“Can you please address … why skin color is so important? I remember a guy that had a dream. Do you remember that too? I doubt it. Please show me the content of your character if you do.” – Anonymous
The above quote is from an email exchange between a parent at Laurelhurst Elementary in Seattle and school officials. The question was posed in response to the school’s teachers wearing Black Lives Matter shirts in class last October.
The backlash wasn’t overt. It played out quietly in angry emails from parents expressing outrage that their White kids were being ‘taught’ that their lives don’t matter. When asked by KUOW, Seattle’s NPR radio station, to talk about their anger, parents refused. So KUOW released the parents emails with their names blacked out to highlight the real problem: racism masked by the guise of all-accepting, all-welcoming liberalism.
The emails, which include several that scream ALL LIVES MATTER in all caps, revealed a longstanding truth about the proudly progressive town: to liberal whites in Seattle, Black lives don’t matter as much as white tears.
Flash forward to this past weekend. In another, less affluent part of the same town, Charleena Lyles, a pregnant Black woman and mother of four, was shot and killed after calling the Seattle Police Department (SPD) for help. Some will say it was self defense. After all, the SPD had ‘issues’ with her before, she had an arrest record, and she allegedly displayed a knife during her encounter with the cops.
One of the officers who killed Charleena is an 11-year veteran of the force, the other is a new recruit. Both were “equipped with ‘less lethal force options.’” And yet, both officers opened fire on her anyway. The SPD, it should be noted, has been under a “federal consent decree since 2012 after a Department of Justice investigation found its offers routinely engaged in excessive use of force . . . [and] also found evidence of biased policing.”
So, when those parents from Laurelhurst Elementary opened their newspapers and turned on NPR for their morning commute to learn of Charleena’s death, did they still take the time to insist that all lives matter?
When the very citizens that the law and police enforcement were supposed to serve can’t rely on said enforcement to do their jobs nonviolently (or non-fatally) on a simple burglary call, then no, all lives clearly don’t matter. And as long as we’re too sensitive to admit that, it will continue to happen.
Charleena called the police for help and instead of aiding her, they killed her. In front of her children. With another child inside her. Where are all the ‘ALL LIVES MATTER’ emails now?
Another parent from Laurelhurst Elementary wrote the school board pissed off that their 9-year old daughter (whose father is a Sergeant at the SPD) came home from school after the Black Lives Matter discussion feeling “‘bad about being white.’ And that ‘police lie and do bad things,’” Here’s a life lesson that Charleena’s kids had to learn the hard way on Sunday morning — Father’s Day — if not sooner: they do.
Charleena’s kids, who witnessed their mother getting shot by cops, are now going to go into a system that disproportionately vilifies and has negative effects on children of color. Instead of bitching to the principal about the inequalities their kid faced, the parents could have used this opportunity to educate their child on the realities that people who don’t look like them often face.
Because the problem with ‘all’ is that all is not inclusive to the many. All Lives Matter is, at best, the participation trophy in the Oppression Olympics. At worst, it is a racist dog whistle designed to protect white supremacy. Racism is and always has been about the distribution of power which historically has favored whites. And the same power play is at work behind the All Lives Matter movement; it’s just now under the guise of what one Seattle schooled board termed, “passive progressiveness” or liberal racism. The end to the ‘race problem’ is just to simply deny it exists by saying things like “I don’t see color” or “I’m colorblind.
The problem with ‘not seeing color’ or being ‘colorblind’ is that you don’t see the problem, either, and thereby absolve yourself of being part of the solution.
To answer the question condescendingly posed by the Seattle parent, “Can you please address … why skin color is so important?”
Because people are still being killed because of it.