Black Lives Matter.
This phrase has been the source of much contention and debate in recent months. In response to ongoing incidents involving police that resulted in the deaths of Black Americans, “Black Lives Matter” is a bold statement declaring that the lives of Black Americans should be valued and honored as the U.S. Constitution protects the dignity of human life. The phrase is a foundational acknowledgment of those rights.
The movement has sprung from the need to strategically address those incidents with law enforcement and the injustices that resulted.
On the other hand, the ensuing controversy has come from what many view as an unwarranted attack on police across the nation. As a result, the conversation surrounding race and police violence has been deemed “race baiting”: the act of using racially derisive language, actions, or other forms of communication to anger or intimidate or coerce. In recent days the racial tension surrounding the incidents at the University of Missouri, Yale, and other colleges across the nation have brought these conversations to the forefront yet again.
Regardless of opinions around the facts and attempts to address these matters, the dissension over the phrases “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” continues.
For starters, I think we need to acknowledge that there are elements of truth in both statements. Black lives do matter and, at the same time, everyone’s life across the board should matter. This, however, is not the issue. The vernacular of “All Lives Matter” seems to have come as a defensive response to the ongoing use of the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” I truly believe that the life of every human being on this earth matters to the God of the universe and therefore should matter to us. Where I struggle is with the use of saying “All Lives Matter” as a means of erasing the experience of those who are seeking support and solidarity in their frustration.
I’ve had several challenging conversations with a friend regarding my positions on the inequality of women within society. Whenever I highlight a particular bias women experience, he’ll say things like “Well, no, both men AND women” and “Well, no, we ALL in general.” While there are times when men experience partiality as well, his altering the conversation has a tendency to make me angry. In many ways I feel like he de-centers my experience as a woman. He’s re-centering his own experience as a man when the context of my frustration has to do with my specific experience as a woman.
This is how I feel about the Black Lives/All Lives Matter conversations. We don’t need to de-center the phrase “Black Lives Matter” by reinforcing that “All Lives Matter” simply because by asserting that Black Lives do matter we are saying that All Lives Matter.
In regard to the Black Lives Matter movement, most recently the hashtags #insolidaritywithMizzou and #BlackonCampus are among the few that have emerged to show support and uniformity with the discriminatory experiences of Black students at the University of Missouri. Hashtag movements have become an important cultural phenomenon because at times they represent statements to reinforce solidarity and support. Words are important. Words speak life and they speak death. Words have the power to create and to sustain.
Proverbs 18:21 says,
The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit. (NIV)
Words kill, words give life;
they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.(MSG)
I see making statements of solidarity as speaking life into troubling situations. By reasserting that Black Lives Matter, one is speaking faith and living out Psalm 82:3 and standing on behalf of the rights of the oppressed and destitute. After all, as a faith community it is our responsibility to place ourselves on the margins with the misunderstood and bring the good news of the gospel that binds up the brokenhearted. If faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen, then Black Lives Matter can even be seen as a statement of faith, hoping that the current culture of apathy toward the lives of Black Americans will one day become as valued as the lives of the majority culture. Why wouldn’t we want to stand in faith with any part of the family of God believing in a better life for themselves and their children?
You may not agree with every component of this particular movement just as you don’t agree with other issues that permeate our nation. That doesn’t diminish from our responsibility to speak life into the dry bones of our social climate.