One image I cannot get out of my head from last week’s General Assembly for the Disciples of Christ is the woman who went to the microphone in opposition to the “Black Lives Matter” resolution. She announced that her church had met before the Assembly, reviewed the resolution, and voted to send her to tell the Assembly that the resolution should be renamed “ALL Lives Matter.” I suppose that stays with me because that scene, a church voting to change it to ALL lives matter, just sounds so thoroughly normal and unsurprising. That sounds just like churches I’ve been a part of.
I got a sense of disgust from the rest of the Assembly towards her words (maybe I’m just projecting my gut response, but I doubt that’s all it was). It would be easy enough to just call her and her church racist and turn our backs. But because I’ve been in circles like that, I really believe that doing so would not only be wrong, but it would be a terrible missed opportunity and counter-productive.
I do not believe she or her church were being willfully ignorant or racist. They just haven’t had the right conversations with the right people. So instead of punishing them (and churches like theirs) for that, we should be the ones having that conversation. If we really want to root out racism systemically, there is such an easy place to start: a huge chunk of our white population who are not racist, they’re just unaware.
I’m like that. But because other individuals have been patient and kind to me, I now automatically assume a posture of listening when I encounter something I don’t understand, rather than a posture of defensiveness, which I think is totally natural for white people to do when it comes to discussions of race.
It just so happened that last week at about the same time we were having this discussion at General Assembly, a post was made on reddit by a user called “GeekAesthete” and started making the rounds that explained things very well. So to the woman who stood at the red microphone during the vote on the Black Lives Matter resolution, to her church, to other churches that struggle with this, to myself, and to anyone who wonders why it is controversial and offensive to try to change it to “All Lives Matter,” I invite all of us to read this take:
“Imagine that you’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don’t get any. So you say “I should get my fair share.” And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, “everyone should get their fair share.” Now, that’s a wonderful sentiment — indeed, everyone should, and that was kinda your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad’s smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn’t solve the problem that you still haven’t gotten any!
“The problem is that the statement “I should get my fair share” had an implicit “too” at the end: “I should get my fair share, too, just like everyone else.” But your dad’s response treated your statement as though you meant “only I should get my fair share”, which clearly was not your intention. As a result, his statement that “everyone should get their fair share,” while true, only served to ignore the problem you were trying to point out.
“That’s the situation of the “black lives matter” movement. Culture, laws, the arts, religion, and everyone else repeatedly suggest that all lives should matter. Clearly, that message already abounds in our society.
“The problem is that, in practice, the world doesn’t work the way. You see the film Nightcrawler? You know the part where Renee Russo tells Jake Gyllenhal that she doesn’t want footage of a black or latino person dying, she wants news stories about affluent white people being killed? That’s not made up out of whole cloth — there is a news bias toward stories that the majority of the audience (who are white) can identify with. So when a young black man gets killed (prior to the recent police shootings), it’s generally not considered “news”, while a middle-aged white woman being killed is treated as news. And to a large degree, that is accurate — young black men are killed in significantly disproportionate numbers, which is why we don’t treat it as anything new. But the result is that, societally, we don’t pay as much attention to certain people’s deaths as we do to others. So, currently, we don’t treat all lives as though they matter equally.
“Just like asking dad for your fair share, the phrase “black lives matter” also has an implicit “too” at the end: it’s saying that black lives should also matter. But responding to this by saying “all lives matter” is willfully going back to ignoring the problem. It’s a way of dismissing the statement by falsely suggesting that it means “only black lives matter,” when that is obviously not the case. And so saying “all lives matter” as a direct response to “black lives matter” is essentially saying that we should just go back to ignoring the problem.
“TL;DR: The phrase “Black lives matter” carries an implicit “too” at the end; it’s saying that black lives should also matter. Saying “all lives matter” is dismissing the very problems that the phrase is trying to draw attention to.”
And to everyone else who already gets it, if we care more about the success of this movement than we do about our own rightness on the matter, we need to be more patient and compassionate.