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Don’t “all lives matter” my advocacy for Black people

by Tanesha Peeples
Don't "all lives matter" my advocacy for Black people
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Sometime back I wrote a piece about the Will Smith and Chris Rock debacle with my opinion about how Black Hollywood dropped the ball in advocating for him. The piece got a lot of traction but sadly, only a few people caught the point I was trying to make. As for the majority, the message flew right over their heads like a negligently glued wig left to brave a windy Chicago day.

One small point I highlighted about The Oscars was how Will’s actions overshadowed what was supposed to be an evening of Black Hollywood magic. One reader decided to hang their hat on those words in this email they sent me:  

I can’t help but wonder why you only mentioned the evening as Black Hollywood magic when this was the most diverse Oscar ceremony in its 100+ year history. What about Hispanic representation? Eastern Asian representation? Deaf/disabled representation? How about Riz Ahmed and Pakistani/South Asian representation? It seems like it’s always a Black and White battle, and these respective communities constantly neglect all these other talented unrecognized human beings that are stuck between this power dynamic. Help me understand please. All said very respectfully.

And while this reader stated, “All said respectfully”, I beg to differ. Because this isn’t the first time I’ve gotten questions or been directly or indirectly shamed by people that want me to “all lives matter” my advocacy.

black lives matter greenwood district tulsa

Tulsa’s Black Lives Matter Memorial Fence. (Photo by Lauryn Terry / The Black Wall Street Times).

Black peoples’ struggles are unique

At this point in my life, I refuse to overextend myself explaining my advocacy for Black people as a Black woman and activist. But, here are a few facts to chew on for those that insist on challenging me. 

First, we are the only people that were brought to America in droves to be enslaved–12.5 million Africans to be exact

We were stolen from our homes, our names changed and purposely separated from our families to erase any and all sense of identity and cultural pride. An entire continent of people strategically demoralized, brutalized, kept as “property” and made to feel inferior–that in and of itself makes our struggles unique. 

The trauma from enslavement has plagued Black communities for generations. The practices that shaped those oppressive attitudes set the tone for what would be the treatment of Black people in America post-slavery and are visible today.

Currently, Black people have the highest unemployment rates. For those that are working, we still make 20% less than White people. And as Dr. Kevin Lang said, “Income disparities lead to neighborhood disparities, which produce educational disparities, which produce labor market disparities.”

Schools in poor, predominantly Black communities receive less funding and Black students still have the lowest reading proficiency rates.

Miss me with the “All lives matter” BS

We also have some of the highest incarceration rates than any other ethnic group.  Even though Black people make up only 13.4% of the country’s total population, we represent almost 40% of the U.S. prison population.

In this country, books with Black stories are at the top of the most banned list and the teaching of our history and experience in America is under legislative attack.

Our communities are at high risk of disease due to inaccessibility to quality healthcare, healthy food options and environmental pollution, and we have low life expectancy rates.

And, 57 years after the passing of the Voting Rights Act, Black people are still facing and fighting voter suppression.

Now, people still might try to deflect to the “all lives matter” argument and even point the finger at Black people for their misfortunes and circumstances. But what no one can debate is the history of systemic racism that has sought to destroy us for generations.

My people are my priority

The Jim Crow laws made it OK to lynch us and paved the way for the destruction and dismantling of our black wall streets and redlining in housing and education.

Our communities were flooded with drugs and instead of receiving treatment, we received jail. That contributed to the destruction of the Black family structure. Society has successfully executed conspiracies to murder our liberation and leaders and mass incarceration as the new form of chattel slavery. This along with so much more is how Black people got here and why my main priority is us.

So sure, there are other oppressed groups in America whose lives also need and deserve advocacy–and that doesn’t mean I can’t and don’t advocate for them, too. 

But the reality is, all struggle is not created equal and all lives do not matter in this country–especially Black ones.

Dr. King said, “No one is free until we are all free” and as a Black woman who seeks to be liberated from the struggle of being Black in America, I have to prioritize my purpose, which is our liberation.

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