Putting A Hashtag On Human Life

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Florissant, Missouri, June 24th, 2015

While speaking at a historic black church, presidential candidate Hilary Clinton spoke to the congregation about her mother, who became a maid as a teenager after being abandoned by her own parents.  All was fine and good…until this happened:

“What kept you going?” Mrs. Clinton had asked her mother.  She then explained that, “Kindness along the way from someone who believed she mattered.  All lives matter.

In another era, the last three words would have been well-received, wholeheartedly embraced by most people regardless of their political leanings. However, that is not the case in 2015.  It is all thanks to two simple hashtags: #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter.

Southern California, June 24th, 2015

It was during my lunch break that I logged onto Facebook and found my newsfeed riddled with statuses and articles all concerning Mrs. Clinton’s use of “All Lives Matter.”  Blindsided by Internet activism, I took a breath and followed my natural instinct to investigate.  Once I had gotten the whole story of Mrs. Clinton’s debacle, I decided to look deeper into the two hashtags #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter.

#BlackLivesMatter was a hashtag created after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the 2013 trial centered on the killing of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin.  It was later revived after the death in 2014 of another African-American man named Michael Brown.  The purpose of #BlackLivesMatter was to tackle racial issues that continue to plague this country years after the Civil Rights Movement.  However, there is an opposing camp:  #AllLivesMatter, a hashtag created as a counter to #BlackLivesMatter.  Unlike the first hashtag, which emerged in 2013, the second hashtag entered the picture after the shooting of Michael Brown.

What I want to know is what is it about these two hashtags that fuels the flames of impassioned emotions in people?  Alongside this, a more disturbing question emerges in my mind: How did we get to this place where we as a society have to hashtag whose life is more important than the other?  If the value of a person’s life can be ranked from greatest to least, then we are all drowning.

Into The Minds of Two Movements

I’ve always felt that once you know the psychology of both sides of a conflict you can often get to the root of the problem, so let’s dive into the mindsets of these two opposing forces.

From what I have observed, the #BlackLivesMatter camp sees itself as champions for the African-American community.  They feel that the justice system treats this community unfairly, and the acquittals of George Zimmerman and Officer Darren Wilson have struck a serious blow to the black community morale.  I completely understand how the mother of a black son would be fearful for her child’s life in light of Trayvon Martin (age 17), Eric Garner (age 43), Michael Brown (age 18) and Tamir Rice (age 12).  Their issue with #AllLivesMatter is that it comes off as too broad and dismissive of the deaths of these three men and a young boy.

The #AllLivesMatter camp, which exists to counter #BlackLivesMatter, feels that the opposing camp is preaching that only one specific group of people is more important than others.  They see it as exclusory of other sets of people, and dismissive of situations where a white person is shot and killed by a black person, or an African-American is murdered by a Hispanic-American.  Anyone could be the victim and anyone could be the perpetrator.  They fear that by giving all the attention to one specific ethnicity, this raises the possibility of other racial groups being ignored.

When The Greater Good Is Forgotten

Any time I write about a controversial issue, I always ask God to point me to a Saint who is related to said issue.  Because this op-ed is about race and social justice, God guided me to Saint Martin de Porres, an interracial Peruvian monk who was the illegitimate son of a Spanish knight and a freed black woman.  During his time on earth Martin had experienced racism firsthand due to his mixed blood.   In spite of this, he was known for his compassion and humility, which was the driving force of his charitable deeds throughout Lima, Peru.  Because of his humble character, he never forgot the One he served and never let pride in his good works cloud his judgment.

I began to wonder, “What if Martin didn’t have the gift of humility?   It’s easy for a virtuous person to become aware of their accomplishments…” This thought led me to think about the modern heroes of literature and cinema (Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, Peter Parker/Spiderman, etc.) and how they never thought to themselves, “Oh, I’m such a hero!”  They were simply fighting for a greater cause.  What happens when social justice activists see themselves as heroes?  If someone thinks they are ahead of everyone else, it is easy to get comfortable and neglect self-improvement.

That was when I realized that comfort in the message can lead to corruption.  Most people would agree that discrimination is wrong and that every life matters, but too often the actions of activists betray the message.  As a result, in this case both parties (#BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter) have a public image problem.

#BlackLivesMatter is tainted by the images of looters during the Ferguson protests.  Because the loudest voices get the most attention, the media focused more on the looters than on the peaceful demonstrators.  While most of the looters just wanted to cause trouble, it is also possible that some of the looters were good people who started out as peaceful, but got caught up in the outrage and were blinded by their desire to fight a system that they felt had wronged their community.  Fueled by frustration, they chose a destructive path that was caught on camera.

#AllLivesMatter is tainted by its own inception: It was created for the sole purpose of opposing #BlackLivesMatter and had no further vision.  With the mindset of “Everybody agrees that all lives matter, so winning the public will be no problem,” this led to their camp neglecting to work toward a greater good.  Their lack of vision caused the hashtag #AllLivesMatter to be used by ill-informed people as a way to dismiss the concerns of the black community.  In turn, the #BlackLivesMatter camp went further on the offense and gave their opponents the ammunition they needed to portray the looters as the face of #BlackLivesMatter.

When two forces go to war with one another and lose sight of the greater good, social justice is reduced to fashionable controversies that are here today and gone tomorrow, resurrected in the public square only after the death of another unarmed black father/husband/brother/son/friend makes the headlines.  Does it take another tragedy to keep the productive conversation going?

#SomeLivesAreConvenient

Earlier I asked how we as a society came to this place where the value of human life can be ranked from greatest to least.  If the skirmish between #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter has shown us anything, it is that the pyramid of who is convenient and who can be ignored has permeated American politics for a long time.  Every civilization goes through a period of establishing a human pecking order.  In our time this mindset couldn’t be more evident than by the two hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter.  Both sides accuse the other of being dismissive of certain lives, but it is their fighting between themselves that keeps effective change from coming to fruition.

In a perfect world, these two camps could perhaps come together and say, “We both have a sound message, so why don’t we stop bickering with each other and go after the real enemy?” the real enemy being social injustice, even the human pecking order.   Unfortunately, after the Garden of Eden peace rarely lasts before conflict steps in.

Saint Martin de Porres did not fight poverty by creating hashtags and inflaming passions.  The will of God was his General, humility was his armor, and his faith by example was what brought hope to the desperate poor.   He did not champion certain types of people who advanced his agenda.  He served all.

Until we remove the price tag on human life, social justice will always be like a faucet that only pours out water when it suits an agenda.

Saint Martin de Porres, pray for us.

1 Corinthians 4:6, “I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brother, so that you may learn from us not to go beyond what is written, so that none of you will be inflated with pride in favor of one person over against another.”

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