I've never been so upset by such a small word before. In fact, when I sat on my couch, watching the Democratic Debate last week, my jaw about hit the floor when this question was asked, specifically with the use of the tiny, tiny word "or."
And before you jump to conclusions, let's be clear: asking about the Black Lives Matter movement is an incredibly important question to ask in this upcoming election. Institutional racism is a monumental problem in our country, one that has the ability to make the foundation of our society crumble. Even more so, police brutality towards black lives, in particular, is one of the greatest injustices of modern America. And it won't get any better by being quiet. It will only get better if we, the people of America, shout from the mountaintops and demand change from each other and from our leaders.
But the mere use of this little word--the conjunction "or"--revealed to me exactly what's wrong with modern-day American politics and the fact that our presidential elections have become an absolute circus act. With the asking of this question, in particular, we showed the world that American politics is about creating divides, setting people up to fail, and asking questions that cause us to run around in circles and pick up after ourselves, instead of building bridges that create actionable steps towards major problems in our country.
By asking the question, "Do black lives matter or do all lives matter?" we asked our candidates to choose between what this loaded question made out to be two opposing groups of people. It created a sharp distinction between "black lives" and "everyone else." Yes, we need to make all of our differences visible, and we need to celebrate the diversity that different races, sexualities, genders, and colors bring to our country. But along with that, we also need to ask questions that advocate for these different groups to work together, help to celebrate differences together, and elicit concrete solutions for how we can take on institutional racism on a federal level--together.
But the question "Do black lives matter or do all lives matter?" doesn't get us any closer to that.
"We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom," Bernie Sanders genuinely spoke, "and we need major, major reforms in a broken criminal justice system."
Michael O'Malley added, "The point that the black lives matter movement is making is a very, very legitimate and serious point and that is that as a nation, we have undervalued the lives of black lives--people of color. We have a lot of work to do to reform our criminal justice system and to address race relations in our country."
And while the most salient points were, in fact, made my Hillary Clinton, who managed to brilliantly and succinctly erase the divide between Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter, making this question about some of the major contributing factors to institutional racism--poverty, inequity, and the education system--and providing some concrete steps towards truly elevating the importance of black lives in our country, I was still left wondering how exactly we are going to achieve all of these incredibly important, but incredibly complex goals.
"President Obama has been a great moral leader on these issues and has laid out an agenda that has been obstructed by the Republicans at every turn...We've gotta do more about the lives of these children...we need to be committed to making it possible for every child to live up to his or her God-given potential. That is really hard to do if you don't have early childhood education, if you don't have schools that are able to meet the needs of the people, or good housing...We need a new 'New Deal' for communities of color."
As these answers show, this question, in particular, did little to move us forward. Yes, it stirred the pot, and this is most certainly a good thing, but it provided virtually no insights into how Sanders and O'Malley would actually make concrete steps towards solving this problem, and only mediocre insights, at best, into Hillary Clinton's approach to the problem of institutional racism.
We need to continue to elevate the discussion around Black Lives Matter, and we need to continue to do it by asking the important questions at these debates. But what I suggest, instead, is that we ask steps that will highlight how these candidates will make a change. Let's focus on building bridges and working together to solve problems, instead of creating further divides between the American people.
If these people on the stage are going to be leading our country--whether we like it or not--let's most certainly hold them accountable, but let's also set them up for success and give them the opportunity to tell us what they will do, not just that we have these problems in our country.