By Winford K. Rice, Jr.
It is an irrefutable premise that all lives matter, but recent tragedies from Baton Rouge to Minneapolis to Dallas have evinced that some restrictions apply. The egregious executions of Mr. Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Mr. Philando Castile in Minneapolis by members of respective police forces over the past week have renewed a sense of urgency across the country leading to civic demonstrations, protests and political upheaval. The social contestation we are witnessing as a response to these shootings is a reignited attempt to negotiate hegemonic infrastructures that systematically depreciate the quality of life for Black and brown people.
Yet, mainstream media outlets have diverted these racially charged shootings to matters concerning the sanctity and preservation of police lives over others. This becomes problematic given that Black people cannot jettison their Blackness while police officers willingly choose their profession. Hence, the need for and development of the Black Lives Matter movement. The aim of the Black Lives Matter movement is not to undermine the supposed value of all human lives, but rather to highlight and bring awareness to the gross injustices bequeathed to Black and brown people who are dying at disproportionately alarming rates relative to their white counterparts at the hands of police brutality.
The movement is engineered to intentionally disrupt the narrative that to be Black is to be criminal, suspicious or inherently inferior. This mischaracterization must be debunked.
Thus, it is necessary for us to re-think our most fundamental conceptions of the Black Lives Matter movement from anti-police to affirming the myriad ways in which Blackness is articulated, manifested and experienced in the ongoing struggle for justice and equality.
A comprehensive understanding of this socio-political movement begins with deconstructing the idea that to be pro-Black is synonymous with being anti-white or anti-police. This perfunctory analysis has become a general consensus for many, and subverts the integrity of the movement. The assertion that Black lives matter does not negate the worth and dignity of all human lives; rather it provides an affirmation for the personhood and humanity of Black people, and seeks to equalize the ideological playing field in a racially stratified society.
Given the storied history between police forces and populations of Black and brown people around the country – particularly in impoverished communities where economic plight, ecological disinterest, limited employment opportunities, underfunded public education, and inadequate housing persist – there is grave mistrust between Black and brown communities and policing institutions. This dynamic is complicated by the notion that Black and brown people must comport themselves using respectability politics to avoid violence exacted by police; permitting those who benefit from racialized privilege to remain complicit in their premeditated assumptions and un-interrogated bias about the “other.”
The utility of this movement is in its profound ability to simultaneously quell against and conscientize the public sphere on the violence and micro aggressions committed against Black and brown people, as well as direct concentrated efforts towards the sustainability and sovereignty of Black lives. Until these aims are both recognized and achieved, the movement for Black lives will remain ablaze.
Winford K. Rice Jr. is a native of Suffolk, Va. and current Master of Divinity student at Harvard University.