The #BlackLivesMatter movement has taken over social, national and international media in recent months. Fueled by tragic vignettes of police brutality against presumably innocent African Americans, the movement is “rooted in the experiences of Black people in this country who actively resist (our) de-humanization,” and “is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society.”
The movement’s official media outlets have striven to make clear that all Black lives matter by calling attention to the rampant systemic injustices facing those Black individuals whose racial identities exist in conjunction with their sexual and gender identities, as well as their status within disabled, incarcerated or immigrant communities. In vying for societal and judicial equality in this country, a movement which stresses the importance of solidarity across the spectrum of all personal identities serves as an example of what modern activism should be: inclusive and empathetic to the plights of similarly affected individuals.
In a December 26, 2014 op-ed in The Advocate magazine, freelance writer Randy Roberts Potts touches upon this idea by attempting to draw parallels between the #BlackLivesMatter and past LGBTQ rights movements. Potts calls for solidarity across movements, discussing how riots in Ferguson and subsequent rallies nationwide are reminiscent of the 1969 Stonewall riots. In these riots, LGBT-identifying individuals fought against police forces conducting an unsolicited raid on the Stonewall Inn—a hub of sorts for impoverished and struggling LGBT youth in New York City’s Greenwich Village.
Stonewall served as a catalyst for the queer-rights activism of the 20th century and today, much in the same way, Potts says, that the recent happenings in Ferguson have reignited a national discussion on racial politics and the unequal treatment of minority populations. In his closing remarks on the topic, Potts suggests that respect be given to a movement relative to its importance in the public eye at a particular moment in history: “All lives matter,” he says, “but our focus must center on whichever lives, in our own time, in our own moment, matter least.”
In other words, activists must practice solidarity for similarly-rooted causes under the pretense of equity; provide the most energy to the most pressing of issues, only moving on to other problems once the most urgent matters have been dealt with. It’s a logical plan of action—at least for trauma surgeons. In the fight against social inequality, however, letting alone a seemingly small internal bleed in favor of a wound perceived as more threatening could prove to be fatal for the entire, commonly shared cause.
Why should combating social injustice be a matter of precedent in line with particular events? When a group of people who have been subjugated into second-class citizenry experience a particularly unsettling event—as is the case with Ferguson, as was the case with Stonewall—others should empathize and act for the larger cause of social, political and economic equality for all groups. They should act not only against the wrongs made against the group directly affected, but also act in protest of a system which allows that wrong to occur to any minority group, regardless of color, creed, sexuality or gender.
Through my eyes, the reaction to the many instances of failures in the justice system pertaining to Black individuals over the past months should serve as an opportunity for the nation to reevaluate its handling of all crimes rooted in hate and social injustice. This reevaluation should be made in consideration of the Black population and their specific needs, but also in consideration of other subjugated minority groups in this nation who have experienced similar wrongs as a result of their ascribed statuses.
All lives matter. Michael Brown’s life mattered just as much as the lives of Eric Garner, Larry King, and Brisenia Flores. This being said, combating social injustice should be a fight not based in equity. Rather, it should be a sweeping act in which all victims of social inequality in this country can partake and empathize, come together in solidarity and appeal for equality for all downtrodden groups for all time, not merely at a point in time which is most convenient for one group or another.
Austin Davis can be reached at email@example.com.