The Roots of “Matter” in “Black Lives Matter”

Geeking out for a bit, I’m interested in the language aspect of the “XYZ lives matter” discussion. For example I always heard an implicit “too” at the end of “Black Lives Matter”, where others seem to have suspected an implicit “more”. But would “Black Lives Matter Too” have the same electricity as a rallying meme…or would it sound like a Michael Bay movie sequel?

[Edit: Apparently the “too” is not just my imagination, but addressed on the official Black Lives Matter website: “Contained within the statement is an unspoken but implied ‘too’, as in ‘black lives matter, too,’ which suggests that the statement is one of inclusion rather than exclusion.”]

And then there’s the whole mapping of words to meaning. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” uses “matter” to mean having value, being worth respect and compassion and dignity like any other life. But what a way to say it!

The word “matter” was imported to the USA from Latin by the European colonial powers that permanently changed the fate of Africa and Africans: the English, the French and the Portuguese.

The word “matter”, like African-Americans themselves, was transplanted and redefined before coming to America. Americans get it from the English, who took from the French, who took it from the Latin to mean timber and then any building material.

But the fascinating thing here is that the European “matter” comes from the Latin “mater” — mother (the tree or trunk being a root of a renewable building material). Mother. Origin. The beginning of something.

So when I look at the phrase and movement of “Black Lives Matter”, I’m seeing the history of humanity: cultural and biological.

Culturally, there’s the struggle to create a system of values and laws where we work together, protect one another, and enhance one another’s quality of life.

Biologically, what is modern humanity but the descendents of the first humans in Africa? For a global society that prides itself on technology — from cell phones to artificial limbs to singing toilets — what can be more celebrated than the first recorded tool-making and sharing? That also happened in Africa.

And in the midst of that culture and biology is a whole lot of chaos. Politics, hope and despair, love and hate, truth and ignorance, peace and violence, etc. One person may take BLM to justify a peaceful protest, and another may take it as the Furies’ call to bloody murder.

So there’s *nothing* about that means that the “Black Lives Matter” movement is inherently inauthentic, invalid, inappropriate, wrong, etc. It is exactly what it needs to be at exactly the time it is needed.

But that also means that while “Black Lives Matter” as a political movement belongs to its members and organizers, who alone have the right to define what that movement stands for, it also means that the *concept* of “Black Lives Matter” belongs to everyone and so everyone has a say in what it means to them.

Long live the human race.

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