black lives matter too!

By Daniel W. McGraw, Ed.D.

On Sunday, July 26, I joined a group of people on the lawn in front of the Town Hall in Ashland to discuss ways to improve our community. Noah Peterson had organized this group under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter. He placed signs, encouraged masks, respected social distancing, and had water available in the shade of a few trees. It was pleasant until a man, who seemed agitated, approached.

He demanded to see a permit. His volume escalated from a soft talk to nearly shouting. “Do you know what you are supporting,” he said. “Read the website; they are Marxists… Communists… their Socialist ideas are trying to brainwash everyone…” I had heard enough and interrupted him to ask one question before I would listen to any more of his opinions. It took several minutes before he calmed down enough to listen to my question. This man was genuinely agitated by the idea that a group of people was peacefully gathering to discuss community improvement next to the sign, “Black Lives Matter.”

“Sir,” I said. “I have not read all of the websites and documents to which you are referencing, but I can say this: I honor the ideals of the United States by the presence of our Flag (I was wearing an American Flag facemask). Does that mean that I have to support EVERYTHING that was EVER done under the banner of this Flag? Or, can we agree that the Flag stands for Freedom, even though there are many people both in this country and abroad who may say that the Flag (and even the National Anthem) represents oppression and tyranny?” He responded with, “I see your point… but do you know the history of this movement?” Since we were at a standstill, I encouraged him to have a conversation with me about his concerns at another time, and we could talk more after I read the things he referenced, but now was not the time. He agreed and left.

I do not know why the #BlackLivesMatter sign triggered him. However, I can go through a few points that he attempted to make. First, no one needs a “permit” to gather with friends/ neighbors on public property during daylight hours in Hanover County. Second, after the encounter, I did read through the blacklivesmatter.com website. I did not see anything that suggested the claims the man had made. It annoys me that so many people make false claims and then demand that other people disprove them. That is not how facts and laws work. The accuser must provide the evidence. Even if the website had communist or socialist undertones (which it did not), other thoughts would have arisen: Namely, it is just one website, out of many BLM movements, and the United States already has communist and socialist undertones in its tax structure, policing, public schools and housing, etc. (So what is the “revolution” he is referencing?). 

I dug deeper and watched some clips from activists from the past. I watched many of James Baldwin’s presentations. An interesting one is a conversation he has with a Yale professor who claimed that in 1969 the conditions of Black and Brown people were the same as White people. I read about many violent acts that were inflicted upon people of color. I did the best that I could to understand all sides of what the #BlackLivesMatter movement means. I concluded that when black lives matter, all lives matter.

I am not going to defend my full support for #BlackLivesMatter. I acknowledge that all lives matter. No one needs that reminder; we need to be reminded that the values which are supposed to be “self-evident… all men are created equal” includes LGBTQ+, foreign residents, American citizens, healthy, sick, rich, poor, women, men, et al.  That reminder starts with #BLM.

Furthermore, I am not going to allow someone to dictate to me what my beliefs mean to me. The fact is Black Lives Matter too. And, until we come together as a nation recognizing the significant contributions that Africans have made to the growth of America (North, South, and Central), “all lives matter” or “blue lives matter” will not equate to “all men are created equal” as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. We must right the wrongs of Jim Crowe laws, redlining, incarceration and the many other oppression tactics that make people feel unsafe growing up Black.

Supporting Black and Brown lives does not mean that I or anyone else is anti-White or anti-Police or anti-whatever. My birth father is Black, and my mother is White. But, I grew up in a White household after my step-father adopted me when I was six-years-old (My birth father gave up his parental rights to me).  I can relate to the words of young Barrack Obama. Growing up White is very different from growing up Black. But it shouldn’t be this way. It is not that we should stop seeing color. Instead, we must embrace the many colors with which our nation has been blessed.

Finally, no one has a “right” to hijack the show. When I spend money to see a comedian, I am not there to hear a heckler or listen to other people talk while the performance is underway. The heckler is not the show, the comedian is. When I go to the movies, I expect people to be silent because I did not pay to listen to them. Thus, when I attended the Black Lives Matter Community event, organized by Noah Peterson, I was there to hear, feel, and understand the Black and Brown experiences. I was not there to listen to the counter-argument to #BlackLivesMatter. I was there and will continue to be there in support of the community, which I love.

Dr. Daniel W. McGraw is the chairman of the Hanover County Democratic Committee