I’m writing this post with a specific audience in mind. If you hear the words “Black Lives Matter” and feel your stomach clenching, then this post is for you, and I ask you to keep an open mind and consider what has been laid on my heart to write. If you are one who has been saying BlackLivesMatter all along, then I invite you to read and add to the conversation as well.
In the past, I have tweeted and written posts in response to #BlackLivesMatter by saying #ALLLivesMatter. I read those words #BlackLivesMatter and immediately heard the invisible word, “only,” at the beginning of that phrase. My stomach clenched and I felt offended, especially when a family member’s white brother was severely wounded by a police officer and died seven months later. The #BlackLivesMatter tag seemed to dismiss and exclude the pain my family endured. A young man’s life mattered, but he wasn’t black. He didn’t get a hashtag.
After the police shootings of black men and the awful ambushes of the Dallas and Baton Rouge Police Departments, my heart felt raw and shattered. How could these horrors be happening in my country? I began praying and researching, and as I did so, God helped me see that this desire to counter with #AllLivesMatter is really a misunderstanding of the movement’s intent.
#BlackLivesMatter is an analogy. It began as an attempt to draw attention to the number of unarmed black people who are killed by police. A 2015 study by criminal justice researchers from The University of Louisville and The University of South Carolina shows that unarmed black men are seven times more likely to be shot by police than are white men. The study used data collected by The Washington Post, which showed that:
Black men accounted for about 40 percent of the unarmed people fatally shot by police and, when adjusted by population, were seven times as likely as unarmed white men to die from police gunfire, The Post found.
After adjusting for different factors, such as whether or not the suspect was mentally ill, the crime rate of the neighborhood and whether the police officer was being attacked, the study concluded:
“The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black,” said Justin Nix, a criminal justice researcher at the University of Louisville and one of the report’s authors. “Crime variables did not matter in terms of predicting whether the person killed was unarmed.”
151 years after the 13th Amendment was ratified and slavery was abolished, unarmed black men are seven times as likely to die from police gunfire than unarmed white men. If each race of people was a house, can you see that the Black House is on fire and needs attention?
Another post I found gave unique insight on why responding with #AllLivesMatter contributes to the problem of misunderstanding each other:
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 that way…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.
When viewed from this perspective, we see that #BlackLivesMatter does not exclude the lives of white people. It doesn’t mean #ONLYBlackLivesMatter. It means that at this time, there are problems in policing and the culture that need to be addressed. The fire needs to be put out, and not just by our elected officials and police officers.
We need to join hands and put the fire out together.
For some reason, some police feel more threatened when confronted with a black person than they do with a white person. Let’s talk about this. If you are white, do you feel threatened when you meet a black person for the first time? If you are black, do you feel threatened when you meet a white person for the first time? Dig down deeply, and consider how you really feel.
I confess to you that yes, I have felt threatened, and I’ll tell you why. In junior high, I got caught in the middle of a violent fight and was knocked to the ground. In high school, a bully yelled in my face and then threw a basketball at the back of my head as I walked away, knocking me out. Both of those incidents involved black girls. Now I have since experienced good relationships with black women, but I confess that up until now, it takes me longer to trust a black woman than it takes me to trust a white one. I did not even realize this fact about myself until I started praying about this whole nasty situation going on in our country, and God showed me that I had been projecting my fear and emotions about these two incidents onto an entire race of people. I am truly and deeply sorry for this reaction, and I repent of this sin.
How many of us do this emotion-based blaming? If I, in my unconscious distrust, gave a black woman the impression that I didn’t like her or looked down on her, does she then hold all white people accountable for my bad behavior? And so the cycle continues, unless we break it.
Black women friends — do you trust white women in the same way you trust black women? If not, why? Can you bring yourself to grab my hand and trust me, seeing me as I am on the inside and not just as a skinny white woman who used to be afraid of you?
Upon reflection, I can see this truth: skin color has nothing to do with behavior. Let me say that again: skin color has nothing to do with behavior.
We need to instill that truth in our children. If someone does something that hurts you or someone else, look beyond the color of his or her skin. Hold that individual accountable rather than assuming everyone with that skin color behaves in the same way.
If we can do that, then we can live freely as brothers and sisters, citizens and police, no matter what color we are on the outside. And if we are Christians, then we surely need to perform heart surgery on ourselves to remove any inherent distrust we may feel towards our brothers and sisters of a different color. The words Paul wrote to the Galatians are still true today:
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3)
So let’s open up the conversation. Let’s acknowledge that our black brothers and sisters are living in a metaphorical house that is on fire and need our help and our love, not our scorn.
It begins with understanding that the phrase #BlackLivesMatter does not mean only BlackLivesMatter or BlackLivesMatter more. It means BlackLivesMatter, too, also, as well as, additionally, likewise. Let’s remember that 152 years ago, black people were viewed as property and weren’t even counted as full humans! Today, they are viewed by the police and others with more distrust and fear, perhaps because they, too, are caught in the lie of linking skin color with behavior. We need to cut this lie out of our lives. People are individually responsible for their own behavior.
Please, black friends, I beg you to forgive me for projecting the behavior of a few onto the many, and I ask you to extend grace to me. Could you trust me even though I am white? And please don’t hold other white people responsible for my behavior. Please don’t blame all police officers for the behavior of a few.
Jesus was spot on when he laid down the Golden Rule. If we do this one thing — treating everyone the way we want to be treated, with respect, and especially with love — then we can solve the divide. (Note to protesters of all colors who block the streets, highways and interstates: think before you act. Will your actions stop someone from getting to the hospital? If so, take your protest elsewhere. How would you feel if a protest prevented you from getting your baby to the hospital?) Let’s all think through walking in each others’ shoes before we take a step.
My white family member who was killed by police mattered. There were no vigils or demonstrations held on his behalf, and in light of the demonstrations going on today, that lack of public interest in his death hurts. Yet that hurt feeling is exactly how black people have been feeling for centuries. That’s why I can stand with them. We grieve together.
Working together, we can change the world to be a place where all races can say #AllLivesMatter and feel that they genuinely do, without our stomachs clenching. #LoveStartsNow