“How?” That question, as short as it is, is as important as the declarative statement: “Black lives matter.” I do not mention that statement here in defence of the activist organization which bares that name, but, purely, as a principle which is a part of the universal God-given and inalienable right of all people. I do not believe that America does not see value in Black people. It does, and it always has. It is, therefore, upon such a given that the question “How?” is now being posed here in respect to “Black lives matter”. I believe that history bares me out on this.
We have always had value in American eyes — whether we choose to believe it or not — from the time of slavery, on through Emancipation, on through Jim Crow and on through the Civil Rights Movement and the resultant legislative Acts of the 1960s to the present. But how has that value changed — our worth to “American” sensibilities that is? We are no longer slaves and, yes, we tend to lose our lives cheaply to law enforcement, and to the legal and penal systems. It is easy through those institutions to conclude that we do not matter as much as whites do, but we still have value — we do. But what is it?
Without us, the ideology of “White Supremacy” would not exist. It is, merely, a social construct used by some whites to further a much broader agenda against the agendas of other whites. Black people do not comprise a whole chapter in that book, I believe, but, merely a subheading or a footnote. Well, except when the Confederacy made it the centerpiece of their constitution.
Europeans have been angling against each other in a game of “one-upmanship” long before chattel slavery was conceived of, pursued, and established. But don’t take my word for it, just peruse world history. Did the wars waged in Europe, for instance, led by such individuals as Alexander the Great, the Roman Caesars, Charlemagne, Napoleon, the Keiser and Hitler need Black racial prejudice or propaganda to fuel and to stoke the fires of their greed, arrogance, rage, fears or insatiable appetites for dominance over each other? No, not at all. Whenever it was convenient, they simply created scapegoats and invoked specters of fear in order to advance their causes. We are just a part of a long line of political or cultural expediencies to such ends.
And so, how then do Black lives really matter right here and right now in 21st century America? Let us read between the lines. In as much as “White Supremacy” poses an existential threat to all people of colour, the definition implies something totally different. Such people — the racists that is — really don’t want us dead. No, I don’t think so. They only want us to be as completely subservient as we were in the “good ole days” of Antebellum America. And so, they are just using fear and violence to try and control us — that is all.
They didn’t call their movement “Black annihilation”, hence a sort of “final solution” akin to Nazi Germany with respect to the Jews, but “White S-u-p-r-e-m-a-c-y” — which infers a present and continuous state of affairs. There is something in that title which infers a threatened esteem of self and which speaks of a need for them to prove that they are better than something or someone else — at our expense. They know that, by and large, most of us eat the crumbs off the table of prosperity which they enjoy. So, what is their agenda knowing that we refuse to be cowed?
Whatever the motive, the survival of the republic — of the American experiment — is hinged upon how Black people are defined and, by extension, valued by society at large. The country’s founding fathers, when they were confronted by that question, demurred and then deferred it to later generations for the answer. When the question then came up before the generation of Lincoln it led to a bloody civil war, and yet, even after that, the question was only partially answered. (Old Abe did not retaliate against the South because of slavery but in order to preserve that union!)
In the generation of George Floyd, et al, providence has, once again, placed the question before the American people. Some whites want everything — that they have made abundantly clear — and most Blacks will never surrender what they have gained. (They ain’t goin back to no plantation and will massacre everyone who tries to take them there, or die in the process.).
Some whites threaten violence and there are Blacks who, unflinchingly, call their bluff. If the White Supremacists — a group that the F.B.I. determined to be our greatest domestic threat — have their way then there will be a race war in which nobody will win. Nobody. Who, then, are our enemies? Where, in modern America, would the battle lines be drawn? Just step outside your door — look left, right, front and back at your neighbours. Look at their children and your children at play. That is your theater of war.
How do Black lives matter in the era of Trump? Will an answer that is satisfactory to all be given? Can the nation supply such an answer? If so, at what cost? How it answers will determine, I believe, whether the republic can continue to survive and to assert any moral ascendancy over the world or, at the very least, pretend to do so. In the event of failure would this signal the end of this empire as we know it with the hordes, as it were, storming the gates as they did at Rome before its demise? “How?” is not, therefore, an academic question it is a fundamental and a moral one for America.