Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Whose Lives Matter?

In 1838, Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs issued the "Extermination Order" in response to rising tensions between incoming Mormon settlers and local residents. It read, in part:
The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace.
The order authorized violent force in removing Mormons from the state, and thousands were driven from their homes in the middle of a harsh winter. The Extermination Order, and the violence that surrounded it, have left a mark on the physical and cultural descendants of those settlers, of which I am one. We have movies about that time. It's enshrined in our hymns. We discuss it in Sunday School classes. The violence against our ancestors is part of our cultural heritage, even though it's no longer part of our day-to-day reality.

If the Mormon settlers had access to social media at the time, they might have posted about how they were being driven out by the militia. They might have shared how they were American citizens being attacked by the forces of their own state, how people were dying at Haun's Mill and being kicked out of their lawful homes. Perhaps they might have come up with a hashtag as the deaths mounted: #MormonLivesMatter.

And perhaps some long-time Missouri farmer, observing the posts on his phone far away from the violence, might have replied "It's not just Mormon lives that matter, dude. All Lives Matter."



Of course, he's right. Every life matters. Every life is important. Every life has value. But our farmer friend is missing the point—every life should matter, but not every life was given equal treatment; in the eyes of the state, Mormon lives didn't matter. Mormon lives should be exterminated.

Black Lives Matter. This shouldn't be a radical statement; it should be natural and obvious. But people are still posting that #BlackLivesMatter—because the state still treats them like they don't. A black man in the United States is 2.5x more likely to be killed by police during his lifetime than a white man. Black people repeatedly suffer injury, arrest, and death in situations where white people are let off with a warning. The point of #BlackLivesMatter is to call out this injustice, to call out that black people have repeatedly lost their lives to police brutality in a way that simply does not happen to white people.

Black Lives Matter does not mean that white lives don't matter. 
Stop Killing Mormons doesn't mean Kill the Missourians Instead.
Save the whales doesn't mean nuke the dolphins.

Black Lives Matter is a response to people treating black lives as if they don't matter.

If your response to #BlackLivesMatter is that "All Lives Matter", I'm sure you mean well. Everyone's life does matter. But you are implicitly suggesting that discrimination against blacks is not unique or worthy of note. You are suggesting that if blacks are more likely to be killed by police, it's not notable or interesting. Think of how that sounds. Think of what that means.

So yes. Every life matters. All lives do matter. But when black people organize and fight for their own lives, don't try to silence them. 

Black Lives Matter.