Tag Archives: Civil Rights Movement

Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter

maxresdefaultMore than a chant or a hash tag, it cannot be argued that Black Lives Matter is a movement, putting pressure on social structures that continue to value some lives more than others.  Eerily similar to the declaration “I am a man” made during the Civil Rights Movement, I, along with so many others, cannot believe that it needs to be said today.  Not because we elected our first African American president but because we are so progressive, so liberal, so inclusive, so tolerant.  Birthed out of headline after headline of police- involved shootings of most often unarmed African American men and women, those three words prove necessary.

Said again and again, these words are the source of heated debate and deeper discussions on the meaning of life for those socially defined as black and white.  The discrepancies in perception and resultant treatment by some in law enforcement cannot be denied. The response of some has been that “all lives matter.”  For others, the declaration has had the opposite effect.  Last month, Kevin Wright had this to say in a blog post titled “When Christians Won’t Say #BlackLivesMatter.”  Please share with me your thoughts.

Before we say, ‘I forgive you’

bng-logoI am in a place that I had not anticipated and certainly could not have prepared for. It is the same feeling that I had after the shooting of nine bowed heads at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17, 2015. Dylann Roof, the alleged shooter, had hoped to start a race war between socially colored black and white people. It is an old word and fight documented throughout American history. It is the fight for supremacy, the title of undisputed champion culture of the world and the very best that God created.

Before their funerals were planned, there was talk that their deaths could bring about some good. I was enraged. Who makes such a call? Did anyone ask the victims if they wanted to be a part of such work? And what of their dead bodies riddled with bullets, their helpless cries and their last breath shared with a deranged killer is required for the making of good? Who is in charge of the production of such good?

Mine is an all too familiar feeling. It was talked about in the past tense, the daily murder of African Americans unprotected by the law, of mob justice and lynching without due process of law. I had hoped to share it with my son in story form and based on books that I had read like At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America or Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. But, I can’t now, as it is a part of the daily news. I need only turn on the television.

It is painfully familiar because it sounds like the same incidents surrounding the civil rights movement. And it’s not history. The murders at Mother Emmanuel AME Church wounded me deeply because it reminded me of those four little girls murdered at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. What did they march for if we are marching again? What of signs held reading, “I am a man,” if we now must say, “Black lives matter?” What did they die for if African-American men and women are unlawfully dying again?

The words of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel rendered me silent. I thought that the release of the dash cam footage of the shocking murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald would have said enough. It is frightening, horrific and absurdly inhumane.

In a press conference after the shooting death of Laquan, Mayor Emmanuel said, “I believe this is a moment that can build bridges of understanding.” Why is the tragic loss of his life seen as good and quality material for such a bridge? And who wants to walk across a bridge made of the dead bodies of African-American men and women? Clearly, I have missed his understanding of the death of Laquan McDonald.

And we cannot move so quickly to building bridges when there is no understanding of the needed material required for its structural soundness and safety. Let’s take the appropriate steps toward walking together, toward mutual understanding and reconciliation. Let’s acknowledge and accept fully in our bodies what has happened to Laquan’s body. Let’s look at the medical examiner’s report and into the face of his family. Let’s look at least 16 times.

Before we make public statements, let’s go into public mourning. Is the period of mourning one news cycle? I mean, how long do we give ourselves to grieve? Is it for as long as the topic trends on Twitter? Let’s give it two, three or maybe 16 days.

Before we talk about “one bad apple,” let’s acknowledge that Officer Jason Van Dyke was a member of the police force and fellow officers stood by as he shot McDonald. Before we talk about what we will not allow after the release of the dash cam video — the breaking of windows and the destruction of public property — let’s talk about how we allow the public destruction of African-American bodies.

This has happened more times than I count, more times than fingers, more than two hands held up saying, “Don’t shoot.” This is too familiar. Eerily reminiscent of a group that terrorized African-American communities in cooperation with law enforcement and some times as members of law enforcement. Before we dismiss well-placed anger, fall back into the habit of blame-shifting or hurry to forgiveness, let’s talk about what happened to Laquan’s body.

Let’s walk in his shoes, running away, scraping concrete and then lying in the middle of the street, before we walk over said bridge of understanding. Let’s say his name, “Laquan McDonald.” Let’s talk about what happened to his 17-year-old body. Let’s talk about the dehumanization, devaluation and stereotyping of his body before we prep it to be used as building material.

To be sure, I am not angry, but I am really, really disappointed in a society that prides itself on being liberal but exerts little energy to change the relationships (not to be confused with the laws) that perpetuate this reality. I have been let down in ways unimaginable by a society that defines itself as progressive but feels very comfortable not making any progress on the race problem.

So, before we say, “I forgive you,” let’s talk about history’s repetition. Before we say, “I forgive you,” let’s acknowledge what’s wrong.

Before we say, “I forgive you,” let’s talk about this human condition called race. To be sure, it is a social construct that privileges some and oppresses others based on the social coloring of skin. Let’s really see each other and not what race suggests as there are no physically colored beige, black, brown, red, yellow or white people. Neither God nor our sciences agree with this cultural rating system.

Forgiveness begins with the awareness and the acknowledgement that something is wrong. Let’s talk about what’s wrong with our relationship before we say, “I forgive you.”

* This article was originally published by Baptist News Global under the same title on December 3, 2015.

