What I Meant When I Said That #BlackLivesMatter
A birthday card for a movement.
July 13 marks two years since Patrisse, Opal and I created #BlackLivesMatter, which began as an online platform designed to connect people online in order to take action together offline. It has since emerged into an international organizing network, with 26 chapters comprised of vibrant, brilliant, and innovative Black leaders across generations.
More than a year after creating #BlackLivesMatter, I wrote an article on the Feminist Wire in which I outlined the political vision behind our project.
One point of concern for me at the time was the way in which anti-Blackness is expressed through the retort of “All Lives Matter” and other adaptations. This is still an issue. Two weeks ago, following the murder of nine Black people during a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina, more than nine Black churches were set ablaze.
White denominations of faith have largely been silent about the deliberate and racist targeting of Black churches, and yet, these same denominations are often the first to proclaim that “All Lives Matter.”
But perhaps more urgently, I argued that if we are serious about transforming this country and our world into one that is led by the fundamental principles of justice and equity, we must be intentional about both acknowledging and fighting for all Black lives.
In the last few months, we've seen up close why it is so incredibly important to fight for all Black lives.
The ferocity of white supremacy and structural racism rooted in anti-Black ideologies has exposed itself time and time again, to the detriment of our movement.
The world watched as Baltimore erupted over the murder of Freddie Gray, yet was relatively silent about the murder of Mya Hall, a Black trans woman, by the NSA. In McKinney, Texas, 15 year old Dejerria Becton was flung around like a rag doll in a bikini by police who were called to break up a pool party. But not more than a week afterwards, the nation’s attention shifted to Rachel Dolezal, a white woman born to a white family who’d been masquerading as a Black woman for more than a decade. Young women in Ferguson who bravely faced tear gas, rubber bullets and arrest now face assertions that the “gay” movement is attempting to hijack the Black movement, simply because they dare to assert that their lives matter too.
Intersectional politics (and practice) is not just theoretical — it is the lifeline upon which we depend for our collective liberation.
We have succeeded in rallying thousands for the too many Black men who have been killed at the hands of the police, yet the dozens of Black women, cis and trans, who have been killed at the hands of the police get much less attention, garner much less sympathy, and even less tangible action to ensure that their lives matter too.
Nine (mostly) Black trans women were killed in the first few weeks of this year, and yet the attention is not there.
Far too many people still see #BlackLivesMatter as a movement that solely addresses the impact of police violence on Black men — yet we have always asserted that this movement, the movement to protect and defend the sanctity of Black lives, has always been about all of us. That Black men must stand beside (and at times, behind) Black women, cis and trans, Black queer people, Black poor people, Black immigrants, Black disabled people, Black incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people to fight for all of us, because otherwise, none of us are truly free.
The evidence is clear. Trans women of color, including Black trans women, have an average life expectancy of 35 years old, and are the most impacted by severe unemployment (more than twice the national average). Black women make 64 cents to every 78 cents that a white woman makes to every dollar that a white man makes. Black women are the fastest growing prison population in this country, mostly for “crimes” of survival. Black girls are the most likely to be suspended from school. A 2012 national study determined that about one half of all people killed by the police each year are mentally ill, and that in the case of local departments, that number jumps to about 75%.
Our futures are inextricably intertwined. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has pushed, since 2013, to ensure that all Black lives are seen as an important part of an overall movement for social transformation. We have much to lose if we negate that all Black lives are central to the most well being for all of us.