Why “Black Lives Matter” Matters

This has been a difficult and frequently discouraging summer for our country. The horrific shootings in Orlando, St. Paul, Dallas, and Baton Rouge, the corrosive gun-related violence that plagues many of our cities, the vitriolic and demeaning rhetoric of the political campaigns, and the escalating tensions associated with race and class and religion in America – all of these, and more besides, give us pause and perhaps makes us wonder what it means today to be an American.

But there is reason to be hopeful. The response of the URI community to the daunting challenges of our times should encourage all of us: the vigils, where we came together to share our anger and fears, but also our hopes and determination to continue to work for justice; the shared worship service at our local mosque to provide support and encouragement when it was vandalized; the continuing steps we are taking to collectively build an even stronger, closer, and more inclusive and resilient community.

As a manifestation of our shared hopes, and as part of our shared efforts, it is important to hear and to listen to the voices of those who have been marginalized, excluded, discriminated against, or persecuted. Consequently, we should be encouraged by, and supportive of, the assertion that “Black Lives Matter.” It is a straightforward and righteous proclamation that the lives of black people are every bit as valuable, and are to be treasured equally, with the lives of all other people in America, and on earth. The importance of “Black Lives Matter” now derives, in part, from the fact that it has been so consistently, and so continuingly denied. No objective reading of American, or world history, could conclude otherwise.

This is a particularly important moment in American history to proclaim that “Black Lives Matter.” Although the progress our nation has made since its founding is undeniable, we still fall far short of the vision that all Americans are created equal and that all have unalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The poisonous legacies of slavery, and the afflictions of racism, sexism, intolerance, and poverty are still a part of the fabric of America. The Founders, perhaps with a vision that exceeded their sight, wrote in the Preamble that the Constitution of the United States was ordained and established by “We, the People,” without qualification. Yet the fact remains today that not all the people of the United States benefit equally from its provisions, protections, and rights. “Black Lives Matter,” is a potent reminder of that substantial fact. “Black Lives Matter” is not derived from political correctness, or exclusionary, nor does it demand some new right or privilege; it is, rather, a demand that all Americans confront the reality of the lives of black people in America. And that is only just and long overdue.

It may be rightly said, along with “Black Lives Matter,” that “All Lives Matter,” “Asian Lives Matter,” “Latino/Hispanic Lives Matter,” “Muslim Lives Matter,” “Immigrant Lives Matter,” “Trans Lives Matter,” “Blue Lives Matter.” and more. All of these statements are true, and the truth of one in no way constrains or diminishes the truth of the others. But given the current American context, and our blighted history, proclaiming that “Black Lives Matter” is necessary, appropriate, a step towards accountability and, ultimately, a step towards a just society where all Americans share equally in the rights and privileges afforded by the Constitution, and are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. We can all say, “Black Lives Matter,” because they do.