Black Lives Matter.
To our country, history, education, discoveries, celebrations and endurance.
Black Lives Matter, only if our country matters.
American History classes used to focus solely on white abolitionists who fought against slavery. In fact, that was an unfortunate propagation of the myth that Blacks did not secure their freedoms for themselves. In fact, the slaves worked early and tirelessly to secure routes of release from their bondage.
When we see Black Americans in the streets, today, exclaiming, “Black Lives Matter!” it is just a new phrasing for what many have felt in this country since the 1600s. Because they can now shout, it seems new and different, but the desire for and the truth of it are so old.
President Lincoln knew what was at stake when he gave life to the Emancipation Proclamation. Nothing less than the promise of our democracy. The end of the Civil War started a regretful pattern, though, of advancing freedoms for former slaves, followed by harmful practices. Lincoln knew blame would fuel retribution and Reconstruction did just that.
In 1915, the 55-year Great Migration of Black Americans heading north was an escape from Jim Crow and slavery of a new kind. In the past century, 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in the U.S. Congress, with not one passage.
Since I am white, I cannot imagine the fear of the all too common lynching only of people who looked like me. Conversely, I discovered a book honoring WWII soldiers from Shawnee County. Each face was white. Imagine living in a country serving up a humiliation/negation of people who look like you. Such heartbreaking occurrences support the necessity of shouting, “Black Lives Matter!”
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was fueled by the fatigue of 100 years of the unfair post-emancipation practices that kept Black citizens from voting, living in certain neighborhoods, white collar jobs, certain schools and legal interracial relationships.
Dr. King led another crucial, growing time for the unrealized freedoms for Black citizens. Some advancements were seen, but laws do not necessarily change thoughts.
America has always been harvested, built and protected by all who live here. Yet, there are more people of color on death row when compared to other ethnicities. More innocent people of color have lost their lives at the hands of police. Could this mean that our judiciary and law enforcement in this country are parts of a retribution pattern without knowing it? A cry of “Black Lives Matter!” responding to this data is mournfully but justly pleading for change.
Anger grows from grief and helplessness. If some Americans are afraid of Black Lives Matter, I say to them, “Embrace it,” because it is important to our country. Anger is not violence. Anger is dissatisfaction; violence usually comes from the side with power. Understanding and change are richer tools than power.
I believe Black Lives Matter can save the promise of America; I have been encouraged by signs reflecting that statement in yards of those who are non-Black and when I note a diversity of support in crowd views on television.
I worry some think our country has finished its conversation on race. Perhaps, if we could rephrase it, for those Americans who don’t see themselves in, or affected by, the Black Lives Matter statement, we could engage in the healthiest of talks.
We could begin with, “Black lives matter because America matters.”
Nancy Shuart Vega is a retired Topeka High School teacher with a bachelor’s degree in English from Kansas State University and a masters in teaching from Friends University.