By Lorri L. Jean
I don’t ever want to hear another white person say, “But all lives matter.” That is not the point. The point is that black lives are devalued in our nation in a uniquely terrible and tragic way, by both individuals and institutions, including those that are supposed to keep all of us safe.
I say this from the vantage point of a white person, a person with the privilege and power that accompanies my skin color. My community—the LGBT community—is not immune to the kind of racism that exists in the larger society. But our community has also suffered from inequality and oppression. And, to be sure, queer people of color have experienced the collective sting of racism, homophobia and transphobia.
Today, though, I want to speak to those that share my skin privilege, queer or straight. To quote the well-worn maxim, if we are not a part of the solution, we are a part of the problem.
Black lives matter. While the truth of this statement has been readily apparent for centuries, its currency has been appallingly and frighteningly illustrated by recent incidents: the senseless shooting of black jogger Ahmaud Arbery by white male vigilantes in Georgia, the weaponizing of race by a white woman in Central Park against black gay man, Christian Cooper, and the senseless and infuriating murder of George Floyd by a white member of the Minneapolis Police as Floyd lay handcuffed and face down in the street while other cops stood by and did nothing. They were arresting him for allegedly committing a non-violent crime and yet they killed him, in the light of day, for everyone to see. And then they falsified the police report, claiming that Floyd had been resisting arrest—a claim clearly disproved by videos taken at the time.
All of these incidents were caught on video and, in the latter two, the perpetrators knew they were being filmed. Yet, they were so brazen, so sure of their white privilege, so confident in their ability to get away with these shocking acts of racism that the fact of a video made no difference to them. They persevered for all to see.
And if this is just what we’re seeing on videos. How many incidents are occurring that are not on video and which never see the light of day? How much racist violence, how many deaths by racism are swept under the rug by lies and obfuscation? I shudder to think.
And these three incidents are surely just the tip of the iceberg.
As noted earlier, the LGBTQ community is not immune from perpetrating or being the victims of such acts of racism. Violence born of bigotry has been a part of our lives too. Think for a moment about the epidemic of violence against black LGBTQ people. One need only consider the numbers of black trans women who have been murdered in this country over the past two years. To name just a few: Michelle ‘Tamika’ Washington in Philadelphia. Muhlaysia Booker in Dallas. Tracy Williams in Houston. Claire Legato in Cleveland. And seven black trans women in Florida: Celine Walker, London Moore, Cathalina James, Antaswh’a English, Sasha Garden, KiKi Fantroy and Bee Love. Pebbles LaDime Doe in South Carolina. The actual list is far longer, and Los Angeles has not been without its victims.
But let’s be clear, this shame does not belong to one city or one community. This is a national travesty of justice.
ALL OF US should be taking up the cry “Black Lives Matter!” and making sure that our friends, loved ones and colleagues understand what it means and why it’s so important to talk specifically about these lives and not bury them in a conversation about “all lives.” We simply cannot stand by and do nothing.
As commentator John Pavlovitz wrote recently, “We haven’t needed to actively participate in a shooting or call in an erroneous harassment report or drive our knees into a stranger’s neck to be culpable for it all: our silence has been as deadly and that’s the story here.”
We’ve long known that silence equals death. The equation is the same here. Let the silence stop. Please.