Why ‘Black Lives Matter’

This morning I posted the image above from Teaching for Change as my cover photo on Facebook, and within a few minutes this exchange occurred:

It’s a fair observation that “All lives matter.” They do. You, me… all our lives matter. So why the emphasis on ‘Black Lives Matter’? I’d like to respond in more depth to my Facebook Friend and others who might make the same observation.

Right now, the immediate reason is George Floyd. It’s not just him. Only a few weeks ago it was Ahmaud Arbrey. And before him…

NPR posted this graphic listing some — not all — of the Blacks killed since Eric Garner in 2014.

Source: NPR

In 2016 the Los Angeles Times cataloged the names and stories of just 26 Black men and women who died at the hands of the police between 1999 and 2016, the higher profile names you may recognize. It’s a sobering list because so many more died over those 17 years, plus those before and those since.

Mapping Police Violence, a research collaborative collecting comprehensive data on police killings nationwide, reports that Blacks are 3 times as likely as whites to be killed by police. PBS published this chart depicting the lifetime risk faced by Blacks versus whites.

Source: PBS

Protesters against Floyd’s death are demanding that the police officers involved in the killing be prosecuted. As this is written, only one of the four officers involved has been arrested. Even if all four are charged, history isn’t encouraging. Mapping Police Violence posted this stark graphic:

Source: Mapping Police Violence

Staying Alive is Only Half the Battle

Not getting killed is an achievement in itself. Staying alive, healthy and employed can be a feat as well.

The Economic Policy Institute reports that “Black unemployment is at least twice as high as white unemployment at the national level and in 14 states and the District of Columbia.” The National Institutes of Health has reviewed and summarized a number of studies looking at Black unemployment with similar findings:

  • “The unemployment rate among blacks in the United States has been roughly double that of whites for several decades. In the period from 1972 to 2004, the average rate of unemployment was 12.4% for black males versus 5.4% for whites.”
  • “[R]ates of unemployment for blacks and whites had similar proportionate responses to changes in the business cycle. Thus, when the economy weakens, the unemployment rate for blacks rises more than that for whites in percentage points.”

Lots of problems flow from this unemployment. Many reading this now may be out of work due to COVID and wondering how to pay the rent or mortgage. Transitory unemployment is hard enough. Generational unemployment and under-employment stemming from systemic racism, characterized by things like ‘redlining’ (see video below), lead to poor housing, poor educational opportunities, poor access to medical care and more. This is especially clear now as we see how disproportionately the Black community is suffering under the pandemic. This flows directly from racism and it’s devaluing of Black lives.

A Look at Systemic Racism

This video looks at a practice called ‘redlining‘ that has condemned generations of Blacks to lifetime hardship and poverty. Under capitalism the government and banks have deliberately and systematically denied Blacks equal access to credit, homeownership and quality education. The video also examines an implicit, often unconscious, bias that is fostered and encouraged by those in power to instill prejudice and rationalize racial discrimination.

This video oversimplifies the remedies for systemic racism given the inherent nature of capitalism, but it explains very effectively the mechanisms and effects of the discrimination Blacks confront and its impact through generations.

Perspectives on ‘Black Lives Matter’

Given everything described here, these next videos explain why ‘Black Lives Matter’ is so important.

Racism is Losing

There’s good news in all of this: racism is losing.

Racism is endemic to capitalism, and inseparable from it. It’s an essential tool used to divide working people against each other — but it’s growing weaker even as it sometimes appears stronger these days because the President is using it for his personal gain. Racists and white supremacists are getting to play more in the mainstream at the moment.

But in truth they’re losing ground — and they feel it. Workers in the United States today are more diverse and more anti-racist than ever before. And that is cause for great hope and optimism.

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