“All lives matter.” Of course they do, but in this country, black lives have been treated like they don’t matter for centuries and present inequities in criminal justice, income, housing, health care, education, etc. show that all lives don’t actually matter like they should.Shai Linne
I don’t want to write this. I feel as though I am the last person who should be writing anything about the Black Lives Matter movement. I am about as white and privileged as a person can be. I feel like I should be reading right now, not writing; listening, not speaking; learning, not trying to share my own ponderings. But not writing anything says something, doesn’t it? And I’m not sure that I like what it says. So, I am going to write a little bit about this uncomfortable topic, and then share a very powerful article that I read today, in the spirit of my desire right now to do more listening, reading, and learning.
Let me start with an event that I attended around 5 years ago. Initiated by our Bishop, it took place at a large African American church. There were about a hundred of us there, roughly equal numbers of black and white Christians. We were going to watch the movie “Selma” together and then gather in small groups to talk about it, before praying together to conclude the gathering. The leader began by asking for a show of hands of who had seen the movie “Selma.” Every black hand was immediately raised. Most white hands, including mine, were not. I learned something important before the movie even began – there was a story here that deeply mattered to my brothers and sisters of color, and apparently did not matter as much to me. I was ashamed. We watched the movie, and we talked. Mostly, I listened. And I resolved to keep listening, and to keep learning. And I still am trying to do just that.
Fast-forward to the events of the last couple of weeks, and it is clear that our country still has a deep, deep wound. Racism has been described as our country’s “original sin.” It’s hard to deny it. And George Floyd’s deeply disturbing death re-awakened something that has been a reality in our country since before our “more perfect union” was formed – a wound that is easy for me to ignore, but impossible for my black brothers and sisters to.
If I am being honest, the protests that I have been seeing this past week or two make me uncomfortable. So did the protests before that to demand that our states re-open. I am concerned that any or all of these protests will cause a spike in our coronavirus numbers. But these protests also remind me of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” The Black Lives Matters protests are happening because there are people in our country who don’t feel heard, and who don’t even feel as though they matter. Almost everyone that I am aware of that supports the Black Lives Matter movement readily acknowledges that all lives matter – they are just making the point that in our country, historically, black lives have too often and in too many ways been treated as if they don’t matter. These protests are quite simply the only way they feel as though they can share this truth in a way that will finally be heard.
They want to be heard, and I want to listen. But to what shall we listen? Where to even begin? Here is an excerpt of a very powerful article written for The Gospel Coalition by Shai Linne, a recording artist with a number of acclaimed Christian hip-hop albums, including a recent one for children, “Jesus Kids.”
“In the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing,” Shai writes, “my wife and I received an email from a white sister in Christ.” Here is what he shared with her:
Sister, I’m going to tell you how I’m doing. And as I tell you, please understand that I’m incapable of completing this message without weeping. There’s a part of me that’s saying, “Spare yourself the pain, Shai. It’s not worth it.” But I’m choosing not to listen to that part of me because I would be robbing you of an opportunity to “bear one another’s burdens” and “mourn with those who mourn”—and I’m sure, as a sister in Christ, you want to do just that.
Sister, I am heartbroken and devastated. I feel gutted. I haven’t been able to focus on much at all since I saw the horrific video of George Floyd’s murder. The image of that officer with hand in pocket as he calmly and callously squeezed the life out of that man while he begged for his life is an image that will haunt me until the day I die. But it’s not just the video of this one incident. For many black people, it’s never about just one incident. Just as it wasn’t just about the videos of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott, Rodney King, etc., etc., etc., etc.
This is about how being a black man in America has shaped both the way I see myself and the way others have seen me my whole life. It’s about being told to leave the sneaker store as a 12-year-old, because I was taking too long to decide which sneakers I wanted to buy with my birthday money and the white saleswoman assumed I was in the store to steal something.
It’s about being handcuffed and thrown into the back of a police car while walking down the street during college, and then waiting for a white couple to come identify whether or not I was the one who’d committed a crime against them, knowing that if they said I was the one, I would be immediately taken to jail, no questions asked.
It’s about walking down the street as a young man and beginning to notice that white people, women especially, would cross to the other side of the street to avoid walking past me—and me beginning to preemptively cross to the other side myself to save them the trouble of being afraid and to save me the humiliation of that silent transaction.
It’s about taking a road trip with my sons to visit Blair’s family in Michigan—and my greatest fear being getting pulled over for no reason other than driving while black, told to get out of the car, cuffed, and sat down on the side of the road, utterly emasculated and humiliated with my young boys looking out the window, terrified, which is exactly what happened to a good friend of mine when he took his family on a road trip.
It’s about the exhaustion of constantly feeling I have to assert my humanity in front of some white people I’m meeting for the first time, to let them know, “Hey! I’m not a threat! You don’t need to be afraid. If you got to know me, I’m sure we have things in common!”
