Hillary Clinton — remember that "All Lives Matter" has context
June 24, 2015 at 8:52 am
Hillary Clinton was recently lauded for making her boldest statement on race to-date at the U.S. Conference of Mayors this past weekend. While standing at the podium, she posed to her audience and the rest of the country a challenge: dispel the illusion that racism shows itself in hoods and burning crosses and confront the family members with snide comments about people of color and the reasons why you worry about living in certain neighborhoods.
The stance was hopeful, showcasing Clinton’s commitment to having a conversation about instances that aren’t dependent upon extremism and the fantasy that somehow, somewhere there is an America untouched by the very thing that constituted the fabric of this country.
We took these words uttered by Clinton with hope and a faith that she would use this speech, these words and our pain as more than a platform for rhetorical political play.
In the wake of the shooting at the Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, many of us Black people have to be ever more diligent about imagining a future. A 21-year-old white man walked into a church and reenacted a cold-blooded murder scene from 1963. I, like other Black millennials, find myself in 21st-century America living a life that is continuously skewed to run parallel to those of my parents, grandparents and of past ancestors I never met.
We need candidates who are willing to fight for us against a system maintaining our historical paralysis, and we need candidates to name and own the hard truths in order to change them, as Hillary herself said.
But sometimes owning the hard truths of racism requires simply listening responsibly.
Yesterday, in hopes of maintaining her momentum, Clinton elected to make a campaign stop just a few miles outside of Ferguson, Mo. Additionally, Hillary chose to pay her respects to our community by visiting a local Black church.
During the meeting she discussed gun and voter registration reform. She also tipped her hat to companies such as Wal-Mart and Amazon who have taken a commercial stand to end sales of Confederate flags and merchandise. The meeting, for the most part, was dedicated to issues that matter to Black voters.
But for all the ways these are important issues for Black people, nothing is more important than our ability to remain alive. This is why we say “Black Lives Matter” and what is so heartbreaking when someone says, “All Lives Matter.”
"All lives matter," Hillary says while telling stories of the people who believed in her mother.
— Ali Vitali (@alivitali) June 23, 2015
Some argued that Clinton’s use of the phrase yesterday was appropriate within context. During the visit, Hillary uttered the phrase with reference to her mother, whose story is one of triumph by way of community support. Hillary has spoken often of her mother’s background this campaign trail, most recently during her campaign rally in New York City.
But what about the broader context that brought “All Lives Matter” into our vocabulary?
Hillary used the phrase with reference to her mother to demonstrate a process for how people can come together to open doors and provide access to those of us most in need.
But the problem is the phrase has been used to deny those very things to Black people, specifically to counter the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s an unnecessary opposition. Valuing Black lives only becomes a threat to a system that sustains itself off our devaluing and disposing of them. It’s an insidious manipulation to erase the value of Black life in order to maintain White supremacy. Indeed, if we are going to name the uncomfortable truths of racism, we have to name the ways that All Lives Matter shares a legacy with the Confederate flag.
That doesn’t change when Hillary is speaking. Especially in a Black church in Ferguson. In light of recent events, those words together become all the more potent.
In this moment, when the country is rallying to dismantle many of racism’s material symbols, we cannot forget that words are included. And with that knowledge comes the responsibility to choose our words wisely.
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