Don’t worry. It is not my intention to change this pharma/regulatory/technology blog into a political platform, but after the events of last week, I think it is appropriate for all of us to step back and examine how we can make our country better. I believe I can make a positive contribution by explaining my sincere interpretation of #BlackLivesMatter. I first heard the phrase “Black Lives Matter” back in 2012 when Travon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. Like most people, when I first heard the phrase, I thought it was clearly wrong. I thought, what they should say, is “all lives matter”.
Since then I have heard lots of explanations of the phrase and after a lot of thought, I have come up with my own explanation that is based on my own experience and observations. And I now “get it”, and I believe it is exactly the right phrase to proclaim today. So I join in the chorus. Black lives matter. Here is how I explain it.
When our founding fathers declared independence from the British Empire in 1776, they proclaimed:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This is nearly a perfect statement of some important things that are self-evident…that is, things that need no additional explanation because your heart tells you they are absolutely true. I say, nearly perfect, only because the statement can be improved by changing the word “men” to the word “people”, so it would read “…all people are created equal…”. I don’t think the signers of the Declaration of Independence would quibble over that minor change given our ensuing history as a nation.
Surprisingly, the real quibble from those men would likely come over the definition of the word “all”. The existence of slavery at the time proves that very few, if any, of those men really meant “all” people (or even just “all men”). It does not appear that they meant the word “all” to imply that “black men are created equal” (to say nothing of black women) or they could not have continued treating most black people as property, which is what many of them did. You can see this in the way the U.S. Constitution was first written by many of these same men a few years later, where Article 1 says that slaves were to be counted as 3/5 of a person. That clause stood until slavery was abolished after the end of the U.S. Civil War, but neither the great Emancipation Proclamation, nor the end of the war, nor the adoption of the Thirteen Amendment resulted in widespread agreement in the hearts and minds of white U.S. citizens that “black people” are included in the phrase “all men are created equal”.
How can we know that? All you have to do is read through the Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1871, 1875, 1957, 1960, 1964 and 1991, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to understand just how hard it was to ensure that all black citizens were offered equal protection under the constitution and the law, let alone equality in the hearts and minds of those in positions of authority. The length and the tenacity of this struggle can only be explained by some very powerful people doing everything they could to block our government and society at-large from treating black people as if they were created equal. Like our Founding Fathers, they did not define the word “all” in the “self-evident” way.
What this means is that we have a historical problem with the definition of the word “all”. Its definition is not quite as self-evident as we might think. And, while greatly decreased since 1776, the ambiguity persists today. In my lifetime I have personally seen some shocking examples of every-day, very nice white people doing some pretty devious things clearly intended to ensure excessive discomfort and inequality of black people. And I am not just talking about watching events on television, these events happened right before my eyes. Hearts and minds are hard to change, but I can also say that things appear to have improved noticeably during my lifetime. Progress has been made, but we are not there yet. Progress has always been too slow. It is time for faster progress.
There have been way too many events captured on video showing non-life-threatening black people encountering Police officers, only to be treated as if their lives and their dignity do not matter. As shocking as these videos are, the thing I find most appalling is when the victim of deadly force by a Police officer is not offered any assistance while they are still alive, but instead are allowed to bleed to death. In my view, this is proof that the officers involved in these situations see no value in the life of the victim. Even if the victim is guilty of a crime—even of a serious crime—human dignity demands that officers do what they can to keep the person alive, especially after they have stopped fighting, and especially when backup officers arrive on the scene.
Networked video has brought to the attention of white people that these problems are as bad as they were reported to be, and, in some cities, they are too frequent to be explained by “a few bad apples”. Other cities are great examples of clear attempts to address these problems. Dallas, Texas is the shining example, but sadly just down the road, Waller County is the opposite example.
These events require us to clearly communicate where we stand. We need to show our leaders and our Police that we expect them to protect and serve all of us. We expect them to treat all of us as if our lives mattered. The problem is, as we have seen, we have a historical problem with the word “all”.
We cannot just say “all lives matter”. That phrase is now too ambiguous. It allows the speaker to hid their true intentions behind this historical ambiguity. No, there is only one way to make our intentions crystal clear in the face of what we have all seen in these videos. We must firmly and boldly proclaim “black lives matter”.
And BTW, if you still have trouble with that phrase, then just say the phrase “black lives matter too!”. That has the same meaning but still without the ambiguity.
Next week we will be busy moving our home and office closer to our kids so I will rerun one of the better essays from the last year. After that I will return with a new essay focused back on “the intersection…“. Thanks for sticking with me.