'Separate But Equal,' #AllLivesMatter And Rewording The Reign Of White Supremacy

So this is 2016?
08/10/2016 04:31 pm ET Updated Aug 11, 2016
"Colored" drinking fountain from mid-20th century with african-american drinking (Original caption from July 1939: "Negro dri
Wikimedia Commons/Library of Congress
"Colored" drinking fountain from mid-20th century with african-american drinking (Original caption from July 1939: "Negro drinking at "Colored" water cooler in streetcar terminal, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma").

Many are familiar with the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education as being the impetus behind desegregation. The case dismantled the notion of “separate but equal” as being a constitutionally sound one, and thus ordered for the desegregation of the public school system.

Perhaps today, we take for granted that of course segregation was wrong, and of course white segregations are racists (I hope). The same way we take for granted slavery was wrong, so was the Jim Crow Era, generally. Most individuals who are not overly racist would agree with the aforementioned statements.

Yet, many of those same people would readily post to Facebook about how actually, it’s not #BlackLivesMatter, it’s #AllLivesMatter.

Here’s the thing, back when we had “colored only” bathrooms, the theory of “separate but equal” may have sounded OK. Segregationists framed it so that it sounded like an amicable decision which had been reached by two parties. It sounds as though things are simply separated, at the time as many believed they naturally should be, and as the slogan itself stated, it still maintained a sense of equity. 

To posture oneself alongside the #AllLivesMatter movement is to erase the true oppression of our black population.

In fact, the 60 years preceding the Brown v. Board, race relations in the U.S. had been dominated, if not defined, by racial segregation. This policy had been originally judicially legitimized in 1896 in Plessy v. Ferguson, which held that as long as the separate facilities for the separate races were equal, segregation did not violate the 14th Amendment. The 14th Amendment, passed after the emancipation proclamation and ensuing civil war which necessitated the end of slavery. It guarantees that “no State shall… deny to any person… the equal protection of the laws.” White segregationists were quick to defend their way of doing things, “There you have it! EQUAL! Just because it’s separate doesn’t mean its unequal”.

Yet, the plaintiffs in Brown argued that racial segregation, far from providing “separate but equal” treatment of both the races, racial segregation instead perpetuated inferior accommodations, services, and treatment for black Americans.

The court unanimously agreed with the plaintiffs assertion. But they did something else. The court went on to say in their affirming decision that segregation by itself was harmful to black students not necessarily on the basis of whether or not the actual accommodations were unequal. They said segregation was de facto unconstitutional and deprived them of equal protection. They did this by reframing the question of law established under Plessy from whether the schools were “equal” (which under Plessy they ostensibly should have been [read: they were not]) to whether the entire legal doctrine supporting this racial separation was constitutional. The court relayed the answer as a resounding “no”, holding that:

Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn.

The overall point the court was making here was that “separate but equal” is never going to be equal; it creates a de facto sense of inferiority in the group being segregated.

Yet, it sounds nice in theory ― particularly to southern racists who wanted to legitimize a standard of racial oppression they had managed to continue employing since reconstruction.

So, here we are, in 2016.

These days, “separate but equal” is no longer touted as “equality.” Yet, we have a nice corollary for those individuals who still feel supremely uncomfortable by the notion that black people might posit that, indeed, racism still exists.

As the BLM movement gained clout, so did it’s hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter. By touting the reactionary #AllLivesMatter hashtag, people who cannot fathom that individuals within our society sometimes deserve special attention for their hardships are able to express themselves by — oh, so cleverly — turning the table on people who eschew racism. You see, #BlackLivesMatter is ACTUALLY racist, according to these people. Racism is not standing alongside the notion that #AllLivesMatter.

The impetus behind #BlackLivesMatter was that in our society we regularly fail to treat black lives as though they matter.

Words have a profound effect on how we interpret situations. This situation deserves our attention because without a correct narrative attached to a movement, we fail to see where we’ve, time and time again, come up short. Until all lives truly DO matter, to the police, to people at large, we will continue to talk about how black lives matter.

White supremacy has a manner in which it inculcates the general white population with false equivalents, particularly when it has to do with racism, in order to make logical fallacies seem logically sound. This is one such case. To posture oneself alongside the #AllLivesMatter movement is to erase the true oppression of our black population.

Similar to “separate BUT equal” you have “ALL LIVES matter” as seemingly espousing that all lives do, and should, matter. Yet, white folks didn’t create this hashtag on their own; its a reaction, similar to how one would view segregation. Segregation is not the normal state of things, its an active decision. One would not need to say “BUT EQUAL” if something were inherently equal. Similarly one would not need to defend that “ALL LIVES” matter in response to “BLACK LIVES” mattering, if there were not something inherent underlying their assertion — namely, racism.

There are currently more black individuals incarcerated than there were enslaved in 1850.

Here’s the reality: black males, ages 15–19, are 21 times more likely to be to be shot and killed by the police than young white boys/men. Black individuals compose less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet account for 31 percent of all fatal police shooting victims, and 39 percent of those killed by police — even though they weren’t attacking. This truth exists inside a system in which there is seemingly no legal recourse for these individuals, I wrote about this particular issue with regard to Tamir Rice.

White police officers are opaquely given the ability to shoot and kill black citizens in a country in which there are currently more black individuals incarcerated than there were enslaved in 1850.

All lives do, indeed, matter, but it’s not worth saying so when said lives are treated differently. #AllLivesMatter sounds nice, as a movement. Yet, we live in a society in which black lives are not treated as though they matter, which is why one asserts that, indeed, #BlackLivesMatter. If you have ever felt as though #AllLivesMatter is an appropriate response to black individuals asserting that their own lives matter, in the face of constant action to the contrary, consider whether its logically sustainable to respond to such an assertion in the aforementioned manner.

I urge you to consider whether or not you, yourself, believe that black lives matter. I would venture to say that internalized racism plays a large part in how white people are suddenly incapable of processing a movement logically, when race is involved.

#AllLivesMatter is as much an assertion of white supremacy as “separate but equal” was. Now analyze that anyone felt the need to even unpack that.

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