Should Black Lives Matter?: What have we learned?

Friday, September 4, 2015

Portrait of Na'im Maydum.

By Na’im Madyun, Associate Dean of Undergraduate, Diversity & Equity College of Education & Human Development

I always enjoyed that day in school when one of my kids began to first learn about patterns. Their pattern was always the same.

“Dad, we’re learning about ‘patterrens’ at school.” 


“Yes, pat-turns,” he or she would state as if teaching me the word.

After the quick enunciation lesson, the young educational explorer would begin to discover the various patterns in our home that were formerly invisible to all. I admittedly looked for moments to challenge the validity of their elementary discoveries to maintain the social order of the home. However, what I’ve always liked about that applied education day was their entrance into a world of order, logic, balance, and precedent. We tend to operate best when there is order and logic in the world around us, when there is balance in our lives and we are aware of the preceding events that inform our current context.

I recently saw the Imitation Game a film about Alan Turing’s role in cracking German intelligence codes during WWII. Despite the immediacy of death to others and threats to his own security, Turing insisted that the best way to address the surrounding madness was to organize a way to identify the opposition’s patterns of operation. After an incredible amount of time, energy, and money was used to finally identify the correct pattern, a pivotal scene captures the ethically rich, climatic question of: Now what?

Last year, I wrote a commentary on the August 2014 events of Ferguson, MO.

After days of unrest, on August 14, 2015, The State of Emergency in Ferguson was lifted. Lifting the state of emergency in Ferguson was a declaration that order had been restored, danger was no longer imminent, and the disaster became less disastrous. 

However, have the debates, the deaths, and the debates about the deaths lessened? Is the state of emergency for Black lives over? What do the patterns tell us? 

The one-year anniversary of the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson was preceded by:

  1. 60 deaths of unarmed Black males by the hands of the police
  2. A growing Black Lives Matter movement that reached our own Mall of America
  3. Heritage vs. hatred debates over the Confederate flag
  4. A rich debate on the relevance of race in campus crime alerts

The pain our kids feel is still insufficiently addressed, and somehow a poem that was written 80 years ago about “Kids Who Die” seems to capture the world of the kids who are living today.

The chant “Black Lives Matter” is too often followed by an unnecessarily counter chant of “All Lives Matter,” as if to suggest, almost subconsciously, that Black Lives are being unfairly elevated to an undeserved status in society. If someone truly believed that All Lives Matter, why would one bristle at the focus on a particularly endangered life? Whether devilish or angelic in their disposition and or expression, if a formerly missing and exploited child “surfaced” and began to chant, ”I am somebody,” would we respond with, “isn’t every child?”

My children are sharing with me more and more about their elementary discoveries of patterns for Black males while “we” continue to challenge the validity of their experiences. Whether we agree on all the details, we must admit that we are in the midst of a strong, social pattern. Now what?


University Affiliation: 

I truly appreciate the insight and the questions you are posing Na'im. My kids ask many direct questions about what they see and experience around equity and diversity in their elementary classroom. Questions that are so central to my daily life. Questions that are central to my work at the University. Questions I should be asking myself but I find easier to ignore. Questions that I need to address for not my children but my society.

University Affiliation: 

thank you for your comment. I'm working to not ingore these questions also. It's not easy. The ignoring can be sometimes worse than ignorance, especially when the answers might be central to our daily lives and the lives of those that connect to us. Your reflection reminds of one of the reasons I wrote the post..honest conversations with our children. thank you, again.


"Perspectives" stories are the views and opinions of their authors and do not necessarily reflect any official position of the University of Minnesota.