Do we really truly believe that all lives matter?
For nearly a year tensions have been rising all over the country over incident after incident that involved white police officers and black men or women. Out of that tension grew a movement called #blacklivesmatter. And as quickly as #blacklivesmatter surfaced the rebuttal came with #alllivesmatter.
Over the last few weeks we have been talking about the value and worth of humans who we would like to “fix,” who are stuck in addiction, and who have been incarcerated. Last week, I challenged you in considering what your role is in loving the orphans in your community. All of these groups tug at our hearts as people who we can find hard to love. I am sure I have stepped on some toes during that time and I will warn you, I am going to do the same in this post as we lean into the tension of how we love our neighbors when our neighbors don’t look like, act like, or sometimes talk like us.
I want to ask us a very serious question and I hope that you won’t take this lightly.
Do you really believe that all lives matter?
I’ll ask you again to make sure you let the depth, the immensity of the question rest on your chest.
Do you really believe that ALL lives matter?
I think the intention of the rebuttal was honestly in opposition to the original declaration of a people who felt unheard, voiceless to the masses, and challenged with the status quo. And the only way they could make a movement happen was to start one themselves, even if it was layered with tension. They had to declare to themselves and anyone else that was willing to read it, hear it and feel it…BLACK LIVES MATTER.
(Note: Most people don’t realize that Black Lives Matter actually started as a peaceful movement. Here is a citation from Wikipedia: Black Lives Matter (BLM) is an international activist movement, originating in the African-American community, that campaigns against violence and systemic racism toward black people. BLM regularly protests police killings of black people and broader issues of racial profiling, police brutality, and racial inequality in the United States criminal justice system. For more information click here.)
And it came about because, by their perceptions, they did not. Matter.
If I am honest about the world I see around me, I have to agree. Because I truly am of the opinion, that as much as we’d like to hide behind and feel good about this other hashtag (#alllivesmatter), I don’t really think that we truly believe all lives matter.
I know, I know. I’ve already offended you and we aren’t even 500 words into this blog post. But bare with me, because I have a point. However, I know I have to strike a balance here. I am passionate about this folks. Extremely passionate. So passionate I have taken several weeks to pray about this post before I decided to write it. I also have to confess that I am a recovering approval addict (yes, there is a blog post brewing about that too) and so everything in me wants you to agree with me and at the end of this post I want us to all be friends. But I am afraid that may not be the case, as far as agreeing, but I do hope I have done a good enough job that you can still respect me and my opinion by the end.
So here is the deal. I never realized how racist I truly was until a friend of mine, a black friend of mine, put me in a position where for the first time ever, I was in a room filled with black people and I was the only white person. It was at that moment that what she had said to me only a few weeks before rang in my ears…
“As a white person, you never think about the color of your skin. You never have to, the majority of the people have the same skin color as you. But as a black person, we are always aware. Because more often than not, we are the only black person in the room.”
And it was at that point I finally got it. It clicked inside of me. I would have never admitted it to someone, not ever, but it was at that moment that I realized as much as I wanted to say I was “color blind,” that color didn’t matter, that we were all created in God’s image I realized, I did not REALLY feel that way. In that group I was the one who was different. I was the minority and I didn’t like it. I was uncomfortable and I was ashamed of it.
But the admission of this opened up the door. This very dear friend of mine, who just happened to be black, allowed me the space I needed to ask questions. She allowed me the room to learn how she felt, what her life was like, and how, though we were the same, we were also very, very different. And that was good, because it was in that space that we could learn from one another. Who am I kidding, it was where I could stumble, mess up, be forgiven and through grace she loved me anyway.
Was there ever a time that I thought her life or the life of any of those people in that room didn’t matter? Well, no. They are humans, of course they matter, but when faced with the tension, our differences became apparent and my paradigm had to shift.
And it was at that point that I knew I had to open my mind to understand more. So I immersed myself in her life and the life of another woman in my office who was also black so that I could learn, understand, and grow my love for people that I finally was willing to admit were different than me.
So I think when we casually say, as white people, “ALL lives matter” we have yet had the opportunity to really walk in the shoes of the person who feels like their life is different. What would it be like for you to consider what their life might be like and how different it is from yours? Now some of you may be thinking…but I am not racist. I don’t see people or their color.
To you I ask these questions:
- When was the last time you read a book by an author of a different race or different ethnicity?
- When was the last time you watched a movie with the entire cast a different color than your own skin?
- How do you feel when those of a different race than yours talk about their challenges? Do you want to defend or are you willing to listen?
- Have you ever been in a room where you were the minority? How did you feel? What emotions were evoked inside of you?
