Whose Lives Matter?

Which statement is most consistent with your worldview:  Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter?

Do all lives matter?  When that question is asked today, we assume that the topic is related to the people killed by police.  As significant as issues related to policing are today in the United States, asking if all lives matter should draw up to a range of issues.

Among all racial groups in the United States, life expectancy is lowest for Black men.  Life expectancy among Black men is 71.8 years.  The longest life expectance rates in the US are among white women:  81.3 years.  What do these figures indicate about whose lives matter?

What about the rates of people living in poverty?  Native Americans living on reservations face a poverty rate of 39%.  For Blacks, the poverty rate is 26%.  And whites? 9%.  Whose lives matter?

Similar statistics can be found on other measures of quality of life, like access to health care and access to education and good quality schools.  Consistently, Native Americans and Blacks score lowest on all measures that can be used to answer the question:  do all lives matter?  The clear answer is that all lives are not given the same value in American society.

This should not be surprising to anyone in the United States who is familiar with the history of the country.  The Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock did not profess equality for all people. Rooted in Calvinism, they held a firm belief in predestination:  by God’s will, only some lives mattered and they would be saved.  The Anglicans who established a settlement at Jamestown were different, but no better. It was the Cavaliers, the young sons of the English gentry, who came to the New World to establish a feudal system of lords and peasants.  When 17th century English peasant farmers could not be persuaded to come to the American colonies for an indentured life on Southern plantations, African slaves were introduced as the most appropriate workers for the field.  For the Cavaliers who began settlements in the South, only some lives mattered: those of the white gentry.

Today, while we profess a belief that all people are equal, it is clear that some are “more equal than others,” to quote George Orwell.  Access to government, the tax structure, and so many other aspects of American society benefit the wealthy and illustrate that some lives matter more than others.

While this topic has clear political ramifications, it is also deeply spiritual.  How do we view others and their worth?  Are we willing to consider that our view of others has been culturally shaped by values of racism and classism?  Do our actions and beliefs convey unexamined assumptions that some lives matter more than others?

Ultimately, because my worldview is shaped by the Judeo-Christian belief that all people are created in God’s image and likeness and that we are all children of God, I affirm that all lives matter.  But because “Black lives” and “Native American lives” have not been equally included in American culture, it’s critical for me to affirm that Native American lives and Black lives matter.  What is happening to those marginalized in society should be of concern for us all.


How does your spiritual practice enable you to work for the benefit of those marginalized in our society?


Photo credit: vpickering via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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One Response to Whose Lives Matter?

  1. Jane Thorley Roeschley says:

    A helpful insight to me, heard at a Black Lives Matter meeting, is that when we see a “Save the Whales” sign, we don’t automatically assume that it means we need don’t also value all other marine life. It means “the whales are under threat and we need to deal with the problem”. That’s how we can view Black Lives Matter without overlaying it with all lives matter.

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