There is a sign on Highway 34 that catches my attention every time: #BlueLivesMatter. It bothers me. It reminds me of the continuous streams of #AllLivesMatter around the nation over the past year. When author Tim Wise visited Linn-Benton Community College this past week, I finally found the words to explain my frustration. When we, community members, hijack a movement such as #BlackLivesMatter and say that our lives matter too, we’re missing the point. Our lives have always mattered. Blue lives have always mattered. Cops matter. I’ve got to ask, when haven’t blue lives mattered in our society? Don’t most Western films create idols of men behind the badge? And don’t our lovely tax dollars go towards salaries, pensions, and funerals of men and women in blue who may or may not have been shot in the line of duty? I think it’s safe to generalize that blue lives have always mattered in our society. But black lives? That’s another situation altogether.
In the state of Oregon alone, we’ve become famous for the exclusion laws forbidding African Americans from obtaining the same rights as white folks in the state. Even today, our state continues to lack the cultural and ethnic diversity that can create globally and racially divergent communities.
If we truly believe that all lives matter, we’ve got to do something about the systemic and institutional racism that flows through our daily existence. We have got to recognize our own biases and rethink the way we do things. In grad school, I learned a lot about the true whiteness of one of my favorite holidays: Thanksgiving. My friends of color didn’t eat turkey, didn’t know what cranberry relish was, and definitely didn’t see the value of marshmallows on sweet potatoes. So when we’re planning a food drive for Thanksgiving, doesn’t it make sense to consider those families that don’t subscribe to the hegemony of white American culture? Can’t we collect cans of hot chilies, beans, or perhaps bags of rice to provide the staples families might like for any day or holiday? Do they have to celebrate the fourth Thursday of November the way TV commercials and Friends episodes demonstrate? Is it ok to be different?
It’s time to be ok with different, y’all. It’s time to embrace the fact that Black Lives Matter. It’s also time to accept the fact that it’s ok to be white. We may mess up a lot. Our ancestors may have created a system that created gross inequities for people of color that continue to this day, but it’s our chance to do something about it. It’s our time to rise above the #AddingInMoreBeforeLivesMatter to actually do something that challenges the racism, ethnocentrism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, and all the other isms that are firmly engrained in our society.
Are you up for it?