Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter

Jul 14
Black Lives Matter

I don’t know how else to begin this than with my confession:  I’m racist.

I really wish that I could tap into your mind right now and see what images and thoughts are going on in there.  Some readers may think I’m joking, that this is some kind of stunt.  It isn’t.  Some readers are going to think that this is some kind of liberal progressivism where it’s trendy to say you’re white and racist or something like that.  It isn’t.

I came to this conclusion after some lengthy soul-searching and examining how people are reacting to events in America.  I started looking at my own assumptions and beliefs and how they shape my reactions.  To my dismay, I realized there are many assumptions I accept about the black community.

I’ve always thought of racism as some kind of neo-nazi white supremacist thing.  If that’s the definition then I’m definitely not racist.  I’ve defended this attitude in a self-righteous way:  I’ve never in my life been rude or disrespectful to anyone who is black; I don’t use the “n word;” I don’t tell racist jokes; there are plenty of black people I like and respect.  I told myself that there’s no way I’m racist, because I don’t hate black people.  And I don’t.

But there are a lot of things I believe about the black community in general.  Things that are unfair and not at all rooted in my personal experiences with the black community.  Instead, my assumptions and beliefs about them are based on what I’ve seen in the news, stories I’ve heard, episodes of “Cops” (which was horrible about promoting stereotypes), etc.

I’m pretty sure if you’ve ever used “them” or “those people” then you’re playing into stereotypes.

Admittedly, stereotypes become stereotypes for a reason.  Sadly, we start reasoning based on stereotypes and we form worldviews based on them rather than on actual relationships.  Or the fact that “they” (whoever your particular “they” is) have a lot more in common with you than you admit.

Earlier this week, “Black Lives Matter” protesters blocked the I-40 interstate at Memphis.  Not long afterwards, a story started circulating about a little girl who died because she needed a transplant but couldn’t get to the hospital due to the protesters.  Some versions of the story attempted to add some irony and claimed the little girl was black.  The story was completely fabricated.  Yet people shared it.  A lot.  I asked myself why this story was so popular, despite it being untrue.

I concluded that it was because the story supported what many people already believed about the protesters.  We have a tendency to propagate stories that support our existing worldview.

The more I followed that train of thought, the more questions I asked about what people must assume about the Black Lives Matter protests.  Shortly after the movement started, I saw counter-protests of “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter.”  All three of these are true.  Black lives matter.  Blue lives matter.  All lives matter.

Why would someone feel a need to point out that all lives matter in response to “Black Lives Matter?”  It isn’t like the slogan of “Black Lives Matter” was “ONLY Black Lives Matter.”  Saying that black lives matter doesn’t preclude the idea that non-black lives also matter or that they matter less.  At no point and no time was anyone suggesting that only black lives matter.  Of course all lives matter.  So why does someone need to make the counter point?

There are lots of possibilities, I suppose.  One that comes to mind is similar to something that happened a lot during my doctoral studies.  When people learned I was working on my Ph.D. they would ask me about my field of study.  When I answered that it was computing, I almost always got the same response:  “Oh!  My son is into computers.”  I choose to believe that the person was just trying to relate.  I choose to believe that they had no idea how offensive that statement was to me.  I often wanted to respond, “Yes, I’m sure it’s exactly the same.  I’m designing a genetic algorithm that helps make predictions about things like which breast cancer patients will have a recurrence of breast cancer, which is exactly like the way your son uses Google to find the name of that song you can’t remember.”  Thankfully, I never once said it.  To my shame, I thought it a lot.  Their comment comparing my work to their son/nephew/grandson being “into computers” diminished what I was doing and the challenges I was facing.  It made it sound like anybody should be able to do what I was busting my butt to accomplish.  “Computers?  My nine-year-old can totally do everything you’ve been studying and researching for 6 years.”

So maybe “All Lives Matter” was essentially, “Black lives matter?  Psh.  All lives matter you silly person.  Everybody knows that.”

Another possibility is that a stereotype was in play.

As I considered this possibility, I realized that was exactly how I felt about what I saw in Ferguson, Missouri.  When I saw footage of looters, it supported what I already believed.  Of course Michael Brown assaulted a police officer.  Of course the officer shot in self-defense.  Everything I read and heard about the events in Ferguson was viewed through the lens of what I believed about the black community.  When the officer was found not guilty and Michael Brown’s stepfather screamed “Burn this b***h down,” I saw an angry black man.  I didn’t see a father overcome with grief and frustration.