It’s about me sometimes asking my wife to do things in certain customer-service situations, since I know she’ll likely get treated better than I will.
It’s about borrowing a baby swing from a white friend in our mostly white suburb of D.C. and her telling me, “Sure you can borrow it. I have to step out, but I’ll leave it on the porch for you. Just go grab it”—and then feeling heart palpitations as my car approached her home, debating whether or not to get the swing and being terrified as I walked up the steps that someone would think I was stealing it and call the cops on me.
It’s about intentionally making sure the carseats are in the car, even if the kids aren’t, so that when (not “if”—it happens all the time) I’m stopped by the police, they will perhaps notice the carseats and also the wedding band on one of my visible hands on the wheel (which I’ve been taught to keep there and not move until he tells me to—and even then, in an exaggeratedly slow manner) and will perhaps think to himself, This man is married with a family and small kids like me. Maybe he wants to get home safely to his family just like I do.
It’s about having to explain to my 4-year-old son at his mostly white Christian school that the kids who laughed at him for having brown skin were wrong, that God made him in his image, and that his skin is beautiful—after he told me, “Daddy, I don’t want brown skin. I want white skin.”
It’s about having what feels like genuine fellowship with my white brothers and sisters who share the same Reformed theology—until I mention racism, injustice, or police brutality, at which point I’m looked at skeptically as if I embrace a “social gospel” or am some kind of “liberal” or “social justice warrior.”
And it’s about sometimes feeling like some of my white friends aren’t that particularly interested in truly knowing me—at least not in any meaningful way that might actually challenge their preconceptions. Rather, it feels like they use me to feel better about themselves because I check off the “black friend” box. Much more could be mentioned. These were the first things that came to mind.
So when I watch a video like George Floyd’s, it represents for me the fresh reopening of a deep wound and the reliving of layers of trauma that get exponentially compounded each time a well-meaning white friend says, “All lives matter.” Of course they do, but in this country, black lives have been treated like they don’t matter for centuries and present inequities in criminal justice, income, housing, health care, education, etc. show that all lives don’t actually matter like they should.
These words describe very eloquently and passionately what I have no doubt millions of people are thinking, feeling, and experiencing right now. And I need to listen and learn from people like Shai Linne.
He goes on in this article to share his hope as a Christian, and then concludes his powerful article in this way:
My fear is that the attention garnered by the protests will eventually die down (as it always does), and then my white friends will go right back to “life as usual.” But I don’t have that luxury. For me, “life as usual” means recognizing some people perceive me as a threat based solely on the color of my skin. For me, “life as usual” means preparing my sons for the coming time when they’re no longer perceived as cute little boys, but teenage “thugs.” Long after George Floyd disappears from the headlines, I will still be a black man in America.
And you know what? I thank God for that! He knew exactly what he was doing when he made me the way he did. Despite the real and exhausting challenges that come with my outward packaging, I know that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. And I wouldn’t want to be anything other than what I am: a follower of Jesus Christ who has been saved by grace and redeemed by the blood of the Lamb—who also has brown skin and dreadlocks and does hip-hop. And God has chosen, in his great mercy, to leverage it all for his glory. Praise be to him.
Here is a link to the entire article: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/george-floyd-and-me/
I plan to keep reading articles like this one. I plan to keep watching movies like “Selma” and “Just Mercy.” (Both of which, by the way, are free to rent in our country throughout the month of June.) I plan to keep listening, reading, and learning. I have a long ways to go; farther than I should. But that’s not an excuse to stop.
It’s not a comfortable or pleasant journey. But I believe that it is part of my call as a Christian to do this – to open my heart to the suffering in our world, just as my Savior did, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. So, I will keep doing what I know the Lord requires. (Micah 6:8 – “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”) I will keep looking for ways to do justice and to love kindness. And I will keep doing this humbly, while walking with my God. Humbly, because I know that I won’t do any of this perfectly. I will make mistakes. But not doing these things, even if I do them imperfectly, would be a far worse mistake.
I want to conclude this article with a prayer, a prayer of confession. And it is a prayer that Martin Luther King Jr. recited during his radio broadcasts from Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, a prayer that I want to make my own. Let us pray:
O thou Eternal God, out of whose absolute power and infinite intelligence the whole universe has come into being. We humbly confess that we have not loved thee with our hearts, souls and minds, and we have not loved our neighbor as Christ loved us. We have all too often lived by our selfish impulses rather than by the life of sacrificial love as revealed by Christ. We often give in order to receive, we love our friends and hate our enemies, we go the first mile but dare not travel the second, we forgive but dare not to forget. And so as we look within ourselves we are confronted with the appalling fact that the history of our lives is the history of an eternal revolt against thee. But thou, O God, have mercy upon us. Forgive us for what we could have been but failed to be. Give us the intelligence to know thy will. Give us the courage to do thy will. Give us the devotion to love thy will. In the name and spirit of Jesus we pray. Amen