I, Too Sing For America (My Answer to a Facebook Screed)

I, too sing America
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen When company comes, But I laugh, And eat well, And grow strong.
Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare Say to me, “Eat in the kitchen,” Then.
Besides, They’ll see how beautiful I am And be ashamed — I, too, am America.

-Langston Hughes.

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I read the following on Facebook yesterday.

“WHY IS IT ABOUT BLACK lives matter???????????????????????? What about cops who are killed what about their kids? What about teachers in in school when a mad gun man is running lose and the vets those lives don’t matter?????????? FUck that movement we are done its old its one sided………..”

Then, I sat down and wrote this for my white friends who can’t figure out why anyone would use the phrase “Black lives matter.”

All lives matter you say. I hear you and I agree, but let me help you understand what’s happening across America.

Using the phrase black lives matter to point out that the lives of black citizens seem not to matter as much as the lives of white citizens, is not saying or implying that all lives don’t matter. No one means that. Of course all lives matter, that goes without mentioning.

But my friends, it appears that you’ve missed the poetry. You’ve missed the message the phrase is trying to convey and you’ve gone, as a young child might, straight for the literal meaning.

People only create a phrase like that when they feel that their lives actually don’t matter, and to a certain segment of our population, black lives clearly don’t. I know this because I hear the contempt everyday.

I shouldn’t have to tell you something so obvious, but many black people in this country feel oppressed and anyone with an open mind can see why this is so. They are a group of Americans who have been, throughout history and in the very present, singled out for more disdain, more punishment, more contempt, more anger, and more unequal treatment than any other group of Americans. If your people had lived though two centuries of mistreatment – not by all, but by far too many – then I presume you would have created your own poetical phrase (or worse) to draw attention to your plight.

Their collective pain, which to them is as real as the sky and the earth, will not be lessened by your attempts to deny them their feelings or their constitutional right of self-expression. Do you in your hubris, believe that their sense of righteous indignation might somehow evaporate just because you say they should not feel as they do, not hurt as they do, not remember as they do?

I’m not suggesting you do anything anything more at this point than to exercise that most human of all human traits – empathy. It has a tendency to make a person stronger, not weaker.

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