One cannot argue against the basic human thesis that “All Lives Matter.” Most — if not all — believe that, for as long as humans have existed, virtually all advanced civilizations have supported and defended that proposition, many with their lives. In fact, that precept has never been in doubt by those people who support a civilized society and I sincerely believe that it is not in doubt now.
What is very much in doubt today, however, is that many Blacks and other People of Color do not feel that we are included in the “all” part of that proposition. If anything, we are treated as though our lives do not, in fact, matter. Most of us can readily recall the unprovoked killings of unarmed Blacks for the most minor (or nonexistent) offenses across the Country by various “authority” figures with guns: a young care giver being shot while sleeping in her own bed in Kentucky; a bright young man jogging through a neighborhood road in Georgia; a 12-year-old child playing with a toy gun in a park in Ohio; a man choked to death over selling single cigarettes in New York and another mentally distressed man experiencing the same result while clearly in police custody; an amateur violinist killed while walking home from the grocery store in Colorado; a young boy returning in early evening to the home of his father’s fiancé e after buying some Skittles in Florida; and many others far too numerous to enumerate.
The irrefutable evidence of the fact that the lives of Blacks have been devalued throughout their history in this Country is that they have been held in the most brutal bondage, persecuted, prosecuted, harassed, tortured, lynched, disregarded, disrespected, and worse. Obviously, not all Blacks have been personally and/or similarly impacted and certainly a great deal has changed for the better (my comments would likely not have been published in this newspaper 100 years ago); but, there are enough Black folk like me who go about their lives recognizing the constant need to stay alert, pay attention and keep our guard up, even sometimes having to arm ourselves, as we move about this country in general, and Vermont in particular.
Calling attention to Black lives being entitled to be included among those lives that matter is merely an attempt to end our exclusion from the equation and the attendant senseless carnage. We seek only to bring attention to a ofttimes hostile environment where the valuation of our lives, and even our very right to exist, is ignored, disparaged, demeaned and sometimes destroyed, often at will, by people who feel that they and their lives are more equal than ours just by virtue of the lack of color in their skin.
How is it anything other than unconscionable that a Black Man who has pursued the American Dream — receiving college and university degrees; served in the United States military; held senior level corporate positions of authority in several Fortune 500 companies; owned and successfully participated in several major international consulting firms; and served on boards of directors of colleges, large for and not for profit corporations and organizations, public radio and the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors — and yet feels threatened by White men in Vermont who drive slowly by with a shout or a menacing glare from oversized motor vehicles or cars badly in need of repairs, waving large American and Confederate flags with long guns hoisted in their rear windows.
These individuals, many of whom have never sought educational advancement beyond high school and or left the state for a job or for military service, are motivated by and spurred on by a national “leader” who foments discord and division as his political stock in trade. Their “hero” is an individual who has been credibly charged with disparaging, raping and taking other physical advantage of women; has viciously attacked the character of anyone who dared to disagree with his approach to almost anything; slandered or took revenge on a significant portion of the people he was elected to represent, including a decorated lieutenant colonel and a Gold Star Father; never served in the military; lied about his education and how he achieved his largely family generated and inherited wealth; is labeled by his own Sister (a retired U.S. Appeals Court Judge) as being a worthless, immoral bigot; been dully impeached; accused by many of appointing unqualified friends and financial contributors to positions of high government responsibility; and, has seen many of his closest advisers and supporters indicted and sent to jail.
Of course “All Lives Matter,” whether white, blue, brown, beige, yellow or any other color, as well as all ethnic, religious and gender groups; but, the evidence seems to show that, in 21st century America, some lives matter much more than others. African Americans seek no special advantage or privilege, but, we do maintain that it is wholly, civically and morally responsible for those of us who believe there is inequity to point that reality out through various strategies and tactics, including, peaceful protests and ongoing demonstrations.
It is also equally and totally American for others to peacefully disagree. However, after all these years, from my segregated life in Jim Crow South Carolina to being chased and shot at from the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma, Alabama, while on military leave only a few days after Bloody Sunday, I still fail to understand why anyone who is religious and says he or she believes in and supports the Constitution, would not support each and every individual’s right to peacefully protest.
Those of us who have survived in and benefited from being full citizens of this great country must stand squarely behind and in support of those who continue to suffer injustice. This is a group imperative for people who look like me because we are all fully cognizant of the fact that in any place, on any day, at any time, it could be them or it could be me who is terrorized by armed authority or misguided, bigoted vigilantes or roving self appointed militias.
So, yes, as I posited at the outset, “All Lives Matter” but, when the head of our local NAACP chapter is forced by verbal and physical intimidation to urgently pick up her family, sell her home and move her young family to a different and safer environment merely because she has chosen to exercise her Constitutionally-protected right to speak out and take action against injustice, something is seriously wrong here in our community of Vermont.
Similarly, when a Black well-liked and effective legislator who has been duly elected to represent all of the people in her predominantly white community and who has professionally and admirably carried out the responsibilities of her office, is forced to resign that position under personal duress because she is being attacked and harassed by others who oppose her merely because of the color of her skin, our beloved Vermont begins to seem more like my old days in South Carolina than the first American State to abolish slavery.
Truly, “All Lives (Do) Matter.” It’s just that too many have accepted the unspoken proposition that some lives matter more than others. The “Black Lives Matter” movement merely attempts to shine a bright and focused light on that difference. Support of and a belief in the veracity of the concept that my life as an African American should matter to you as much as your own does to you should not minimize or threaten the lives of anyone, White, Brown, Yellow, Green or Purple. “BLM” is not a flag or a mantra; it is a state of mind that seeks to remind us that America will never be the “more perfect union” that the Founders envisioned until we become a community of people where it is a given that all lives matter: equally, wholly, and truly.
J. Alvin Wakefield is the president and CEO of Wakefield Global Inc. He lives in Mendon.