We shouldn’t have to say it any longer, but we do. Black Lives Matter. And today the news has given us a new name to say:
Mr. Prude was killed back in March, but the circumstances of his death while wearing a spit hood the police put on him only recently came to light. I’ll let you read the details in the accounts below.
There are other groups whose lives we similarly devalue. Some are subsets of the Black community (Black trans folk, Black women) and some are not (BIPOC groups) or may not be (Jews, Muslims, other minority religions). I’m not sure how to talk about these groups without seeming to diminish the BLM discussion,* but for the moment, perhaps the ink offers an analogy. The ink looks black when left alone, but a little water shows it comprises other colors and shades. I will continue to find a more elegant and effective means to discuss the broad swathe of people whose rights we need to affirm and whose wrongs — the ones done to them in the past and the ones we continue to tolerate, propagate, and commit — we must work to assuage.
* 4 September, 2020: I just read in the New York Times this excellent distinction made by Daria Allen, a sixteen-year-old who has been protesting in Portland, Oregon:
One of the few chants she consistently recites is “Black lives matter.” It annoys her that the phrase has become a subject of controversy, often met with the diminishing response “All lives matter.”
“When they have the breast cancer runs, you don’t see people out there yelling, ‘What about lung cancer?’” she said. “Just because I’m talking about what’s happening to me doesn’t mean I don’t care about what’s happening with you. Why do I have to constantly remind these people that I matter?”
When Ms. Allen
posted a link to the fund-raiser in a neighborhood Facebook group, a woman confronted her. Ms. Allen was destroying the city, she said. Ms. Allen fired back, arguing that the police were polluting the city with tear gas. The argument ended with the woman sending her a direct message, which Ms. Allen has saved in her inbox, just to remind herself of the mentality she is fighting against.
“If I see you on the street, you will be the next Black person hanging from a tree,” the woman wrote.
It makes me ill that anyone would throw the hateful and horrifying spectre of lynching at a Black teenager, one who is raising her voice and risking her health and life to call for justice and equality. Vote for Daria Allen because Daria Allen isn’t yet old enough to vote for herself.
It is Juneteenth, Emancipation Day, a day that marks not the moment when President Lincoln outlawed slavery, but the day two and a half years later when the last slaves in Texas were finally told that they were free. Today and all days I stand with the protestors demanding the equality and justice that should always have been theirs. I can’t do so literally, but here, in this virtual space, I stand with feet firmly planted and my written voice raised to say “Black Lives Matter.”
To anyone who wants to jump in with “All lives matter” — don’t. If all lives mattered equally, no one would feel the need to say “Black Lives Matter.” Black Lives Matter reminds us that too often our country, our citizens, and —most notoriously right now — our police act as if Black lives and Brown lives and Indigenous lives are disposable, negligible. Black Lives Matter reminds us that these attitudes, ones that have infected the entire history of our country, must change.
I am neither Black nor Brown and I’m not going to pretend that I understand what it is like to live as a person of color in the United States. I’m not sure what to write that won’t be appropriative or just wrong.
But I know the brutality used against Black communities is wrong — more than wrong; it is wicked, inhuman, sickening, and the national convulsion of anger and grief is the only sane response to the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks, murders that are the latest in a long chain of killings. I think it is better to speak out in protest and take a chance of putting my foot in my pen than it is to stay silent.
I’ve been reading around the Internet for education and inspiration:
Today most commercially available spirometers, used around the world to diagnose and monitor respiratory illness, have a “race correction” built into the software, which controls for the assumption that blacks have less lung capacity than whites.
and that the pain of Black patients is consistently underestimated and under-treated.
The fountain pen community has been weighing in:
The The Well-Appointed Desk has been regularly posting links to articles and resources related to Black Lives Matter. I am grateful for their persistence in finding and sharing new links every week, links like It’s Nice That with its list of resources for supporting BLM.
Joshua E. Danley (a doctor on those front lines of the COVID-19 epidemic) veered from his usual focus on Pelikan’s fountain pens to write an eloquent, careful, and passionate statement “to acknowledge the exceptional pain and anger that we see bubbling over in our communities. Silence is no longer a luxury that any of us can afford.” At the end, he writes that “Each of us must examine our conduct and values in order to ensure that we lift each other up until no one remains shackled by inequality.”
U.S. history without Black lives is mythology. The 13 colonies without Black lives is mythology. The Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War, those hot, stuffy weeks in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 without Black lives is mythology. Abolitionism, the Civil War, and the Union victory in 1865 without Black lives is mythology. There is no U.S. history without Black history, just as there is no U.S. history without women, Indigenous People, immigrants, and the poor. Yet too often our curriculum treats these groups as inconvenient interruptions to an otherwise clear-cut story of forward political and economic progress.
There I found Shannon Ashley’s “20+ Ways White Writers Can Support the Black Community.” Her fourth suggestion is “Read more Black Authors.” A fateful coincidence had one of my friends, younger and wiser than I in so many ways, shortly before George Floyd’s death ignited the protests, recommend to me Jericho Brown’s poetry collection, The Tradition. The title poem, a complexity of gardening and the speaker’s relation to the earth and the danger of living Black (and more that I’m still working out), intersperses lists of the names of flowers with the efforts of Black men to get plants to grow,* and finishes
Men like me and my brothers filmed what we Planted for proof we existed before Too late, sped the video to see blossoms Brought in seconds, colors you expect in poems Where the world ends, everything cut down. John Crawford. Eric Garner. Mike Brown.
The list is so much longer now. Say their names:
Aiyana Stanley-Jones (seven years old)
Say the names of the ones I have left out. Stand with the protestors. Be, as Shannon Ashley says, a better human. And urge our lawmakers to declare this day, June Nineteenth, a Federal holiday, so that we have a day to celebrate when a great evil was outlawed and to commemorate how far we still have to go to restore justice and equality to the communities to whom we have denied justice and equality for so long.
*I am oversimplifying terribly. Read the poem.