- Have you ever attended a church, organizational meeting, or school where everyone was a different color than the color of your skin?
- When have you had a conversation with someone of another race to understand their perspective?
I know this is hard and I ask you these questions because I myself have been asked many of these questions and had to search my heart to find out what existed within it. And since I have vowed to be honest, the truth is, what was there was not pretty. Even after years of truly trying to seek understanding, of attending conferences that focus on racial reconciliation, and becoming passionate over loving my neighbor (no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or sin) depending on when I was asked, I was challenged with many of these to the point of not being able to offer any answers.
So I want you to consider this. The black lives matter movement, yes has gotten heated at times because people are broken and broken people act broken which equates to poor choices, unchecked anger, and unfortunately in the case of too many…murder. But do not let the few, outweigh what our brothers and sisters are trying to share with us.
Their movement is no different than ALS. Both of them are trying to wake us up to people who need to be heard, who need help, and are trying to find healing. Both very different causes in their own rights, but yet we spilled freezing cold water over our heads for one and persecuted the other.
So here is what I believe. If we truly believed ALL lives matter…mass incarceration would not exist in our country as it does. We would not have a school to prison pipeline from the inner cities where so many black and other minorities live.
(And let me just be clear because I know this is a hot topic with what Donald Trump said the other night at the debate, not all the poor are black and not everyone who lives in the inner cities is black, I am just making a point).
If we truly believed that ALL lives matter black men would not be the largest population in the US in prison. And prisons would not be built in mainly white, rural areas where they become the main employer for the community so that job security means more prisoners.
And before you try to start rationalizing these statistics, also consider this:
Since the early 1970s, the United States prison population has quadrupled to 2.2 million. It is the largest prison population in the world. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, China is number two at 1.7 million people, Iran is number 8 at 217,000 people, and the United Kingdom is number 17 at 85,000. (1)
Let’s face it, the system is broken and if our hearts don’t break over the inhumanity of our country’s justice system, we need to ask ourselves if our hearts are truly in alignment with the heart of God.
More than 60% of the people in prison today are people of color. Black men are nearly six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are 2.3 times as likely. For black men in their thirties, 1 in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day.(2)
If we truly believed that ALL lives matter, we would not even have a term called “white flight” where white people are moving from the city to seek out the suburbs because of the minority populations moving in.
If we as a country truly believed that ALL lives matter, schools in the inner-city that educate many minorities would not be closing at such a high rate. Part of the reason this is happening is because of the movement out of urban areas which in some cases have become food desserts, industrial wastelands, and where unemployment rates skyrocket. If no one can afford to pay taxes, there is no funding to keep the schools open.
So what do we do?
I think the first thing we need to do is to realize we don’t know as much as we think we do about another race. Until we have walked thousands of miles in their shoes, we have no idea what it is like to live as a minority in our country.
Second, we need to stop assuming we know what “they” need to do. The challenge with an issue like this is that it is layered, complex, and spanning too many years, with too much history. In fact, it’s so in depth, it can almost feel overwhelming.
Third, do not allow yourself to be overwhelmed. That is just a ploy of the enemy to keep us from doing the right thing.
Fourth, do the right thing. Start with you. Inventory your heart, read through those questions again and answer them honestly. If you have no, brief, or vague answers accept that and then change it. If you have not read a book by an author of another color, pick one up. One of my favorite black authors is Dr. John Perkins, you can purchase his books on Amazon, but here is one I particularly like called With Justice for All. I am currently reading a great book by Brenda Salter McNeil called Roadmap to Reconciliation another great one to check out.
Fifth, now that you have gotten proper perspective ask questions and actively listen more than you talk. This is not a time to defend, it’s a time to hear. That is why I say, actively listen. Do not tune out when a perspective is shared that you do not agree with or start to debunk that perspective in your head. Just listen solely for the purpose of understanding someone else’s perspective and that is all. We are called to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18), not defenders of our opinions.
Sixth, love. Let every word, every action, every thought be guided by love. Love for our neighbor. No matter what the color of the skin. LOVE should be our highest priority as Christians. Not everyone is going to be at the same place with this issue. Love them anyway. Not everyone is going to see eye to eye. Love them anyway. Not everyone is going to act the way you want them to act. Love them anyway.
Seventh, realize that this process is going to take patience and the only way you can achieve that is through God. Which means you are going to need to be praying, without ceasing. Perhaps you begin with “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14
Because here is the thing…Black lives DO matter and it is up to us, as believers, to lead the way in letting them know we believe that.
Now that you have consider this point of view, how do you feel about making the statement “all lives matter?”