All Lives Matter?

“All lives matter.”  That sounds good doesn’t it.  It sounds good to me.  It sounds just, it sounds right, it sounds inclusive and appropriate.  It sounds like a thoughtful response to the chant “Black Lives Matter” that seems exclusive.

The problem is it misses the point.  It misses the point that Black Lives Matter founders and followers are trying to make.  It misses the point that white lives have always mattered in our culture.  From the beginning of our nation’s history there has never been any question about white lives mattering.  It isn’t an issue that needs addressing.  White lives have mattered a great deal for a very long time.  But the intrinsic value and created worth of Black lives and other lives of people of color, have not had that same history.  Therefore, the need to lift up their value is critical even as we lift up the ongoing mistreatment of Black lives even today in 2016.  Be it the mass incarceration of Black people, to a large extent based upon ongoing racist policies continued from the 1970’s or the profiling and violent treatment of black citizens that has always taken place, but is now coming to the attention of the public because it’s being captured on video.  Be it the systemic racism that continues to keep people of color economically disenfranchised, or the stereotyping that is done on a daily basis.  The situation for Black lives is clearly and profoundly disproportionately negative to white lives.

I heard recently what was for me a helpful metaphor for the point Black Lives Matter is seeking to make.  The image was of a meal with several white people gathered around the table with plates filled with food and a person of color also at the table with nothing on their plate.  The person of color says, “I’m hungry,” the others around the table with plates filled with food say, “well we’re hungry too.”

All lives will matter when black lives matter! 

I know this is hard to take as a white person.  I know we want to proclaim our innocence and deny our culpability.  We want to say we are not racist and we want everyone to be equal.  But for any of that to be true we must be willing to name our white privilege.  We must be willing to name the fact that too often police treat white people and black people differently.  Not every officer, not every department.  But there is a long history of profiling and too often violence and death that we cannot deny.  Almost every person of color could share a story about their experience of it if we were willing to listen.  And we must listen to those stories.  We must understand that our guilt, or our empathy isn’t enough.  Because at the end of the day, what it all comes down to is this; we (white people), can take or leave the struggle.  We can go home, as white people and choose whether to engage the conversation or the fight or not to.  We can go home to our plate of food and leave the issue behind.  Even the most justice minded among us always have that choice.  But people of color don’t.  They’re always, always, 24/7 the black skinned person being pulled over for a broken tail light.

I hate that 5 police officers were killed in Dallas this week.  I am appalled by it.  I don’t condone any violence towards any end.  It’s always wrong and it should always be condemned.  But while we mourn with the families of these officers we must keep in perspective that a call for justice, taken by a mentally unbalanced individual as somehow a call to commit horrific acts, does not negate the importance or appropriateness of the original call.

Friends, Black Lives Matter.  And all lives will matter when that statement is lived out in every area and in every aspect of our culture.


We all have a responsibility to call out Cultural Racism

I’ve just returned from an event honoring the legacy of Emmett Till.  I was invite to go to the event by a colleague on the Cabinet.  If you, like me, are not very familiar with Emmett Till’s story it is an incredible one.

Till, a 14 year old African American boy from Chicago, went to Money, Mississippi in August of 1955.  Being a fun loving lad and not understanding the strict cultural mores of the south, he whistled at an attractive white woman and three days later was kidnapped from his relative’s home, in the middle of the night, and brutally murdered.  His brave mother, not willing to allow the horrific act to be swept under the rug, had her son’s broken and mangled body viewed and photographed in an open casket at his funeral.  The story was picked up by newspapers and media around the country and many looking back point to this event, and the outrage that it generated, as the beginning of the civil rights movement that ran through the 1960’s and continues today.

The presentations of the panel tonight were both informative and moving.  One of the panel members was Wheeler Parker, Jr.  Wheeler is Emmett Till’s cousin and traveled with him on that fateful journey to Mississippi.  He was in the house when the men came and took Emmett.  The grace with which Wheeler spoke about his fear and the injustice that followed ─ the men who killed Emmett were arrested, tried, and acquitted in one hour by the all-white jury ─ was truly inspiring.  And the call to all of us to both continue to learn and remember the history, and to be catalysts in the present day for the change in our culture, is a challenge that stirs me.

While the level of overt racism that took the life of Emmett Till is not tolerated by our laws and our culture today, the systemic racism that drove it is alive and well and needs to be confronted, named and addressed by the Church.  We need to be those who, with the love and justice of Christ, call out this ongoing reality and work for change.

Wheeler Parker, Jr. named tonight the reality that, “The wheels of justice grind slowly.”  But we must never let the wheels of justice stop, and we must not become complacent with how far we have come.  We are called as followers of Jesus to do what we can to move forward the cause of Justice and true freedom for all.