I wrote a few weeks ago about my colleague Phil, driving home from a day on campus, only to be stopped by police, forced to lie on the ground and be hand-cuffed.
On Monday, two black women with ties to the ministry I work with had profoundly scary experiences. Charlene, our Director of Black Campus Ministry, was taking care of the yard of white friends of hers when a policeman pulled up and without warning pulled a gun on her, suspecting her of breaking and entering. We have a new crime to add to “driving while black” and “walking while black.” Now there is “taking care of your friend’s property while black.”
I was at the same table in leadership meetings less than two weeks ago with Charlene. I find myself shocked and angered that she was within one false move, or even a nervous twitch, of possibly losing her life. I can vouch that this would be the loss of a wonderful life and gifted leader. I find myself wondering if the police would have given a second thought if it was a white woman in the same setting, or even if the police stopped, whether the response would have been as aggressive.
Sure, I know the dangers police face. My city is grieving the loss of an exemplary officer who died in a hail of gunfire last week. The alleged shooter was a middle-aged white man, suspected of arson. Yet I cannot find in this justification for the terror my colleague faced.
The other instance is even more insidious. Christena is an African-American professor at a distinguished seminary. She spoke at a national conference sponsored by our organization in December and is an author of a book on racial reconciliation published by the publishing house that is part of the organization for which I work. On Monday, she received the death threat reproduced in this post. I apologize for the vulgarity but I think these things need to be brought into the light rather than be hidden in the darkness.
This stuff happens in America. It happens to people I care for. I’m not sure I know what else to do at the moment except to use my “privilege” as a white man to name this evil for what it is–the demeaning of persons who exist in the image of God simply because of the color of their skin. I’m angry because these are sisters in the faith who love the same God and follow the same Jesus I do. I cannot remain aloof from what they are experiencing any more than I can say my foot is not a part of my body.
There has been a lot of push back, particularly in conservative white circles around the BlackLivesMatter movement. Truth is, it is messy. The anti-police rhetoric is not helpful, even if it is wrong that my colleague had a gun pulled on her while tending a friend’s lawn. We cannot raise up one group by demonizing another. But the truth is, ever since we brought the first African slave forcibly to this country, we have been saying Black lives don’t matter. When we said Blacks are just three-fifths of a person, we said their lives don’t matter. When we red-lined Blacks into confined areas of our cities, when we lynched them, we said their lives don’t matter.
When we remain aloof or silent when friends and colleagues like Phil, Charlene, Christena and others are demeaned and put in danger, we act as if their lives don’t matter. I cannot do that any longer. The lives of these, my brothers and sisters in the faith matter. And because they represent so many others who face such indignities, even in 2016, I think it is time for whites, believers or not, who believe in the dignity of their lives as “created equal, with certain inalienable rights” to say their lives matter. At least it is time for this old white guy to say “Black Lives Matter.”