Certainly, supporters of President Trump at a recent rally in Nevada were right when they vehemently chanted, “All lives matter!” Relevant to this incontrovertible declaration, I propose a thoughtful recall of our country’s history of acting on an alternate meaning of the word, “all” — alternate, that is, to the standard dictionary definition of “everybody; each and every one.”
To begin, “Black” was not included in Thomas Jefferson’s use of the word,“all,” when he wrote, in the 1776 Declaration of Independence, “all men are created equal,” since the majority of Blacks in the colonies at that time were subjugated as slaves.
Taking a look at the U.S. Constitution ratified in 1787, we find the provision that a Black person would count as 3/5 of a person for purposes of determining a state’s allotted number of Congressional representatives — even though the representatives would be elected by White-only voters. This bizarre stipulation may well provoke a recall of the words painted on the barn in Orwell’s Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
The inaccurate use of the word, “all,” continues. As an elementary school student in the 1950’s, this writer daily and naively recited the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, including the words, “with liberty and justice for all.” But “Black” was not included in that “all” either. I later learned that, even as I mouthed those words, Blacks were being denied equal access to jobs, housing, education, and justice under the law, and that Black adults were being denied their right to vote. I remember the anger and feeling of betrayal I felt as the reality dawned on me that I had been taught to recite a lie.
From national news reports and, closer to home, from discussions in this newspaper over Rappahannock’s July peace and justice gathering in support of the assertion that “black lives matter,” it seems that Americans still haven’t come together around the need to explicitly and verifiably correct our intended meaning when we use the word, “all.”
A way to start this healing process is by acknowledging that, because for so long “Black” has not been included in the American “all,” it’s past time to proclaim it, unequivocally. Asserting that “Black lives matter,” is an effort to do that. When we succeed in righting our definition of “all” — and actions at local, state and national levels, show that we have succeeded — it will finally be time for Americans to unite around the single, true, and sufficient declaration that, “All lives matter!”
The writer lives in Sperryville.
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