Where I come from, my grandma made cornbread and fried chicken every Sabbath. The coals were gathered to BBQ almost religiously, the heat from the ground competing with the hot Texas sun.
In my mind then, living in a county called Johnson, doing our shopping in the next town of Cleburne, with a large historic plantation just a short summer’s bike ride away didn’t mean much.
Even with whitewashed history books (Texas’ history curriculum has been under fire recently), I learned that things weren’t as rosy as I saw them in the little bubble I lived in.
I was encouraged to read, and read I did. By the time I was in 7th grade I had read Mildred D. Taylor’s saga over Cassie’s life, the horrors endured by Solomon Northrup, Frederick Douglass’ autobiography, Sojourner Truth’s Narrative, To Kill a Mockingbird and Zora Neale Hurston’s haunting landscapes and vignettes.
It’s then that your world starts chipping away slowly: after all, Johnson County and Cleburne are named after Confederate generals. Friends that had shared his toys in better days now shared their views, regardless of whom those words shot down.
While I didn’t understand the extent of systemic racism until later, I was always conflicted at the fact that, historically and at that present moment, some of the staunchest proponents of warped opinions also held their God and beliefs in high esteem.
I still don’t understand that.
I remember asking myself if my church had stood up for my brothers and sisters during those times fifty years ago, but I never asked the question outright, afraid of the answer.
By the time movements and masses shook the airwaves, hands in the air, I knew it was time for me to come to terms with a past that, as an immigrant, I wanted desperately to reject from my own.
It seemed to me that too long had gone by with a mere band-aid put on the gangrenous sore of this country’s past for the smell to be ignored any longer.
Still, I didn’t take a side, so to speak, for some time, maybe out of cowardice and the general sentiment of “I wasn’t born here so not my problem,” or “Jesus would have wanted to keep the peace.”
Maybe peace is a process, not a status quo.
It hit me. If I wanted to live like Jesus did, I had to speak up and defend the downtrodden. I live in this country, therefore your past is my past—whether I was born here or not. My mind finally agreed that I had been taking the easy way out, as a silent bystander.
Here is where I stand now:
Black lives matter.
I say this in full knowledge of what I’m saying.
I do not think anyone in their right mind would argue that only one race matters—though in our rhetoric and actions we sometimes make it seem so.
By saying “Black Lives Matter” we are not saying “ONLY Black Lives Matter.” Emphasizing “black” doesn’t alienate “white.”
Too long we have yelled “all lives matter” when what we have meant, time and time again, is “all lives matter—although some matter more than others.”
When we say Black Lives Matter, we remind ourselves that black lives are a part of the all in “all lives matter.”
It wouldn’t be necessary to emphasize that black lives are a part of all lives if we truly believed that.
Today, as yesterday, black lives have not mattered as much as white lives.
Black lives have not been part of “all lives” since the inception of this country. “All men are created equal” did not apply to all men at the time it was written.
We do not live in a post-racial nation. We don’t even live in a post-Ferguson, post-Eric Garner, post-Baltimore society.
One in every three black males will see the inside of a prison—black lives haven’t mattered.
In my church and schools, social media feeds vitriol and hatred and it festers and smells. Still, black lives haven’t mattered.
“If the concept of God,” said James Baldwin, “has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.” In other words, does the God or moral code I worship hate the same people I do?
Still, black lives haven’t mattered.
The only way to truly say that “all lives matter” is to embrace “Black Lives Matter.”
If we deny the basis for the Black Lives Matter movement, and say “All Lives Matter,” what we are saying is “All other lives matter—just not the ones that don’t look like us.” We are telling the world that we like the status quo and that black lives matter—just not as much as every other life.
If I truly believe that “All Lives Matter,” I will, I must declare that “Black Lives Matter” until black lives are truly on par with white lives.
Only when racism—systemic and personal, in my church and my friend group, segregation in our schools and health institutions, mass incarceration, and ideological (read: idiotic) condescension—are a non-issue can we embrace “all lives matter.”
Only when we do not judge each other based on our skin color, accent and lifestyle can we say, with a clear conscience, that “all lives matter.”
This isn’t about building a color-blind church. Not accepting our differences strips us of our diversity: a lung is inherently different from a liver.
“Seeing color is not the problem,” says Michelle Alexander, “refusing to care for the human that I see is the problem.”
This is about actually caring for my neighbor—remember talking about meaning what I say? This is that. This is building a community I want to be a part of. The question is, then, does my moral compass, does my God, encourage me to love my neighbor?