We have read in the Classic Slave Narratives the lives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs. These narratives form an important part of African-American identity formation as well as demonstrate the considerable adversity past African-Americans have experienced. The shadow of slavery and the dehumanization it required for its continued practice reaches to the modern day. In the treatment of black citizens by the police, we continue to see an ideology at work that maintains the subaltern status of black Americans to the detriment of black lives and the benefit of a longstanding dominant white Anglo-Saxon Protestant narrative. No matter how hard a black American citizen strives to fit into the mold of this dominant narrative, they will never achieve it for the system requires a subject class in order to maintain itself. To borrow from Kirsten West Savali who is quoting Malcom X in her essay ‘I Go To UVA,’ Martese Johnson’s Cry of Millennial Disbelief, “What do you call an educated negro with a B.A. or an M.A., with a B.S., or a PhD? You call him a nigger, because that is what the white man calls him, a nigger.” It is for this reason that when a person, generally white, argues “all lives matter” in response to the “black lives matter” slogan, they miss the fundamental point of the black lives matter slogan.
The point of the black lives matter slogan is to illustrate the considerable discrepancies in the treatment of black American citizens by entities that are suppose to “protect and serve” such as the police, or that are “of the people, by the people, and for the people” in the case of the government. Solely because of skin color, the black citizen sits at the bottom of the American sociopolitical and economical pyramid. How else can we explain the indignities listed by Savali in her essay Supporting Only ‘Good’ Black Victims Won’t Dismantle White Supremacy? Consider the following excerpt from her essay:
It applied to Vassar College professor and Mississippi writer Kiese Laymon and the many instances of racial bias he detailed in a brilliant and brave essay, “My Vassar College Faculty ID Makes Everything OK.”
It applied to the group of black Harvard and Yale alum who were mistaken for gangbangers and barred from their own party because they were attracting too many black people.
It applied to The Root’s co-founder, Harvard Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. when he was arrested in his own home on suspicion of breaking and entering.
As Savali shows us, no amount of behaving as the dominant white narrative says to behave will avail the black citizen from the abuses of an oppressive ideology embedded within our society. If you look upon the wall of the Fletcher Library where students are encouraged to write upon a large piece of paper discussing Ferguson and similar events, you will see critics stating “I support law enforcement” or “Actions have consequences”, or an earlier student’s “black lives matter” altered to “All lives matter” with “this is the problem” criticizing the emphasis on black lives underneath. What these critics seem to not understand is that black citizens do not count in the dominant narrative. If all lives really mattered, black citizens would receive the fair treatment they are due as human being as well as enjoy the privileges their white counterparts have long possessed.