I have only just begun to understand the lens of racism.  Practically every response I’ve seen to “Black Lives Matter” has been dismissive or diminishing.  You don’t need to point out that all lives matter, unless you either believe someone disagrees with that statement or you’re just being obnoxious.

Never in my life have I had an encounter with a person of color who fit the stereotype in my mind.  Why then does the stereotype persist?  Why do I assume that when there’s a black protest that there will be unlawfulness and looting?  It isn’t right and it isn’t fair.

As I said, every response I’ve seen to the black community’s cries for justice and fairness have been, at best, dismissive.  I’ve seen arguments about why everyone should just comply with an officer’s demands.  I’ve seen arguments claiming more whites and Hispanics are killed by police.  There have been many more arguments made, each one essentially somehow making a point that “Black Lives Matter” is invalid, overblown, radical, or something else equally negative.  At the heart of all of them is essentially the message, “We aren’t taking you seriously and we aren’t listening to you.”

Some messages even have an undertone of “they probably had it coming.”  Admittedly, I’ve had this same thought.  Why would I assume they were doing something wrong?  Because they were black men and a cop shot them.

That’s why I concluded I’m racist.  On several occasions I’ve jumped to conclusions about a dead black man when I knew nothing more than that he was black and he was shot by a cop.  I immediately assumed that he was guilty and that the cop was justified in using lethal force.  While I have never thought this consciously, I realize that in the back of my mind I have always assumed it was a young, out-of-work black man, who had fathered multiple children with multiple women, who was openly disrespectful and hostile to the officer, that the officer was justified in killing this violent felon and that the world is probably better off without the criminal anyway.

What a horrible, awful thought to have about anyone.  I have absolutely no rational reason to think that.  It’s is purely an assumption based on what I have come to believe about a group of people.  It isn’t even remotely based on fact or my personal experiences.  It is entirely based upon a stereotype.

I’d like to give a couple of illustrations that might help you relate, that might make this more understandable.  I believe that once we understand then maybe we can start to do something about it.

I remember back in the “three channel” days of television, when “The Wizard of Oz” would come on every year.  After the Wicked Witch of the East died because Dorothy’s house fell on her, Dorothy took her ruby slippers.  Later, the Wicked Witch of the West would show up and demand the ruby slippers from Dorothy but Dorothy didn’t give them to her.  For years I never questioned this.  After all, the witch was the villain, the bad guy.  Of course Dorothy shouldn’t give the precious ruby slippers to such a nasty creature!

But if we strip away the layers, the story is different.  Let’s remove the label of “Wicked Witch.”  Let’s say she isn’t green and doesn’t dress all in black.  Let’s remove all of the stereotypes used in the film to convince us that the witch is wicked, evil, and nasty.  What’s left?  A woman asking for the shoes of her dead sister.  Absolutely nothing wrong with that.  Now let’s suppose she really is a villain asking for her dead sister’s shoes.  Had the sister not been a witch, Dorothy would have listened and responded to a reasonable request — of course she would have given the dead woman’s shoes to her sister.  Does it make it okay to not give back the shoes simply because the one asking is a “bad person?”

I think this is what racism does.  It causes us to miss legitimate arguments and concerns because we’re too caught up in the characteristics of the people involved.  Cops are the “good guys.”  If a cop shoots somebody, then the person was obviously a “bad guy.”  But what if the person wasn’t?  How would we know?  As the pirates say, “Dead men tell no tales.”

It isn’t even remotely close to what the black community experiences, but I have been subject to many stereotypes myself.  I have often been labeled and lumped in with a stereotype because I didn’t parrot the words of a particular political party or the doctrines of a particular religious group.  At the other end, I’ve been lumped in with extreme views that I don’t hold, but with which I expressed sympathy.  Because I seem to support a particular viewpoint, people draw conclusions about me.  They suddenly “know” me.  It offends me greatly when people act like they know my mind and my heart because they’ve read some blog posts or something I’ve written or shared on social media.  I can’t imagine how much worse it must be when someone “knows” you simply based on your appearance.

I don’t fall neatly into most of the defined boxes.  I’ve found that life is too complicated and intricate for that.  I also have a tendency to argue opposing viewpoints when I feel like someone is being unfair or unbalanced.  I’ve repeatedly been asked, “Whose side are you on?”  I’ve never had a good answer, because I rarely ever agree enough with a “side” in order to pick it.

Now when someone asks, I say “Peace.  I’m on the side of peace.”  Naturally, people then know that I’m a tree-hugging, climate-change-supporting, liberal hippy.  (I’m not)

To conclude, my point is that it isn’t unreasonable for anyone to say, “Please stop killing us.  We deserve to live as much as anyone.”  I believe that is the point of “Black Lives Matter.”  Please stop trying to counter the point.  Please stop leaping to conclusions about “good guys” and “bad guys.”  Please stop justifying the killings.  Please stop suggesting what they should do differently, as if they are the root of the problem.

