EDITOR – Unlike Gearóid Duffy in his letter ‘Lord Mayor inadvertently highlighted the obvious’, I contend that it was most appropriate for the Lord Mayor to apologise for his disrespect or misunderstanding of what the Black Lives Matter is about at the event marking the 1845 historical visit to Cork of the anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass. I refer to the Lord Mayor’s original comment ‘All Lives Matter’.
Don’t get us wrong, all lives do matter, as the Lord Mayor said. Or, at least they should. The reason Black Lives Matter exists is because systemic racism, police brutality and murder against the black community show over and over again that black lives don’t seem to matter. So, a person who responds with ‘All Lives Matter’ is actually proving the point that black people continue to be a second thought in bigger issues.
In his anti-slavery Cork lectures, Frederick Douglass said: ‘In vain may the slave-owner tell you it is no concern of yours, it belongs to the whole nation of America; and to the Irishmen, not because they are Irish, but because they are MEN’.
So, 176 years later, is it not a disgrace that the Black Lives Matter movement is necessary to spread awareness and fight for equality and the end of violence against Black people?
Those who oppose the Black Lives Matter movement use the counter ‘All Lives Matter’ as a tactic to confuse or silence it.
They seek to make the racially-marginalised question their reality and suggest that they have no particular reason to question why they suffer a life with more police violence; discrimination; or inequality, than non-blacks.
If it were actually true that we live in a world where ‘All Lives Matter,’ then that would mean saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ shouldn’t feel like an uncomfortable expression. For the majority of us white people, when we say ‘Black Lives Matter’, we are stating that their lives need to matter just as much as ours.
When the Boston marathon was bombed, people supported the ‘Boston Strong’ movement and did not complain that all cities needed to be strong. When we see a health campaign on breast cancer, we don’t counter with ‘what about colon cancer’? If someone’s house is burning and needs help putting it out, it seems pretty silly to say ‘Well, what about my house?’ While your house does matter, right now, one house is currently on fire and needs help now.
Black Lives Matter is not an either/or proclamation. When there is a recognised crisis we have always rallied around the particular group/ city or cause and not sought to diminish it.
Who can deny that racism is not a major crisis when institutionalised as in the US/ UK law and order systems or as increasingly experienced in Ireland, as our population becomes more diverse? One only has to recall the racist abuse directed at the family of George Nkencho, shot dead by gardaí at his home in West Dublin in December, leading to two weeks of angry protests.
The phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ is simple. Black people shouldn’t be an afterthought, especially when they are dying, assaulted or prosecuted at an alarming rate due to the colour of their skin. The statement is not “politically charged” or controversial. It’s an expression that calls out for justice, respect and empathy for every life that has been affected by discrimination, prejudice and misrepresentation for centuries. Point blank: It’s raising awareness for basic human rights.