge Floyd’s life. Accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill, four (ex) police officers took down Floyd as they forced him to the ground despite his overt compliance. “I can’t breathe” which has since become a battle-cry for people protesting all around the world, were the only words Floyd could utter 16 times before he met his final defeat.
Floyd’s death came six weeks after Breonna Taylor, another black female who was fatally shot in Louisville for what turned out to be a wrongful conviction. To add on to the list of people, less than a month before, Ahmaud Arbury was shot while jogging in his neighbourhood by three white men in Georgia.
While these deaths are evident and embedded in our conscience through videos that have surfaced online, there are countless black people who lose their life to petty crimes ever so often, albeit, without visual documentation.
This growing momentum of advocacy for black lives, splattered across every social media platform may be news to some but the movement has been simmering since 2013 under #BlackLivesMatter. A term coined by Alicia Garza, an American civil rights activist, after the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, #BlackLivesMatter has not only become an umbrella term for representation but a language for the oppressed.
Dominque Drakeford, founder of MelaninASS says “#BlackLivesMatter was not created for us [black community], it was created for you all! We know that our lives matter. So when you say that Black Lives Matter, it’s not a tool for you to abuse to gain black acknowledgement. It’s a fundamental philosophy for you to direct solely to your white counterparts in order for you to begin to weaponize the colonial systems you frolic in everyday.”
Many like Drakeford herself, despite being in a position of power, have had to deal with the perils of being a coloured person in modern-day America. For some, surveilling their surroundings is a constant part of living. “I’ve been raised to be wary. I’ve always been scared of the cops—the fear was passed as a name” writes celebrated author Danez Smith in his New Yorker article.
To add onto this ever-corrupt narrative, Andy Tran, an American of Asian descent recalls how the cops pulled his car to enquire about his licence one time, despite it being legal and insisted on questioning only the black person sitting beside him. To a naked eye, these cases of police intervention may seem generic but its subjects are more often than not—BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). Madelaine Hearn, a resident of New York recalls the extent of her involvement with the police. She says while it has been limited to being pulled over for a speeding ticket, “I [Hearn] often reflect on it later on and wonder if things would have gone differently if I wasn’t white.”
Living under constant fear at the expense of being a ‘threat’ is part and parcel of being a minority in the United States. Existing without a consistent fear of impending doom is a privilege, one many often overlook. For a black person, that is not the case. While standing ground in Minneapolis and protesting as a black ally, Brady Bussman says “I can’t stand the fact that some people in our society can’t walk around without feeling scared that a cop is not going to come to them with a death sentence” to the New York Times.
Incapacitated to defend their right to live on the ground (Floyd), the struggle to advocate for black lives is a perpetual battle— online and offline. #AllLivesMatter— a movement that stemmed online from the emerging need to seek recognition, was supposed to level the playing field for ‘all lives’.
Many black advocates like Kamdi Okonjo, founder of Teen Tate, a magazine dedicated to African youth believes that while “all people do matter, all people are not in danger at that moment.” The Black Lives Movement is not about demeaning the existence of others, to which Hearn adds “(it’s) about more than just that, the phrase— ‘Black Lives Matter’ — it is a simple statement of acknowledgement...because black lives don’t just matter— black lives are needed, black lives are precious, black lives are loved, black lives are worth protecting, worth fighting for.”
Using #AllLivesMatter, she believes, isn’t only “ignorant and racist” but is used as a “blanket statement that people like to hide behind to defend their racist ideology and lack of support for the BLM movement.”
Apart from being tone-deaf, those words undermine a 200-year struggle that has aimed to uplift the black community in the face of extreme and unreasonable brutality. #AllLivesMatter, ergo, proves to be an incoherent shift of focus from the grave need of the hour especially when black voices are specifically being succumbed; their struggle, undervalued and lives, murdered.
Clearly, living does not come easy in the black community and as millions across the United States understand the gravity of their situation, they take to the streets to fight the “war on black people.” To fight the inequality embedded in their abhorrent justice system and to win the narrative for the black community.
Okonjo rightfully says, “Black people in America may possibly be on the verge of a New World where they will be recognized as equal human beings, not judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”— one where it’s time for them to stop questioning ‘who next?’ but instead, question— what next?
This new chapter of the Black Lives Movement won’t only be embedding the names of its fallen heroes but will be demanding justice on all their behalf until the very end of this perennial pandemic, that is, racism.
Aditi Kapoor is a student of English in the Dual BA program with Trinity College Dublin and Columbia University.
Cover photo: Against the triviality of black lives. Credits: Reyna Noriega/ @reynanoriega on Instagram.
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