5 years later, professor’s powerful message remains relevant

By Rodney D. Coates, director of Black World Studies and professor in the Department of Global and Intercultural Studies
Rodney D. Coates
Rodney D. Coates

I wrote this brief essay five years ago, and I am saddened that it is still accurate. I look forward to the day when I can retire it and write of our victories and how we made it through these troubled waters. Until then, stay woke and stay engaged. Because Black Lives “Still” Matter.

Across the country – from Baltimore to Oakland, from Ferguson to Cincinnati, from New York to New Orleans – one can hear the refrain “Black Lives Matter.” “Of course,” you say, “yes, we concur.” It’s almost trivial to assert the value, dignity and significance of any lives, not to mention those who are Black.

But as we listen to the chants, and the attention being directed at police, as yet another young Black male dies – we cannot but wonder why we need to have this conversation. It’s obvious – isn’t it? Maybe not. Maybe we are so caught up in a world of selfies and narcissism that we fail to see past our last post, text or groupie.

If, however Black lives do matter, then it is not because they are Black but that they are lives. Our very humanity requires that we recognize this. And in so doing, we should be clear that the issue should not have to wait to be resolved at the end of a police revolver, nor should it have to wait for the press, the protests or the collective guilt to reach us that we recognize that the problem is neither Black, nor is it necessarily one of policing. Rather, it is one that strikes at the very root of our existence – and it has a name – self-worth. We just might conclude that not only Black, but Hispanic and Native American lives also mattered.

If Black, Hispanic and Native American lives mattered, then we might just conclude that they should matter enough that we demand that the abysmal dropout rates affecting persons of color in our schools, both locally and nationally, should matter.

If these lives mattered we would hold our schools accountable and, in the process, hold teachers and parents accountable, and hold communities accountable. We would recognize that absent education and training, these youths are essentially dead on arrival. We would insist that for our kids, our future, that failure is just not an option. That is if indeed they mattered.

If Black, Hispanic and Native American lives mattered, we would condemn our 30-year war on drugs which systematically singled out Blacks, Native Americans and Hispanics, particularly males for differential surveillance, criminalization and incarceration.

If these lives mattered we would reopen the cases, release those thousands that were inappropriately sentenced under our archaic drug laws, paid restitutions and readmitted within society.

If these lives mattered, we would look at the neonatal and postnatal condition in which, Hispanic Native American and Black infants who are more likely to die prior to term, die during delivery or not survive past their second birthday. If these lives mattered we might challenge the almost 50% chance of teens and young adults being unemployed or underemployed.

In so doing, we might conclude these problems are systemically linked – that from the cradle to the grave – Native American, Hispanic and Black lives are dismissed, marginalized and delegitimized. If they mattered, maybe, just maybe we would systematically – from cradle to grave – dismantle the structures that account for the death and demise of all too many of our fellow humans. That is if indeed we believed that they mattered. And then, maybe we will not have to discover that these lives matter as another young life is cut short.

Dr. Coates originally published this essay in 2015 in NewBlackMan (in Exile). The essay has been published with minimal edits.

Rodney D. Coates is director of Black World Studies and a professor in the Department of Global and Intercultural Studies at Miami University. He can be reached at coatesrd@MiamiOH.edu.

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