Imogene A. Drakes: Why Black Lives Matter

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"Black Lives Matter." These words continue to evoke anger, hope or indifference depending on your political persuasion. As with so many issues in these polarized times, people at the ends of the spectrum are likely to be animated regarding the significance of these three words. I will state unequivocally that Black Lives Matter but I will explain my position with cool and dispassionate reasoning. Like everything else in this vein, the basic human instinct is to ask, "Why?" For people who are not Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), the question becomes, "Why do Black lives matter and what about my life?" I would answer just as unequivocally that your life matters as much as mine — no less and no more. The reason I am writing this essay is that words are important and I am hoping these words will begin a small change that I believe needs to be made.

I have been pondering deeply on the Black Lives issue ever since an acquaintance said to me, "George Floyd must have done something bad for the police to treat him like that. What do you think?" I was horrified beyond belief and cried out in anguish. Horrified with all of my being that anyone could think that such a horrible act against humanity could have a smidgen of justification. Regardless of the egregious act of a criminal, our civilized society is organized to give them due process and ensure their rights are not trampled on, or at least, that is the way our society should work. I therefore had to take time to ponder.

Why does the nation currently have a Black Lives Matter Movement and why would anyone think that George Floyd's killing in cold blood in broad daylight was justifiable? I refused to use the blanket term of racism and allowed my pondering to take differing tracks. Is there a narrative deep in this nation's psyche that Black people are generally takers from society and not contributors? Besides being labelled by some politicians as "Willie Hortons," Black people have also been pictured as "Welfare queens." I decided to explore the perception that Black people are net takers and not net contributors to this society.

Before the pandemic and our other recent troubles, America was seen as a desirable destination for much of the world. Per capita income is the highest in the world and we have exported much of her culture and love for democracy. American exceptionalism has been our unofficial slogan. However, much of what makes America an economic powerhouse today is the free coerced labor from Africans who came to these shores generations ago and much of what makes her unique is the exceptionally talented descendants of those former slaves.

The gifts the Africans brought to this country are deeply embedded in our collective wealth — from the banking industry to our American culture. Contributions of African Americans have at various times been stolen, overlooked, marginalized or taken for granted. The struggle of BIPOC folk in general exemplifies what has and continues to make America exceptional — a feeling of a right to self-determination, an indomitable soulful spirit fed from within and a drive to succeed in spite of great odds. Taking from this rich tapestry without acknowledging or rewarding the source leads to impoverishment on both sides: Black people lose the wealth they are owed for their talents and the rest of society is bereft of holistic information.

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Not knowing the reason Black lives truly matter to this nation is like having cataracts and not having access to eye glasses. It is easy to understand the contribution of Mahalia Jackson and Maya Angelou to the Arts and easy to appreciate that America has exported fun activities like rapping and twerking to the world. It is also easy to see why Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan were idolized. What seems even harder to acknowledge is the continued contribution of Black people to the sciences, the economy, our collective good and our gene pool.

Contributions of BIPOC folk to social justice is revered and acknowledged without fail every February. Black and white pictures of Martin Luther King, Jr. linking arms with fellow protestors and John Lewis with a bleeding head are forever etched in our memory. What is not so widely known is the fact that the sciences of gynecology and cancer cell research would not have advanced to their current state without the bodies/cells of Black women. Innovators such as Lewis Latimer, Garrett Morgan, Sarah Boone, Mark Dean and Daniel Hale Williams are not household names and they should be.

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The trouble for BIPOC folk began when Christopher Columbus marginalized the Indians in West Indies and claimed the never-before seen lands for Spain.

Thereafter, the vilifying of people of color became the new norm whenever they were exploited for their land, labor or bodies. However, in contemporaneous times, COVID-19 has exposed just how essential BIPOC people are to the modern economy. There is widespread recognition that a nation without such industrious workers would not be able to find food in the supermarkets to maintain life and health. There are countless jobs all throughout the economy where BIPOC people toil in great numbers and without due recognition that allows them to become members of the top levels of those organizations. The American economy without a pandemic relies heavily on the contribution of these seemingly non-essential workers as well.

It is time to care for all members of our society. Bezruchka explained that grandmothers are major social determinants of health: Your maternal grandmother is largely responsible for your health because your mother's eggs were created and developed to maturity while she was in your grandmother's womb. If your grandmother was not healthy while she was carrying your mother, it is very likely that you will not have optimum health in spite of your mother maintaining a healthy lifestyle, taking vitamins and exercising before giving birth to you. Today the U.S. has a crisis in maternal deaths, disproportionately in women of color because of a variety of socio-economic factors.

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We cannot control whom our children love nor with whom they choose to procreate. To not care for the health of women of this nation is like playing Russian roulette with the health of our grandchildren and their children. In addition, not paying attention to the health of various segments of our population will ensure that we have potential reservoirs of any named or yet to be named infectious disease that could overwhelm us at a moment's notice. If we marginalize and refuse to care for segments of our population, we may not be able to stand against microscopic and macroscopic threats in the near or distant future.

To conclude, Black Lives Matter because America Matters. It is time to remove the many threats from Black Lives. This nation has progressed because of and in spite of many fits and starts and errors. However, in this social media/cell phone age, America cannot continue to make large scale errors and pretend they are not happening. The world is watching. Without continued contributions from all of the major segments of our population — BIPOC, Semitic, Asian, and so on — America will not be as recognizable or desirable as she was in pre-COVID times. Black folk carry the kernels of innovative soul and hope that were born of oppression and passed on from generation to generation — the soul and hope that give heart to this nation. We will never know the full measure of the contribution of any group of folk to our society unless those contributions were suddenly missing. Let us not find out. We are all interwoven into the fabric of this society.

Black Lives Matter because We All Matter. E pluribus unum.

Imogene A. Drakes writes from Brattleboro. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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