Why We're Not "Beyond Race," And Why Black Lives Matter

03/11/2016 12:15 pm ET Updated Mar 12, 2017

Co-authored by Pamela Villa (Founder of @AllTheWomen)

Hard as many try to move beyond race and become "post racial," the more we should realize how impossible that would be, as well as counterproductive. We cannot simply do away with race.

Racial classification's original intent to create social and political separation worked. Because of America's prejudiced history, skin color still matters and affects lives and opportunities. To gloss over race is to ignore these still-pertinent causes and effects.

The national conversation remains bipolar. Those to the right often believe that we have advanced to a "colorblind" state. They may not see the need to explicitly bring up race, especially when the word that follows immediately behind it is "discrimination." Those on the left may be more willing to engage such issues, though even then, tension and awkwardness can ensue.

The presidential debates have epitomized this divide, with one side glossing over the issue and the other attempting to address it. In Monday's Democratic debate, both former Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders were asked if they believe "everyone is a little racist" by admitting their own racial "blind spots."

Though Clinton initially dodged the question, she gave a direct answer, the second time, saying:

I think being a white person...I know that I have never had the experience that so many people...have had. And I think it's incumbent upon me and what I have been trying to talk about during this campaign is to urge white people to think about what it is like to have "the talk" with your kids, scared that your sons or daughters, even, could get in trouble for no good reason whatsoever like Sandra Bland and end up dead in a jail in Texas.

Senator Sanders answered anecdotally, first with a story from 20 years ago about a Black congressman he met during his first years in Congress. Sanders asked the congressman if he wanted to share a cab, but his colleague had stopped trying to hail cabs in D.C. because he felt humiliated after available drivers simply drove past him.

Sanders followed with a more recent anecdote about a young lady from Black Lives Matter, who explained how some police terrorized her community. Beyond police shootings, Sanders spoke to the more prevalent, daily bullying the young woman described:

To answer your question, I would say, and I think it's similar to what the Secretary said, when you're white, you don't know what it's like to be living in a ghetto. You don't know what it's like to be poor. You don't know what it's like to be hassled when you walk down the street or you get dragged out of a car.

Sanders' remarks are problematic in that he conflates blackness with poverty; not all Blacks are poor and many whites do live in ghettos. Yet this verbal misstep itself shows the importance of continuing these conversations, so that we can uncover the differences between race, class, and opportunity and see where they also intersect.

Regardless of party ties, to completely deny existing racial inequality is either ignorant or apathetic. Such discrimination lingers everywhere, even in professional environments.

Recently, Facebook employees crossed out "Black Lives Matter" on a wall at the company's headquarters and replaced it with "All Lives Matter". Mark Zuckerberg discouraged the behavior. But employees continued to write over their colleagues' message. The wall where the rhetorical dispute took place two weeks ago is meant to represent a real-life version of the digital Facebook wall.

The instinct to remove "Black" and focus on "All Lives" is a product of the problem movements such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) and BYP100 are addressing. Language is powerful because of the conceptions and misconceptions that are linked to it.

The "Black" vs. "All" dispute is an important one. One cannot fight for justice or equity for a group of people without explicitly acknowledging them. Only 2% of Facebook employees are Black.

Contemporary Black movements are redefining American history by transcending traps that preceding movements have fallen into. The Founders of BLM have intentionally chosen to speak out for the most marginalized Black people in America, including Black trans, queer, disabled, and undocumented populations.

Contrary to popular opinion, BLM even includes non-Blacks by appealing to all people to lend their solidarity. Though the employees that crossed out their colleagues' writing missed this call for solidarity, Zuckerberg listened:

'Black Lives Matter' doesn't mean other lives don't -- it's simply asking that the black community also achieves the justice they deserve; Regardless of the content or location, crossing out something means silencing speech, or that one person's speech is more important than another's.

The lack of Black employees in Silicon Valley and the whiteness of Hollywood represent twin symptoms of the disease that BLM has addressed since 2013. Silicon Valley's whiteness can be likened to the "sorority racism" Chris Rock referenced in his opening at the Academy Awards. Those who think "All" is a better alternative should first work to uncover where certain, latently manifested privileges may exist to prevent further ignorance and apathy.

What the U.S. falls short on in guaranteeing equal opportunity, it makes up for in freedom of speech. It is not a bad idea to try to understand another's lived experiences before instinctually jumping to silence them (especially when those people are employees at your firm and they only comprise 2% of the workforce).

Facebook's subsequent Town Hall to discuss racial issues is a step in the right direction. By driving the conversation forward, or at least deciding to have it at all, disputes can transform into opportunities for open dialogue and hopefully some enlightenment as well.