Twenty four years ago, in the months of May, June and July of 1996 there was an epidemic of wedding fever within my social circle. Having recently seen all the anniversary posts on Facebook, I believe there were roughly 10 couples in my relatively close friend group who married within mere weeks of each other, Dom and I making our own vows somewhere in the middle on June 1.
At one wedding in particular, as the bride straightened her veil and bridesmaids fluffed her train a friend commented, “Doesn’t she just look beautiful?”
Another nearby friend replied with a disinterested eyeroll, “Well, you know, all brides are beautiful.”
The backhanded compliment shocked those in earshot and diminished that particular bride’s feeling of joy and elation in that moment. While the words themselves taken out of context were essentially true, the statement actually refused to acknowledge the bride’s individual beauty and produced an air of awkward tension for a while. It had such a profound impact on our circle that for years later, any time we truly meant to dismiss something, regardless of the subject matter, we would give a Miranda Priestly-like wave of our hand and say, “Well, you know, all brides are beautiful.”
When we say or when we acknowledge that black lives matter, we are not saying that all other lives don’t matter. But when we counter “Black lives matter” with “No, ALL lives matter,” it has the same diminishing effect. Yes, all lives do matter. As a Christian I believe that without doubt and without compromise. But I believe that we must particularly acknowledge in this time that black lives matter because we who have never worried about the color of our own skin have for so long diminished them, dismissed them, ignored them. We may not have been overt in doing so, but by not actively living as though we believe black lives matter, we may as well have said that they don’t. We need to say, “Black lives matter,” because our collective past actions have demonstrated otherwise. Our actions and attitudes have relegated black lives to the expendable. If we truly believe that all lives matter, then we don’t need to qualify or specify that they all do. Saying that black lives matter puts the appreciation on every black life and forces us to recognize their inherent value. We should, without reservation and without hesitation, acknowledge the life before us. Acknowledge that that life matters – the person in front of you, the person next to you, the person you don’t know who might look different from you. THAT life matters.
Let us not diminish anyone’s value simply because the world is full of valuable people. My friend was a beautiful bride on her wedding day, even if every other bride in the history of weddings was also beautiful. We said it out loud simply because we loved her and it deserved to be said. Can it not be the same for black lives?
Historically, civil rights for all, inalienable rights for all, freedom for all did not really apply to the collective all. It doesn’t exactly apply today. Despite history’s best efforts to teach us, we still have a lot to learn. We can learn. The question remains, looming like a squall on the horizon: will we?