Which Lives Matter In Our Culture?

Gustavo Grodnitzky Culture Trumps Everything

It’s our culture. We must decide. Which lives matter? Do Black Lives Matter or do All Lives Matter? The answer may not be as obvious as you think.

Since the inception of the Black Lives Matter movement, some have countered with the statement “All Lives Matter.”

In their minds, “All Lives Matter” is more inclusive. And many would argue that this is the very idea that our country was founded on.

Consider, though, just a few examples from U.S. history:

  • From 1787 until 1868, for the purposes of representation and direct taxes, Black lives were counted as only 3/5 a white person. Was that a culture where All Lives Mattered?
  • More than 4,400 black people were lynched in the U.S. between 1877 and 1950. Did their lives matter?
  • In May 1921, a white mob estimated to be about 10,000 people initiated the Tulsa Race Massacre. The white mob went to the Greenwood District – then an affluent neighborhood referred to as Black Wall Street – and burned it to the ground. In the process, they killed hundreds of Black Americans. Hundreds more were never accounted for. No one was ever arrested or tried. What does that tell us about whether All Lives Mattered then?
  • On August 28, 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy, was lynched after speaking to Carolyn Bryant, the white, married proprietor of a small grocery store in Mississippi. Till was accused of flirting with or whistling at Bryant. Several nights later, Bryant’s husband and his half-brother abducted Till from his great-uncle’s house, beat him and mutilated his body. They then shot him in the head and sank his body in the Tallahatchie River. In 1955, an all-white jury acquitted both men of the murder. In 1956, both admitted publicly to the murder, knowing they were protected by “double jeopardy.” In 2008, Carolyn Bryant recanted her story. Did Emmett Till’s young life matter?

Did These Lives Matter?

You might be thinking now, “Gustavo, those events were all a long time ago. They’re not relevant today.”

I disagree. Historical precedent and shared common experience help form the traditions and rituals in our culture we all share. Diminishing the impact of history or aggrandizing one side of it deprives everyone of mutual understanding.

But, if you are interested in more recent events, here are a few from just this year:

  • On February 23 in Georgia, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot and killed while jogging. The two suspects — Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory McMichael — were not arrested until May 7. If not for dash-cam video and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation taking over the case, they may never have been arrested. Remember, Arbery’s killing happened this year, when all lives supposedly matter.
  • On March 13, Louisville, KY, police fatally shot Black EMT Breonna Taylor after entering her apartment on a no-knock search warrant. Again, this happened as many people continue to insist that All Lives Matter.
  • On May 25 in Minneapolis, George Floyd died after being arrested while (now former) Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd, who was Black, repeatedly pleaded that he could not breathe. If you watched the video of Floyd’s killing, did it leave you feeling that All Lives Matter in the U.S.?

‘All Lives Matter’ Obfuscates the Truth

Have you ever heard this common piece of business wisdom? If everything is urgent, then nothing is urgent. This means that if everything that threatens your business is marked “urgent” then you have no idea what is the most important, most pressing or biggest threat to your business.

The same is true when we talk about society as a whole. “All Lives Matter” obfuscates the life-threatening challenges that Black people and other people of color face in our culture.

“Black Lives Matter” does not mean “Only Black Lives Matter.” It means, “Black Lives Matter, Too!” Or “Black Lives Matter, Equally!” It is imperative that we can all see it, say it and act upon it, as this is indeed the most urgent issue of our time.

I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note.

Let’s keep cultivating our culture, together!