Go ahead, read it again. Black lives matter. There’s no need to add any qualifiers to that. No “all lives matter” or “police lives matter” or even “innocent lives matter.” Are all of these true statements? Absolutely. If we add those qualifiers, however, we take away from the power and the message of the movement. This message is not about asserting that black lives matter more than any others. That’s a ridiculous charge propagated by people that either haven’t taken the time to understand the issue or are blinded by ignorance and complacency. In no way does saying “black lives matter” take away from the value of any other life. Its purpose is straightforward: to remind us of what we’ve forgotten. Black lives do matter. The heart of the “black lives matter” movement is simply this — to draw attention to the fact that black people are much more likely to be incarcerated than white people.
In a recent interview with CNN, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was asked about Hillary Clinton’s statement that reform would come from changing laws, not hearts. He disagreed with her opinion, saying that racial issues in the U.S. are a “sin problem, not a skin problem.” He went on to say that, “When I hear people scream, ‘black lives matter,’ I’m thinking, ‘Of course they do.’ But all lives matter. It’s not that any life matters more than another. That’s the whole message that Dr. King tried to present, and I think he’d be appalled by the notion that we’re elevating some lives above others.”
Huckabee gives voice to a common opinion concerning the “black lives matter” movement. In the same interview, Huckabee admitted that there are “injustices” in the system, yet he didn’t seem to grasp the depth to which the fault line of race runs through American society. In nearly every category of life, every marker of success, there is a chasm that yawns wide between the white experience and the black experience. According to the Pew Research Center, the average African-American household has a net worth of $6,446. The white household — $91,405. In the African-American community, 28 percent live in poverty, while only 10 percent of the white population is below the poverty line. We see this fault line continue its destructive path across America. It touches everything from education (34 percent of whites have a college degree compared to 21 percent of African Americans), to home ownership (73 percent to 44 percent, respectively), to marriage (55 percent to 31 percent), and finally comes to a head in the jail cells and prisons across the U.S. For every white American arrested, six African-Americans are arrested. In 1960, the ratio was one to five. According to a report by the U.S. Sentencing Committee, African-Americans are given prison sentences 20 percent longer than those given to whites for similar charges. If you have any question about whether more white or African-Americans are killed by police, just turn on the news.
All life matters and all life is equally valuable. No reasonable person disagrees about that. We fail to put that noble ideal into practice, however. America systematically and holistically devalues the lives of its African-American members. When Dr. King helped launch the Civil Rights Movement, I don’t think he expected the problem to resolve itself quickly. I do think he would be appalled at the complacency of the U.S. 50 years later, where the majority of African-Americans still live as second-class citizens.
The issues raised by the “black lives matter” movement are not simple ones. They are complex, multifaceted and deeply ingrained problems that will take time and effort to resolve. However, we can all take the first step in resolving this issue: we need to admit there is one. We need to stop hiding behind our righteous indignation and numbing complacency and find the courage to admit that we as a country have a race problem. Once we’ve done that, then we can work together as one nation and begin to move towards a solution.