Which Lives Matter?

My quiet, sleepy town is restless tonight. Restless for peace. Restless for justice. Restless for so many different forms of freedom that we largely took for granted a short time ago. I keep my mask in place, trying to dodge and distance myself from the unusually large number of pedestrians out tonight. Police patrol the small downtown streets, preparing for another 8 p.m. curfew. And shop owners are hard at work boarding up businesses, even in the presence of their newly posted, hopeful signs boasting “We’re Now Open!” 

As I cross the street at one of the few stop lights in town, a car pulls up to the intersection, peaceful protestors in a convertible holding handmade posters announcing “Black Lives Matter!” But before I even have a chance to feel encouraged at their sign of solidarity, they are met by another voice from the street corner, challenging back that “White lives matter!” I pass through the intersection feeling the uncomfortable reality of their argument echoing in my head — Black lives matter. White lives matter. And so the divide continues, even in a town that has not yet seen rally or riot, violence or vandalism, during a week that has torn our country apart. 

So which lives matter? Why must we qualify it with a color? George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. They are only two of the many reasons why it must be specified right now. Perhaps you’ve seen the cartoon online by Kris Straub where two houses stand side by side. One house is burning. The other is not. A man aims the fire hose at the house that is not on fire while stating, “We should care equally at all times about everything. All houses matter.” Although many of us don’t understand it and certainly don’t agree with it, somehow we are living in a society where some people still do not inherently agree in the equal value of all individuals. There is no way around that anymore. For many people, there never was. 

I hesitate to add my voice to the chaos, afraid someone will misinterpret my words or I’ll show my own ignorance in what I say. All the valid points have already been made, some articulately, with poetic beauty, and some loudly, with painful rage — and certainly with deeper political insight, historical backing, or personal experience that what I have to offer. I don’t engage in “political” arguments on social media. So why does my voice matter now? Because acknowledging human equality should not be political, and I am potentially part of the problem if I am not bothered by injustice. I feel inadequate and unhelpful in this mess, and hesitate to even speak. And yet I hesitate not to. 

If I have nothing else to offer, let my voice be heard saying this: I am grieved and angered by the treatment of George Floyd, and by too many other stories like his. As a white American, as a human, I simply do not understand this level of prejudice, fear, hate, and disregard for human life. But I acknowledge that it exists. At least that’s a start. 

I am an optimist when it comes to humanity. By nature, I assume the best in people, which may sometimes blind me to some realities. But there is no way to watch what happened to George Floyd last week and find any justification for it. The nurse in me was silently screaming, “Push past that cop. Pull the man’s knee off. It’s not too late to save him!” And who knows? Maybe if I had been there, I could have gotten away with that. Perhaps that is my white privilege. Those who stood in witness, begging for a pulse check, were no doubt frightened for their own lives, as they perhaps should have been. They were so casually ignored. 

I have no tidy conclusion to these thoughts, because there is no tidy conclusion to this mess. The peaceful demonstrations are a beautiful testament to what’s good in us, and I still believe there is a plenty of good. It’s also easy to proclaim that rioting and violence is not the answer, as it leads to more hurt and unrest. It’s certainly heartbreaking and frustrating in the light of a country barely trying to peek its head out from months of quarantine and confusion. But rebellion has been the human response to injustice throughout history whenever those in power will not let the oppressed be heard, will not let them be free, will not let them breathe. 

We may not have started the fire at our neighbor’s house, but will we help to put it out?

Laura Poblete

Laura Poblete 
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