Let’s respond with “You’re right — your lives matter.”  Who would have a problem with saying that?  Apparently everybody, because I haven’t seen or heard it yet.  I wonder why.

3 comments

  1. Flo Williams

    Thank you Chris. I had to leave the country and be chastised by a human rights expert before I started noticing the subtle cues our culture leaves for us and how, often those cues lead us astray.

  2. Sarah

    Chris!

    I can’t imagine how many hours it took you to write this. I know when I write a piece as long and thoughtful and well written as what you just did above, it will take me 20 to 40 hours. And then to see only one response for 20 to 40 hours of writing. As I said before, what you do is such a gift to the world. And it has to be a gift of yourself because if it wasn’t, there’s no way you would do it because you most certainly never get paid. Wow! First of all who knows how many hours you have spent thinking, and then to spend double the amount of hours writing? It completely baffles me!

    Sadly, our culture does not believe that all lives matter. They kill babies all the time and someday would like to pass that torch on to the old, the crippled, the mentally disabled, all forms of disabled… The list will go on. Reality is, the culture supports “only my life matters.” That is what the culture propagates. I sometimes subscribe to this philosophy, and when I do so, I make decisions against God’s will. In fact anytime we sin, we are saying only my life matters.

    Even though I grew up in an integrated neighborhood where mostl of my older brother’s friends were black, I am subject to the stereotypes that I hear in the media. How I long for the days when I made my first black girlfriend at the age of nine, for I had originally came from an all white town such that I thought all black women were born with red fingernails. And I remember being at the track watching my friend Rosie race in the 100m dash and blow out her competition. And as I screamed and cheered for her, I felt cool that I had a black friend. Honored that I had a black friend. I recognized that her color was black, but no more than I recognized that she had black hair. She was Rosie to me with a great laugh, a lot of energy, and a temper to protect me from others.

    The black stereotypical culture was all around me, and yet I never saw it as a stereotype. My brother’s friend John, OK, you just happen to not have a dad around and your mom is sometimes on drugs and sometimes you live with your grandmother. My brother’s friend Stacy, OK, you just happen to not have a dad and your brother just happens to have a different dad than you. My brother’s friend Patrick, OK, you don’t have a dad around either. My brother’s friend Eric and his cousin Andre, OK, your dads aren’t around. Do you know when I realized that this was a social pattern? When I went to college and took a class called The Black Family.

    When I went to college and my college said look, these people are Afro-American, don’t be prejudice. It was only then that I started to see color more than skin. And I started to become self-conscious. I would be walking along the sidewalk and I would see a black student approaching from the other direction and I would begin to panic with oh no, how should I act so they don’t think I’m prejudice? Ugh!

    Do you know what has helped me get out of this mind frame that my college introduced me to and paralyzed me for so many years? Letting God love me. And once I allowed him to love me, then I started desiring to love him back. And with that supernatural love that we shared for each other, I wanted others to experience it. And so with this love, it gave me the courage to start looking into strangers faces not knowing how I would be met. And the amazing thing is that if you look cheerfully at a stranger’s face, they almost always look cheerfully back! There is so much beauty in each individual face, so much detail. God is very creative. How could anyone’s face be looked at other than as a work of art?

    And if the stranger does not smile back, it does not offend me but rather it saddens me. For I know that the root of the inifferent response or negative response is that the person does not feel loved. And that is very sad that their life experiences have taught them that.

    The root of all evil is the absence of love. Do you know what advice Mother Teresa gave everyone who asked? Love God. That was the message that she left with everyone she spoke to.

    And that is the root of all good. The opposite, refusing to share love with God, is the root of all evil.

  3. I grew up in Georgia during the late fifties and early sixties. My family was considered to be some of the people that lived on the wrong side of the tracks. We were very poor.We were considered to be a half step above the black people because we were white and our parents could do better if they were not lazy and uneducated. My parents were not lazy and my mother was a high school graduate and my dad left his home at age fourteen. He was not an educated man except what life taught him. I had a black friend that I loved. We played together almost every day. When it came time for me to go to first grade our mothers told us we could not play together anymore. I asked if “We could play together at school?” “No,because Izzie was not going to school with me and she would not go to another school because there was not a school for her.We were two broken little girls: one black and one white learning our first lesson about racism and loosing a sister friend.

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