It’s even happening here, in some of Washington’s most diverse or proudly progressive neighborhoods: “Black” is being x’ed out.
In the past 10 days, “Black Lives Matter” signs in Bethesda and Mount Pleasant in Northwest Washington have been vandalized to either block or cut out the word “Black.”
[‘Black Lives Matter’ becomes ‘Lives Matter’ outside Bethesda church]
It’s all over social media, too — #AllLivesMatter.
And a bunch of presidential contenders, Democrats and Republicans, have done the same edit in recent speeches, Kumbaya-ing their way into political hot water by nixing the “Black” from the slogan.
But here’s the thing: “All Lives Matter” or “Lives Matter” is the opposite of colorblind. It is not about racial harmony. It is not a clever call-out on reverse discrimination. It is not a way to give other groups equal importance.
It tries to erase one of this country’s most pernicious and persistent shortcomings: its ugly racism.
It’s like defacing “Support Our Troops” stickers to read “Support Our People” and wondering why military families would be offended.
Of course, we want to support all people, and, of course, all lives matter. But deliberately cutting out “Troops” or “Black” announces that the struggles and challenges of those populations are not distinct from those of everyone else.
Every day, much of America declares — in ways overt and subtle — that only some lives matter.
A job applicant named John gets a callback. Jamal doesn’t.
A sidewalk in a predominantly white neighborhood gets meticulously maintained. The sidewalk in the mostly black neighborhood in the same city is crumbling.
The commercials for Panera and Disney World that were playing in a D.C. movie theater the other day showed zero black people.
“How come there weren’t any black kids in that Disney World?” my 8-year-old asked. The racially diverse movie crowd did not shush him.
These are the deeper, ingrained biases that plague even folks who declare harmony, unity, rainbows and good intentions.
Although outward, KKK-style bigotry is easy to point out, there are insidious streaks of discrimination that cannot be explained away by geography and economics, Harvard University economics professor Sendhil Mullainathan wrote in the New York Times this year.
He pointed to his own study with University of Chicago economics professor Marianne Bertrand in which identical résumés were sent out with different first names, and Emily and Greg got about 50 percent more callbacks than did Lakisha and Jamal.
There were also studies done on how doctors treat heart patients with identical statistics, except for race; where black and white housing applicants with identical incomes were shown vastly different places; and where identical iPods held by a white hand got 21 percent more offers on eBay than the iPod held by a black hand.
And we’re not even at the real impetus behind the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Presented with irrefutable video footage, America seems to be waking up to the mistreatment of African Americans by police in cities across the country.
The deaths of Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Sam DuBose and Michael Brown and the way Sandra Bland was treated after being pulled over for failing to use her turn signal have forced Americans who believed we were colorblind to rethink.
[A year after Ferguson, 6 in 10 Americans say changes are needed to give blacks equal rights]
The #BlackLivesMatter movement was started in 2013 by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi after George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the murder of Trayvon Martin.
It is not arguing that Gay Lives don’t matter, or Hispanic Lives don’t matter or All Other Lives don’t matter.
It is a reminder that a boy armed with nothing more than Skittles and a soda should not be shot dead because of that deep, insidious racism that America wants to pretend doesn’t exist.
So when someone went to the River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda last week and knifed the word “Black” out of the vinyl sign the church had hung on its lawn, it was a hostile act denying all the hard work we Americans still have ahead of us.
We are not post-racial. We are not colorblind.
And acknowledging and addressing that is the only way we’ll ever defeat the racism that still runs deep in this country.
Nancy McDonald Ladd, the pastor at River Road, ordered a new vinyl sign after the first was vandalized.
It’s now hanging again outside the church: a message that matters.