By Kevin Seraaj, J.D., M.Div.
The Orlando Advocate
Black Lives Matter.
The inability of some to accept these words have completely divided this nation.
The statement “black lives matter” is both a pronouncement born of centuries of frustration with racism in this country, and a reaffirmation of black’s intent to demand the basic respect that every American is rightfully due. It is an inclusive– not an exclusive– phrase. It is a cry that “my life matters, too,” intended only to advance the idea that blacks are also entitled to the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
With the initial declaration that blacks should be counted as 3/5ths of a person, the idea that blacks are not equal to whites– that a black life is not equal to that of a white– became a bedrock of American society. Those who dispute this need to go back to high school for a refresher course in American history. It was embedded in the U.S. Constitution. Equality is indisputably impossible when laws, customs and mores accept the inherent superiority of one group of people over another.
Point if you will to the passage of laws designed to free blacks, or give them the right to vote, or to be educated in non-segregated institutions, or to enter into and be patronized in public and private accommodations. None of those acts– while certainly exemplary– toll the bell. Because long after these laws were passed, blacks continued to suffer from the same discriminatory mistreatment that gave rise to them– in both the public and private sectors: Jim Crow laws, convict leasing, peonage and ‘Emmitt Till beatdowns’ are just a few examples of how attitudes prevailed over the written laws.
Racism and hate have long memories, and both are exceedingly difficult to eradicate, no matter how much some of us deny they exist. A Palestinian acquaintance of mine told me once, in a conversation about blacks who rented apartments from him, that “these people are nasty and dirty human beings.” He then said, “but not you. You are not like them.” No? Patting me on the back didn’t erase his racist views.
Dr. Martin Luther King once gave voice to this understanding, saying: “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”
Fifty-two years after his death the struggle is not so much “to keep a man from lynching me,” as it is “to stop a man from shooting me.”
This “less than human” philosophical viewpoint wound its way through every institution in the nation, and made it easy to justify the barbaric mistreatment of blacks both during and after slavery for hundreds of years. It left in its wake a morbid disdain and deep contempt for everyone and everything black. Blacks, themselves, often fell victim to this pathos of self-hate, heralding everything white and despising everything black.
In 1857, in the landmark case of Dred Scott v. Sanford, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear for the nation that the concept of “less than” was inherent in the foundations of our system of American jurisprudence, and confirmed, as a matter of law, that blacks had “no rights that a white man is bound to respect.” Blacks were called “nigger” in every state in the Union.
Trump, like many whites in America, stand on the idea that black history is a relic of the past. “We build the future, we don’t tear down the past,” Trump said during the Republican National Convention. But when blacks focus in on their past in America, (slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, lynching, denial of civil rights, segregation and police brutality), they are told that they need to “move on,” even while the legacy of the past is tied to their ankles like a ball and chain.
Whites, according to the President, should “embrace history.” But just like his “Make America Great Again” slogan, when it comes to black America it is hard to put one’s hands on any period of American history where blacks as a people were not being singled out and discriminated against. Even today, blacks with substantial wealth are not wanted in many American communities. This spirit of againstedness persists.
All lives matter. All. But there has never been a time in the history of this nation when a question could be raised about whether or not white lives mattered. So the need to scream ‘black lives matter’ springs forth from our collective history– from the repugnance and the contempt and the lack of respect heaped on blacks for generations. Thank God for the Quakers and the abolitionists, for the whites like John Brown and his sons, and for the many members of the Underground Railroad who recognized the inhumanity of their fellow whites.
Whites of good will have always existed, and many today have taken to the streets to join the Black Lives Matter protest against police brutality and racial injustice. Black Lives Matter called attention to the need to remind our non-black fellow Americans that we matter, too – and that they, too, must move on. The past that celebrates human inequality and degradation; that defines black men and women as “less than” cannot be embraced and despite the President’s view, must be torn down.
It may be unfortunate for some of us that the founders of Black Lives Matter call themselves “trained Marxists.” Critics argue that Black Lives Matter is therefore fighting to replace our current politico-economic system with communism, or Marxism. They might be, but a Communist America is not in the cards.
Marxism postulates that the working class will eventually overthrow the ruling class and usher in a Utopian society in which all property is owned by society as a whole. People with different political ideologies have always been tolerated in America. People like Dr. Wernher von Braun, the German–born American aerospace engineer and space architect who was “the leading figure in the development of rocket technology in Nazi Germany.” America managed to overlook his Naziism because of his ability to pioneer rocket and space technology and get us to the moon before Russia.
Communists and Marxists certainly exist in America and have the right to freedom of speech as do we all, but the notion that any American will give up the idea of keeping what he or she has (or acquiring what he or she wants) in favor of ownership by the masses is laughable. The ordinary protester has no interest in overthrowing the system of capitalism– they simply want the police brutality to stop.
Finally, the idea that Black Lives Matter should be criticized because it focuses on racism and police brutality and not on issues like black-on-black crime or the aborting of black babies is nonsensical. Anyone who believes the organization is incorrectly focused should stop whining and start a movement focusing on whatever they believe is being neglected – black-on-black crime or black abortions or too many “baby mamas.”
Instead of fighting the idea that black lives matter, why not truly embrace the idea that ALL lives matter and include black lives in the “all?”
Kevin Seraaj, J.D., M.Div., is a former attorney, retired pastor and current publisher of the Orlando Advocate newspaper.