Monday, July 11, 2016

Black Lives Matter: A Word to White Folks

A line in one of my favorite songs (“Hey Lover”) by one of my favorite bands (Dawes) says, “I may be white, but I don’t like my people much.”

I actually like most white people just fine. I’m sure they’re relieved to hear that.

But let’s face it, folks—we’re limited by our whiteness. And one of the ways we’re limited is in our inability to comprehend and appreciate blackness.

That’s why it may be entirely inappropriate for me to try to say anything about the Black Lives Matter movement. Todd Rundgren once observed that he might be the whitest singer in the world. Well, I may be the whitest writer in the world. So maybe I shouldn’t write about Black Lives Matter.

But I’m a white guy talking (in this instance) to white folks. So let’s take a chance.

On the one hand, black folks don’t need white folks to explain or defend them. They do that very well for themselves. On the other hand, it’s basic to Christian practice to care about, speak up for, and act on behalf of others. So, I hope that I’m speaking out of Christian love and not out of some less appropriate motives.

Some of my white Christian sisters and brothers mean well—they really do—when they respond to “Black Lives Matter” by insisting that “All Lives Matter.” They say—and they’re not wrong—that all human lives come from God, that God loves all people, and that every life matters. Yes, Jesus loves all the little children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white (and all of the variations and combinations thereof), they are precious in Jesus’ sight.

But there’s something that many of my white Christian brothers and sisters don’t understand. The Black Lives Matter movement emerged from a specific context: the recent spate of killings of black men by police officers. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” thus makes a specific assertion: something must be done to change the circumstances, mindsets, and structures that make it too likely—five times more likely than for a young white man—that a young black man will die a violent death at the hands of the police.

To say “Black Lives Matter” isn’t to claim that other lives don’t matter. As someone recently said, to say “Save the Rainforests” doesn’t imply “Screw All the Other Forests.” It’s just that the rainforests have specific and critical needs because they are, at this time, in specific and critical danger. So it is with young black men.

So for white folks to try to broaden the phrase to include “all lives”—again, well-intentioned as that effort may be—is to attempt to lessen the specific contextual meaning and importance of “Black Lives Matter.” It is to deny that African-Americans have a particular experience with institutional violence that is largely beyond white people’s comprehension.

Of all the things I worried about whenever my son left the house, his being killed, or even harassed, by the police was never—not once—one of them.

If you can say the same, then please join me in admitting that we can’t comprehend the experience that inspires the Black Lives Matter movement. Please also join me in acknowledging the experience that inspires the movement and in affirming the movement that the experience inspires.

It’s just something I thought I should say—one white guy to other white folks.


Jerry Jordan said...

"Saying "Save the rainforest" does not mean "Screw all the other forests" " but saying "Rainforests matter" might have had Woody Guthrie saying, "They don't hold a candle to the redwood forests!"

You didn't worry about Joshua getting shot by police because Josh was gentle and polite. I don't know why the men in La and MN got shot, but I can't believe they were shot just for being black. I'm dying to hear the "solution" that's going to keep a policeman from reacting if he thinks his life is in danger. I fear police and if I act wrong, they will relish punishing my obstinence. Make the police robots ... Dallas already started .... I wonder what the results will be then?

storyman said...

I was on a plane the other day after these recent deaths and it was one of those two and three seating plans. I sat down and soon realized I was going to elbow to elbow with a young man of color. He had on headphones and probably didn't want to be bothered. And man were from different planets. Him young college age and African American and me an old white haired white male. I remembered my pastor at Old South invited us recently to "get to know someone who looks different than you." When the flight attendant brought drinks by and he removed the headphones, I jumped at the chance to ask him,
"How are you doing?" He gave me the standard answer, "Fine". But I stuck with it and I said, "No really, not how are you feeling. What are you feeling?" He started talking and filled the hour flight with stories of fear and anxiety; of worries about his future and fears he had for his little brother. I listened and knew him and his story better when we landed. I made me remember that young girl who was the first person of color in my high school in 1967. I remembered how she was spit on and called everything but the Child of God she was. Things haven't changed. Yes, saying Black Lives Matter is important because us white people haven't yet learned how to respect, love and listen to those who look different from us.
God Help Us!

Susan ~ Southern Fascinations said...

Thanks, Mike. You and Storyman David very succinctly said what I have been trying to formulate in my heart and head. I feel as if I am trapped in my childhood of the 1950s and 60s when I read the posts that have surfaced on Facebook. In the early 60s, my mother chastised me soundly for allowing two little black children selling blackberries into our house by the front door. The fear and bewilderment on their faces is etched into my heart. My mother was a product of her Southern upbringing having been born in 1910...One that I am happy to say she overcame before her death in 1981. But the incident is a stark reminder that we were taught the difference... My innocent action wasn't repeated. Fortunately, coming of age, in the late 60s allowed a broader view of the world... Even in my southern home. I have wiped noses and tears of all colors of children...tied their shoes, accepted their hugs and kisses...and wished for all the very best life could offer. But I am not blind... I know that it's an uphill battle and I'm not doing my share of the pushing or pulling to see that all have a chance to reach the top. With God's help...may eyes and hearts be opened to the truth...we've a long way to go. Susan Hogan

Bonnie Turpin said...

Mr. Ruffin, according to 2012-2013 DOJ crime statistics, out of 6,484,507 violent crimes, whites were victims 4,091,970 times and offenders 2,781,853 times. Blacks were victims 955,500 times and offenders 1,452,530 times. So, since whites are more than 4 times likely to be victims of violence than blacks, and less than twice as likely to commit violence, I beg to differ with you in saying that indeed all lives do matter, not just those whose protests are funded by your pal Russell Moore's benefactor George Soros. Galatians 4:19-21 names among the acts of a sinful nature "dissensions, factions and envy." While we all are guilty of these sins, the Black Lives Matter movement's very existence revolves around them. White people do not share in some kind of collective racial guilt or stain, and I refuse to let my children grow up with these hateful and psychologically debilitating notions. Christ never endorsed such teachings, as you do. Shane Turpin

Charity said...

I don't mean to sound argumentative, but am I reading the above statistics correctly? Does it not say that blacks were offenders 1,452,530 times, while whites were offenders 2,781,853 times? Doesn't that equate to white people committing a larger percentage of the total violent crimes? I don't understand this comment.