This thought occurred to me while watching the first debate for the Democratic presidential candi- dates. When the debate moderators from CNN allowed a question from Facebook, a young man identified as Sterling Arthur Wilkins, Des Moines, Iowa, asked the candidates: “Do black lives matter, or do all lives matter?”
This question may have seemed like a no brainer (All lives matter – duh!) but I suspect the young man was trying to get at how sensitive the candidates are to the complaints about African Americans about being mistreated by police.
Almost every candidate caught the question’s nuance and chose A, black lives matter. Only Jim Webb – whose performance in the debate was widely panned and who, shortly thereafter dropped out of the race – flubbed it.
Do all lives matter? Of course, but the Black Lives Matter movement never said they didn’t. That has never been in dispute. It’s just not what the movement is focusing on. They are focusing attention where it’s needed, where it was not focused before.
To contend that it is somehow divisive to say that black lives matter, as many have done, is to miss the point and diminish the legitimate concerns of the movement. It has been very frustrating to me that so many seemingly smart people (Jim Webb is not the only presidential candidate) don’t understand that simple truth.
I believe Black Lives Matter opponents are engaging in what behavioral scientists refer to as “insensitive listening” – purposely misunderstanding someone by seizing on an overly literal interpretation of their statements.
Yes, I said purposely misunderstanding. As October moved on and I began hearing about various Breast Cancer Awareness Month events, it occurred to me that the month – and the lack of controversy about it – offers valuable perspective.
I’m not aware of any backlash to the fact that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I have never heard anyone say, “Hey, all diseases matter! It’s divisive to focus attention on one disease!” I’ve never heard anyone say, “Sure, breast cancer is a problem, but it doesn’t affect the vast majority of Americans! Why be so negative?”
Of course you haven’t heard those statements, because they would be ridiculous. Though I have heard complaints about an imbalance in research funding among the various diseases, no one would say that it’s wrong to focus attention on a legitimate and serious problem. I’ve never heard anyone say that it’s an insult to people with, say, Parkinson’s Disease to raise awareness about breast cancer.
If you value the voices of the Black Lives Matter movement – not the extreme fringe burning down stores and looting and saying cops should be killed, but the main voices in the movement – it should be easy to apply the reasoning for Breast Cancer Awareness Month to the Black Lives Matter movement.
By the way, I have had my attention focused on breast cancer like never before in the past year. I don’t know if it’s because my friends are getting older or just coincidence, but it seems like every other month, I was hearing about someone I knew being diagnosed with breast cancer. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, an estimated 230,000 women in the United States (and 2,350 men) are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and more than 40,000 people die.
This disease deserves whatever attention and resources we can devote to it, and I have been heartened seeing so many Americans get behind the goals of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and participate in the events. It’s a shame that we have so much easily avoidable conflict when we address some other problems.
Dan Holly is editor of Diversity MBA Magazine.