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.