Why I Don't Say, "All Lives Matter."

by Tai Anderson, July 9, 2016

I have 6 kids. I affectionately refer to my 5 oldest children as my “bio kids.” We adopted our youngest child Kai. I know some folks still think of being adopted as some kind of *. I look at it like this; With our first 5 kids, we got what we got in a crazy little science project. We chose Kai, intentionally. That makes him special. Adoption is a difficult, beautiful thing.

My crazy kids.

My crazy kids.

Kai just so happens to have darker skin than the rest of my kids. His skin color is beautiful. It’s like a perfect caramel macchiato. He has African-American, Egyptian, and Caucasian ancestry. I don’t really think of our family as multi-racial, it’s just my family.  Crazy, beautiful, dysfunctional. A normal family. But, every now and then I catch a few raised eyebrows and sideways glances on a local shopping excursion. It’s really not a big deal.

Now, I’m well aware that adopting a single dark-skinned child does not somehow make me an enlightened expert on the African-American experience. However, I would like to think that it has made me decidedly more empathetic and tuned-in to racial issues in our country.

When George Zimmerman took it upon himself to confront and kill Trayvon Martin despite the instruction of the 911 operator not to do so, I seemed to perceive the situation differently than the majority of my suburban peers. I tried to take a post-racial view. How is it ever acceptable for an armed adult to initiate a confrontation with an innocent, unarmed minor that results in the child’s death?

Doesn’t carrying a gun for self-defense come with a responsibility to not initiate confrontations that would result in potential conflict?

When the jury rendered a “not guilty” verdict, I felt like I had just a little more understanding of the frustration of the African-American community, even though I’ve never personally experienced that kind of despicable racial profiling myself. Would it have been the same verdict if Trayvon had been a white child? Are black male youth unfairly targeted? It sure feels like it. As a marketer, I live by the mantra that “perception is reality.

In Trayvon, I saw my son. When he walks through our neighborhood, is he more at risk? Statistically, I have no data to add. But, it sure feels like it. When he becomes a driver, will he be more at risk of DWBs? (Driving While Black.) It sure feels like he will. All of my African-American friends have stories of being pulled over and questioned in situations where it sure seems like there only suspicious activity was operating a motor vehicle with darker pigmentation.

Perception is reality!

I do know this: My kids like to get out of the house and play around the neighborhood. When my bio kids go out and play, I’ve never received a call from a neighbor. When Kai goes out to play, it’s not uncommon for me to receive multiple texts that Kai is “wandering” around the neighborhood. Are my neighbors racist? No, that’s an unfair leap. However, do white people unconsciously project suspicion on African-Americans in majority white neighborhoods. If we’re honest, I’d think we say we do.

This has been a hard, crazy week. Philando Castile’s death has really hit me hard. Again, I try to start with a non-racial perspective. How could a police officer shoot a man in his car with a child in the backseat? Isn’t the responsibility of the police to de-escalate situations, not escalate them? Shouldn’t wearing a badge and carrying a gun come with  an increased responsibility not to ever discharge that weapon unless absolutely necessary? Why are there not more practical police mandates like loading your first 2 bullets in your gun with rubber bullets? Why don’t police officers reach for non-deadly tools of incapacitation like stun guns before using deadly force? I don’t begin to know the answers, but I hope that every police department in our nation is examining their training protocols and “use of deadly force” rules of engagement.

Then, there was the despicable Dallas shootings of police officers protecting the #blacklivesmatter protestors. Once again, my heart was broken. Don’t people realize that assuming a police officer is racist is just as despicable as assuming an African-American is a criminal? Doesn’t everyone understand that police have dangerous jobs, deserve our respect, and our vastly under-appreciated? Violence is not the answer, and respecting police and recognizing that the African-American community have legitimate grievances should not be mutually exclusive.

Over these last few years, I’ve been just as likely as anyone to respond to the #blacklivesmatter movement with #alllivesmatter. I think it's the go-to Caucasian response. However, I now know that to do so undermines the sentiment and experience from which the movement was born. I've changed my perspective, and I want to help change yours too.

This article really helped me get a better understanding of why “all lives matter” is demeaning to the African-American community. The resulting commentary is borderline plagiarism, but I wanted to make the metaphor personal.

One of the challenges of a big family is it’s logistically difficult for us all to sit at the dinner table at the same time. Imagine this scenario; What if we only had 5 seats at our table for our 6 children. Then, imagine that everyone was able to sit at the table except Kai, who we made eat standing up. There was no rotation. Everyone sat at the table except Kai for every meal. Eventually Kai might express that “it’s not fair.” He would ask for a seat at the table. Perhaps Kai would start to feel like he wasn’t allowed to sit at the table because of the color of his skin. If I responded with “everyone should be able to sit at the table,” but then did nothing to accommodate him, it would be a pretty lousy response. I’d be a pretty crappy dad. It would never happen in my family because the bio kids would never allow this to happen. My other children would get up from the table and offer Kai their seat. After all, they are brothers and sisters.

Kai asking for a seat at the table is an assertion that he wants to be treated like a valued member of the family. His identifying that he feels left out because of the color of his skin is not a perception to be undermined. Perception is reality. If I declared that Kai doesn’t get a chair because he’s the youngest, that is meaningless if Kai perceives that his “otherness,” his “blackness,” is the reason he isn’t allowed to sit with the rest of the family. Perception is reality.

When the African-American community asserts that #blacklivesmatter it’s because they genuinely perceive that they have not been allowed a seat at the table. Can any of us deny that their perception is well-founded in the racial narrative our nation has told since its inception? Our response as the majority white population should not be to say that #alllivesmatter. Instead, those of us that have always had a seat at the table should take the first step. We should stand up for our dark-skinned brothers and sisters and agree that their lives matter too.

It's time for all us to sit at the same table and break bread together as a family.