Written by Shara Love
This article was inspired by an interview in the opinion pages from the The New York Times given by George Yancy to University of California, Berkeley’s Maxine Elliot Professor, Judith Butler, in the department of comparative literature and the program of critical theory. The main questions being addressed by Yancy in the interview ask “Who counts as human?” or “Whose lives count as lives?” It has been just over a year since this interview with Butler but the questions are just as relevant if not more so in light of growing national civil strife in the United States with the “Black Lives Matter” movement (BLM), anti-Muslim sentiment and contentious immigration issues.
In one of Butler’s responses she touches on the reasons for why movements like BLM are so important by stating: One reason the chant “Black Lives Matter” is so important is that it states the obvious but the obvious has not yet been historically realized. So it is a statement of outrage and a demand for equality, for the right to live free of constraint, but also a chant that links the history of slavery, of debt peonage, segregation, and a prison system geared toward the containment, neutralization and degradation of black lives, but also a police system that more and more easily and often can take away a black life in a flash all because some officer perceives a threat.
People would, and in large part already have, responded to this by questioning, “Well, don’t all lives matter? Why do only black lives matter?” And to this, I must say that you (who must ask this question) are missing the point entirely unfortunately.
Yes all lives do matter, but there is much more to be realized from more than just ‘your’ perspective. Responding with “All Lives Matter” wipes away the history and race related experiences an entire group of people have been subjected to in one systematic form or another for generations. Butler is right in suggesting we not take a “race-blind approach” on such matters as they tend to blur the conditions for which we protest to begin with – which works to the advantage of the bigoted elites who want us to just assimilate and ‘get over’ ourselves; live as they have set the system up for you to live. In addition to this treatment of blacks in America, I also refer to (but by all means is not limited to) Muslims and Latinos who are currently being twisted up and bound in the nuanced political oppression of their people in sweeping numbers based on the opinions of the elite who use their platform of power to further the racist sentiment that is our world, our experiences today no matter what side we are on.
For anyone reading this that believes that I am full of shit or that the conversation regarding racial discrimination is invalid for the simple fact that our current president is part African American, for a moment imagine yourself in the circumstance of the ‘other’ person you are so quick to discredit. Let’s just pretend for a moment that racism doesn’t exist and we are all one big happy family of human beings on this planet. Okay now ask yourself, if racism did in fact exist, although it doesn’t as we are pretending, but if it did – would you want to be treated like those who are telling their stories of generational oppression, who are marching in the streets as a form of political resistance to the crazy idea that they are their own problem? Would you want that for your family or yourself? Because in the real world, not the pretend, real humans are subjected to it daily and being brushed off as just another public nuisance by those who are considered ‘privileged’ just by the color of their skin regardless of character.
Perception is a huge part of how we’ve come to be where we are in relation to one another on this planet. It’s funny how when we are tiny tots in preschool ages, everything seems to be about me, me, me. But then we start to become aware of others, their properties and then their features in relation to ours and this makes us feel a certain way about relationships between ourself and others. Our authority figures we look up to compliment our perceptions, manipulate them even. We spend our formative years compartmentalizing people as we see fit and somewhere along the way we lost that ability to see someone as another living breathing ‘being’ like ourselves.
The lack of sameness that we become more and more aware of creates a war in our minds that we may not even be aware of; a war of attempts to make another assimilate or disappear altogether. Butler touches on this by saying, “These are war zones of the mind that play out on the street. At least in these cases that have galvanized the nation and the world in protest, we all see the twisted logic that results in the exoneration of the police who take away the lives of unarmed black men and women…that form of thinking is becoming more “reasonable” all the time.” Our thoughts often precede our actions. So, in the instance of white cops saying they “didn’t think, they just acted” in the previous cases of unarmed black males being shot to death, I can’t help but wonder how those instantaneous ‘actions’ manifested into such. How bizarre is it that it is happening on such a large scale all across the nation. These are not all coincidences. BBC just recently reported a task force in Chicago, Illinois, that was set-up after public outcry of institutional racism within the police force, found that blacks make up 74% of people shot by cops while only making up 33% of the entire city’s population. Those numbers are outstanding on a small scale. Just imagine those numbers in the rest of the country.
I don’t want to totally leave out any other minority group who has experienced similar oppression in the U.S., but to list every single circumstance involving the different experiences many have faced is beyond the scope of this article. The examples I have discussed are just a tiny sample of situations to help reach the minds of individuals who claim racism doesn’t exist or perhaps feel proud of their “hierarchical” appearances. As long as perceptions remain a threat, the war will proceed.