A couple of days ago, after spending time with a friend, I drove back from Detroit. The night before, another friend and I had talked about the Black Lives Matter movement. As an African-American man, I thought he would be open to the idea that there is a reason behind the movement. People are dying – and we look the other way.
I had no idea that he would respond to me by saying, “Well, all lives matter.” Yeah, they do, but you’re missing the point. That’s the same answer my white mother said to me when I began talking about the movement a few months ago. The difference is, I expect it from her, not from a young black man who faces the very real threat that he could be targeted by police simply because of the color of his skin.
That same morning before heading home, I was talking about the power of energy and how it draws us to things, like the vibrations on a guitar, or even the spectrum of color on a rainbow. I was still having a hard time with my emotional disturbance from days before – I struggle with bipolar disorder – so I decided to take the side streets back home instead of the freeway. As I was driving back, I came across an old, decrepit mural that was clearly a part of the city’s vibrant history:
There are many murals in Detroit, so it was no surprise to me. What caught my eye was the rainbow in the painting. It seemed to be ejecting itself from the man’s head, whom I realized later was Malcolm X. Of course, I stopped to take a photograph – even though it was probably not the safest choice considering my state at the time.
As I was taking my photographs, I noticed the word Harper on the side of the building (that’s the street it is located off of) but I knew that couldn’t be a coincidence; my name is Harper. Clearly, that painting was calling to me.
Just then, a black man approached me to ask what they were going to do with that building. I said I had no idea, I just wanted a picture of it. He told me it used to be a substance abuse facility called Operation Get Down. We walked for a moment and he told me he was on the brink of being homeless and was on parole for selling drugs – ironic? Not really. I thought it was quite fitting.
It was then that I asked this man his opinion of the BLM movement. His response, “All lives matter.” Wow. Now to me, as a white woman who has been watching BLM people standing up for African-American men’s lives hear from two different black men that “All lives matter” was sort of shocked. I felt like Homer Simpson, saying, “Oh, so those Egg Council creeps got to you to, huh?”
Of course, all lives matter. The idea is not that one life is better than another, it’s that people should recognize that nothing has changed since the civil rights movement. Maybe some things are better, but blacks are still oppressed. Maybe it is denial on these men’s parts because they are afraid to talk about it. I understand that. But if they really believe that using the phrase all lives matter when someone else is showing true concern over the deaths of others who are being wrongfully killed, they are misguided.
Now, I couldn’t stop thinking about this painting. As it turns out, it is recorded in the Library of Congress, but the photos there are like mine – decaying and boarded up. The only complete photo I found of this painting was on the Metro Times website.
The painting was created by Curtis Lewis in 1985; back then, it was beautiful. If you look at it, it shows the progression of the black culture from the ancient Egyptians, to slavery and crossing the ocean, to the leaders of more recent black history. Interestingly, Coleman Young is featured at the end of this painting, who has been noted by some people as the reason for the city’s decline, which was sadly followed up by the politics and crimes of Kwame Kilpatrick.
Perhaps the symbolism of Young represents the end of Detroit’s future as a prosperous city and implies the divide of races. It was never intended to be so, I am certain, but I still find it interesting. After all, the title of the painting, African Amalgamation of Ubiquity itself, roughly translated, means the process of uniting Africans because they are everywhere. But are they really? Not when you leave Detroit.
When I have a (formerly, or so he says) drug-selling black man telling me all lives matter when I met him next to a picture of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, I can’t help but find it a little sad. Maybe that’s because I don’t have to live his life. Perhaps I need to stop worrying about his, and simply worry about my own. Is that not the message here?
Someone tell me, because I feel lost on this one. How can I stand up for you if you don’t even want to stand up for yourself? Or worse yet, don’t even realize that you should be.
Fear is a bizarre thing that drives us to act in ways we would not otherwise. I think that’s what these men were experiencing. It is not because they truly don’t believe in the movement, it’s because they first of all, probably don’t even realize how what they are saying sounds considering the source; but secondly, don’t want to be targets of the police.
Maybe they really do believe all lives matter. I know I do. I just don’t say it because I think it denigrates the concept of the movement.
I know this is not what Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X died for. Yet, I can’t live their lives and understand how they must feel, so I guess I’ll just let it be. That’s all I can do from my small little corner of the world.