Remembering King Nonviolently

“‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. …”

~ Jesus Christ, Matthew 5.38-39, NRSV

Today, persons across our nation and around the world will remember the life and legacy of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  His daughter Bernice has asked that we celebrate his life by not taking the lives of others.  She is calling for a “no shots fired” day reports The Chicago Tribune while pointing to the increased violence on television, in schools and other public places.

A recent article from The Washington Post argued that while his nonviolent demonstrations led to violent acts, that these peaceful protests also reminded persons of the humanity of those assaulted, of the dignity due them though dismissed because of the social construct of race.  King led a nonviolent movement and was so well- known for peace that he received the Nobel Peace Prize when he was only thirty- five years old.

He outlined principles of nonviolence in his book Stride Toward Freedom and they are shared on The King Center’s website.  They include:

  1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is a positive force confronting the forces of injustice, and utilizes the righteous indignation and the spiritual, emotional and intellectual capabilities of people as the vital force for change and reconciliation.
  2. The Beloved Community is the framework for the future. The nonviolent concept is an overall effort to achieve a reconciled world by raising the level of relationships among people to a height where justice prevails and persons attain their full human potential.
  3. Attack forces of evil, not persons doing evil. The nonviolent approach helps one analyze the fundamental conditions, policies and practices of the conflict rather than reacting to one’s opponents or their personalities.
  4. Accept suffering without retaliation for the sake of the cause to achieve the goal. Self-chosen suffering is redemptive and helps the movement grow in a spiritual as well as a humanitarian dimension. The moral authority of voluntary suffering for a goal communicates the concern to one’s own friends and community as well as to the opponent.
  5. Avoid internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence. The nonviolent attitude permeates all aspects of the campaign. It provides mirror type reflection of the reality of the condition to one’s opponent and the community at large. Specific activities must be designed to help maintain a high level of spirit and morale during a nonviolent campaign.
  6. The universe is on the side of justice. Truth is universal and human society and each human being is oriented to the just sense of order of the universe. The fundamental values in all of the world’s great religious include the concept that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. For the nonviolent practitioner, nonviolence introduces a new moral context in which nonviolence is both the means and the end.

Perhaps, on just this one day, we might be able to practice what he preached, what he lived, what he died for.

Additional Resources

Fellowship of Reconciliation, http://forusa.org/

The King Center, http://thekingcenter.org

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967). 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, (Harper & Brothers, 1958).

Do you have a dream?

In just a few days, persons around our nation will gather to remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his purpose- driven life and hate- motivated death, to reflect on the historic Civil Rights Movement and hear from its central surviving figures and to reevaluate America’s progress as it relates to the socially constructed issue of race.  Some will no doubt turn to recent stories of racialized hatred and economic inequity to suggest that not much progress has been made and reiterate demands for social justice and equality.  Others will sit on panels to offer commentary to tell us where we can go from here.  Many others will serve their community as a display of unity and in honor of Dr. King’s memory.

While this Baptist minister is known for being the leader of the Civil Rights Movement and for his nonviolent demonstrations against Jim Crow segregation in a hostile American South, he is most remembered for his “I Have a Dream” speech.  It is his evaluation of the effects of President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation some one hundred years earlier.  He says to the crowd gathered on August 28, 1963, “One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.”

But, while his dream stands out in American history, it would not in the biblical narrative.  The Bible is filled with dreams and dreamers, especially in the birth narrative of Jesus Christ.  Joseph, Zacharias and even shepherds had them.  All of these visions and their messages, including King’s, ultimately support the purpose of God.  Today, I pause to give thanks for this dreamer, for his courageous delivery and demonstration of it.  But, I can’t help but ask, “Do you have a dream?”

Battling Race

“Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” ~Friedrich Neitzsche

Race is a monster. It’s not like the ones that hide under our beds or in our closets. Its features are not ghastly though it has been known to make its victims appear such. Race is not fire breathing though for me at least, it seems to destroy everything that it comes into contact with. Like most monsters, it has never been seen as it is but a figment of our imagination or at least those who have witnessed the appearance of race have never lived to tell it. What do I mean? Well, Emmett Till for example. He saw this monster. The image of the hand of hatred etched on his fourteen year old swollen and beaten body.

His was the first that I learned when reading the scary stories about race. There were others but this one stood out because he was a child. It was enough to keep me awake at night, afraid that I too would be awakened from my sleep, taken from my home and never seen alive again. I spent much of my early years chasing these ghosts. Some wore sheets while others did not. But, there were days when I wanted to pull the bedsheets over my head. I was becoming a monster, my life lurking in the shadows afraid of what these racialized boogie men and women might do to me. I was always on the defensive now, having only heard the stories.

I have read the words of race and looked at its images for years now. While in college, my defense from this monster was Black Nationalism; however, while in seminary, I began to wrestle with its principles. I couldn’t carry Christ’s message coupled with a belief in racial separation from those who were certainly my kindred as God’s children. I am aware that many others have carried both though I would argue unsuccessfully for how can one be a witness of God’s unconditional love and acceptance while harboring the belief in racial supremacy? Black Nationalism had made socially colored white people monsters, devils even.

It had placed evil in an entire population, making our encounters spooky, our lives lived fearfully, reverentially toward race. Race and its black and white supremacies made life’s meaning abysmal. Race was creating a chasm within me, a distance between self- love and neighborly love that was growing wider each day.  I had been looking at race but now it was looking at me, mulling me over, sizing me up, preying on me. Its presence had become monstrous and this view had I kept it, would have swallowed me up.