Blue lives do exist, it’s called white supremacy

Friday, October 2, 2020

Graphic: Jolie Brownell
Blue Lives Do Exist, It’s Called White Supremacy

By Jolie Brownell

We chant: “BLACK LIVES MATTER.” They say, “no, ALL lives matter.” We say: “ABOLISH the police.” They say, “but wait, BLUE lives matter.” Perplexed, we respond: “No, blue lives don’t exist, that’s a job, not a life.” But I want to stop you there, because when we say that “blue lives do not exist” we are actually watering down and erasing the history of racial policing in the US.

To Be White is to Be a Cop

Blue lives, used here as an analogue to Black lives to mean “the lives of police,” do, in fact, exist. And no, I’m not talking about the Smurfs. 

It’s the early to mid-eighteenth century. US colonies are kidnapping, bringing over, and enslaving more Africans, thus increasing the Black slave population. This population increase causes paranoia, “suspicion and fear” among white people. To curb this fear of being overpopulated or overthrown by slaves, many colonies, Virginia being the first, institutionalize slave codes that instill racist laws around the rights—or lack of rights—of enslaved individuals and the rights of their slave masters. These codes, in essence, grant white slave owners complete control over slaves including “corporal punishment.” 

Slave patrols are the very root of today’s policing. During this time, slave patrols, a militia of mostly white men, were the ones who enforced these slave codes. The first patrols were formed in the Carolina colonies in 1704 and consisted of white people catching and punishing runaway slaves and committing other racist atrocities. In the eighteenth-century United States, to be white was to be given complete control over Black lives. To be white, was to be a cop. 

First Came the Right to Police, Then Came the Badge

The key point here is the fact that white people were given the right, institutionally sanctioned permission, to police Black bodies before there ever was an actual badge or “job” per se. 

In their new book, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, award-winning authors, activists and race scholars Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi expand on this. In the chapter “A Different Adam,” they hit on another fear of the white elite: the fear of poor whites and enslaved Black people uniting and working together to overthrow them. Reynolds writes:

They “knew if Blacks and Whites joined forces, [they’d] be done. Everything would be done. It would’ve been an apocalypse. So, [they] had to devise a way to turn poor whites and poor Blacks against each other, so that they’d be forever separated and unwilling to join hands and raise fists against the elite. And the way [they] did this was by creating (wait for it…) White privileges” (26-27).

Reynolds then explains how this white right to police Black bodies was one of the first cases of this white privilege:

“So White privileges were created, and, at this time, they included: 

  1. Only the white rebels were pardoned; legislators prescribed thirty lashes for any slave who lifted a hand ‘against any Christian’ (Christian now meant White). 

  2. All whites now wielded absolute power to abuse any African person. These are the two most important ones - poor whites wouldn’t be punished, but they could surely do the punishing.” 

Therefore, to be born white was to be given absolute power over Black bodies. To be born white was to essentially be given the birthright to police Black bodies. Again, to be white was to be a cop before there ever was a badge.

Does This Mean That Blue Lives Do, In Fact, Matter? 

Of course not. Think about it: which “blue lives” are they talking about when they say “blue lives matter”? Do Brown “blue lives” matter? Do Black “blue lives” matter? In the cases of Milton Green, Jemel Roberson, and other Black officers, they clearly do not. Therefore, here, Blue means white “Blue Lives Matter.” White is synonymous to blue. 

Blue Lives Matter, like All Lives Matter, has always been a counter-movement to silence the BLACK LIVES MATTER movement. Blue Lives Matter means white cops matter. That is the heart of this movement: White power matters. White policing of black bodies matter. White supremacy matters. 

This is why to say blue lives do not exist is to leave out the violent history of how white privilege was created in this country. It erases how very much of the creation of “whiteness” was the creation, dehumanization, and policing of “Blackness.”  The creation of whiteness is henceforth, synonymous with the policing of Blackness.

Once Again: Abolish The Police

Getting rid of cops, or heavily defunding and restructuring the entire system of policing, is definitely a goal, but it isn’t the end goal. Under a system of white supremacy, we can get rid of cops and Black and Brown people will still die. Therefore, the end goal is to dismantle the entire system of white supremacy. 

Ridding whiteness of supremacy is the goal. Ridding whiteness from the institutional power to police others is the goal.

This is the opinion of Jolie Brownell, a junior from Portland, OR.

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