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.
About 150 years before this declaration, the first African slaves were brought to the North American colony of Jamestown, Virginia. The same people who wrote this declaration profited from the slave trade from 1619 up until 1807, 30 years after “all men were created equal”. These men, who wrote explicitly the rights of ALL men, thrived off of the abuse, labor and torture of other men and women. Most of their children carried the torch well into the 19th century and even fought for the right to perpetuate these abuses. Some of their children’s children, following the Civil War and subsequent emancipation of slaves, dealt with the loss of their property by creating an environment in which former slaves were still subhuman. Later generations saw and socially profited from the eras of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, War on Drugs, and the current era of Mass Incarceration and disproportional criminalization of people of color. Despite morphing generations, changing landscapes and circumstances, one thing has never changed: the rhetoric that ALL men are equal despite a reality that says otherwise.
Since the creation of Black Lives Matter following the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the phrase “All Lives Matter” has existed as a concise rebuttal. Black Lives Matter is a plea. It is a plea spoken out of the reality that black people are deprived of their basic human rights and dignity. In this reality, black people represent one half of all persons in US prisons. It is the countless headlines describing black people being executed in the streets by both civilians and law enforcement officials and the ensuing slander of the victim while the abuser remains unscathed. In the new millennium, it becomes eerily clear how history mimics itself. After all, what became of black bodies that were lynched in the 19th and 20th centuries and the lynch mobs that oversaw the crimes? The former remained largely unidentified and thrown away while the latter received praises for their part in holding steady the order of society. This response feels quite similar to the killing/acquittal dynamics of the past few years.
So what is All Lives Matter? Is it an observation or an aspiration? It’s neither. Instead, it’s the product of a society that has yet to reconcile with its past.