Summary: “Black Lives Matter” has as its premise the intent of furthering the civil rights objectives of equality for all (and in this case African Americans). But I believe the name of the movement (which helps to catalyze that movement’s actions and our understanding of it) should reflect its objectives, not its grievance. A better name would be: “We are American!” or “We are American Too!”
Is “Black Lives Matter” and other social advocacy groups dividing or uniting us?
The premise underlying social advocacy is tied to our interpretation of the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
This statement has been progressively broadened from literally “men” to all men and to women … and so forth.
1868 -14th amendment (anti-slavery): No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
1920 – 19th amendment (universal suffrage, women’s right to vote): The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
1963 – I have a dream speech – civil rights movement -“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. ”
2015 – Supreme Court decision – Gay Marriage legal
I believe what accounted for the popularity of these decisions and cultural movements is they represented an expansion of what type of citizen should enjoy Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness as equal citizens under the law. The premise was: if you are of African ancestry, then you too are a citizen entitled to the same guarantees under the law; if you are a woman, then you too are a citizen entitled to these same guarantees; if you have different color skin, you should be treated equally, if you are gay and want to get married, you should have equal opportunity, etc.
In the second decade of the 21st century, there’s been another blossoming of this sentiment: “treat me fairly, treat me the same.” Only this time the movement, while its intentions echo these previous movements toward civil justice and equality, and while its grievances are no doubt based on real, shared experiences of prejudiced interactions (evidently with a bias from law enforcement), I believe the way in which the message is being delivered runs counter to that of Dr. King’s message and to the other decisions cited above. I believe the way in which the message is being delivered divides rather than unites.
Why does it divide? Because the message is narrow and pertains to a narrow demographic. African-American, Asian-American, Irish-American, Italian-American, German-American: these designations call attention to our differences, they highlight a group’s singularity as opposed to just … American. To work toward post-raciality we should be post-designation, we should all simply be American. “Black Lives Matter” excludes by its name all other colors as surely as would “Yellow Lives”, “Red Lives”, “White Lives”, etc.
To be clear, I support the cause and the intent of equal treatment and equal opportunity. I simply believe the name, which may serve to define the approach and actions of its members, divides and excludes rather than unites. It is accidentally the opposite of Dr. King’s movement – define me not by my skin tone but by the content of my character. Dr. King would say (in my opinion) “I have an American dream”, not “I have a black (or yellow, or brown, or red) dream. Dr. King spoke from his experiences as a black man but then transcended that to the universal, a dream we all share. For a movement that wishes to accomplish something similar, the name of the movement should reflect its objectives, not its grievance. A better name would simply be: “We are Americans Too!”