Marc Perry: Do black lives matter? Events in history and today suggest the answer is 'no'

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Marc Perry
January 27, 2015

For months, we've seen the signs across the country: “Black lives matter.” After a year of unprecedented gun violence in Beloit, the community where I was born and raised, and after a long list of young black men dying across the country for reasons that cannot be rationalized nor justified, I find myself asking the question: Do black lives matter?

Despite the signs and protests, we keep sending the message that black life is devalued. Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin are just a few recent examples that black lives have always been taken in this country at an alarming rate. Thousands of African men, women and children were unceremoniously pushed over the sides of slave ships and left to drown, their skeletal remains lying at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Thousands of black men, women and children hung from trees in public parks and town squares, while families held picnics and delighted as the children threw rotten eggs and rocks at bodies rendered lifeless. An unarmed young man was shot 37 times in his own doorway after just trying to get home to bed. A young black man lies dead in the street as another young black man flees the scene, their lives destroyed.

Blacks endured 3½ centuries of forced servitude, of being bought, sold, bred and slaughtered like cattle; decades of the American Apartheid known as Jim Crow; and years of housing discrimination, employment discrimination, mass incarceration and educational disparities. So I struggle these days to answer that question affirmatively. In my heart, I know that every black life, every life, matters. However, when I study this country's history and bear witness to modern-day genocide in my own backyard, how can I answer that question “yes”?

The systemic devaluing of black life has so permeated the way we relate to each other in this country that now we have an epidemic of young black men taking each other's lives. We have engrained the belief in our young black men that they don't matter. We label them, we fail to educate and employ them, and we continually treat them like animals in a cage. We use words such as thug and gangbanger, savage and animal. We do our best to label them as something else and distance ourselves from them.

So how can we expect young black men to value themselves? How can we expect a young black man to value the life of the young black man in front of him? We don't value young black men anymore. We fear them.

Black lives will continue to be lost until we stop fearing our young black men, stop labeling them as something other than human and bring them back to our church pews, our classrooms, our places of employment and our homes. We must help young black men see the value in themselves and open our eyes, ears and hearts so we, too, see their value.

Until that happens, the violence will continue.

Marc Perry is director of community programs at Community Action Inc. of Rock & Walworth Counties, 20 Eclipse Center, Beloit, WI 53511. Phone 608-313-1338; email [email protected]; website community-action.org.

This is the third in a series of five occasional columns Perry is writing for The Gazette in hopes that those who are blind to the impact of race will, through his eyes, be able to see.

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