by Nathalie EDmond, PsyD, RYT-500
Who knew that three words could be filled with so much emotion. ALL LIVES MATTER. At face value the phrase seems obvious to be true. It seems like a value I would teach my bi-racial kids from an early age. As a yogi I call on ancient sacred texts that have universal messages in it about all humans being connected on an energetic level. Sitting in a therapy room I think all lives matter and I have to also understand what that phrase means in our country. All lives matter is based on white supremacy. What is white supremacy? It is the foundation of this country.
Robin DiAngelo says “white supremacy captures the all-encompassing centrality and assumed superiority of people defined and perceived as white, and the practices based upon that assumption”. If we look at history we see that the United States is based on that. Colonists escaped Europe to escape persecution and to create a better life for themselves and their families. One of the fundamental assumptions of the nation that was founded on the land of indigenous people was the right to enslave black people to build wealth. The first slave ships arrived in 1619. Originally there were indentured servants (white people) who had to serve a certain amount of time before they could be free and enslaved people (black people) who had to serve a life sentence. When there started to be resistance about this system the notion of whiteness was created that indentured servants could strive to achieve which came privileges such as the right to own land and have their own slaves. Over the centuries we see the exclusion and persecution of other European ethnic groups until they legally were given the designation of whiteness with all its related privileges.
So if we look at history the phrase ALL LIVES MATTER is coded language for all white lives matter because the United States has always seen Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) lives as less than white. White is the ideal in which laws, clothes, media, education, economics are based. White privilege comes from this system of white supremacy. There have been many laws and policies over the years that affirm the notion that whiteness is ideal. Policing was created during slavery to return runaway slaves to their masters and has a history of enforcing racist policies that view black lives as animals, savages, super predators, lazy, dangerous, 3/5 of a (white) person.
Segregation and Jim Crow laws had clear messages that black people were not as good as white people and should be separated. Redlining and discriminatory lending impacted housing in the 1900s as well as unequal access to the GI bill. After the Civil War, states could create barriers to allowing black people the access to vote which continues today. The Civil Rights Act made significant progress to change some racist policies but didn’t do anything to change the hearts and minds of individuals. Where did all those racist ideas of black people being inferior go. They went underground. Racism was then often talked about in coded language. The “war on drugs” began which was the beginning of the new jim crow which we now call mass incarceration. Many scholars talk about mass incarceration which disproportionately impacts black and latinx lives through racist policies and sentencing laws as a new form of slavery that strips humans of their rights for life which was encoded in to the 13th amendment.
We never fully owned our racist history the way Germany has owned the holocaust. We don’t center the enslavement of black people for hundreds of years in our history books. We moved to colorblindness which is a nice sentiment but doesn’t do justice to the fact that BIPOC individuals are treated differently than white people. There is a huge wealth gap between white individuals and black and latinx people. There is a higher percentage of kids of color who are suspended and expelled in schools (instead of counseled) than white students. There is a higher proportion of black people dying during COVID. 1 in 3 black men will be incarcerated in comparison to 1 in 17 white men. There is a history of police brutality and excessive use of force towards black people which leads to the death of black people. We can either learn that there are racist policies based on white supremacy operating or say that there is something fundamentally wrong with the Black community that causes them to be inferior.
Black Lives Matter is a cry to look at our collective history. To address hundreds of years of inequity and the anti-blackness culture that is the foundation of this country. It is not anti-police; it is not promoting violence. It simply is saying Black Lives Matter too and we have to make changes to make the phrase ALL LIVES MATTER truly matter on an individual and systemic level. The system of white supremacy persists because we don't lean into the pain of our racist history and the legacy that leaves across generations and in our daily lives. Learn more by checking out Dr. Edmond’s video on white supremacy or check out one of her anti-racism workshops. Learn more about Dr. Nathalie Edmond, a licensed clinical psychologist, yoga teacher, and anti-racism educator.
Nathalie Edmond is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of trauma from a mindfulness based and somatic approach. She is also a yoga teacher and anti-racism educator. She lives with her family in New Jersey.