I must admit that I was a bit excited when I heard that Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton was coming to town. I am not one to get starstruck, but I do like being at live events for firsthand information. I had been a Hillary supporter in the past -- a little more on the fence these days -- so I was very interested.
I found it interesting that she was using Ferguson as the backdrop for her visit and was holding her event in one of the churches associated with the movement. I couldn't wait to hear what she would have to say.
We listened as she spoke of community healing, growth and change. She talked about growing up in a Methodist Church and of all the good deeds her mother taught her to do for others -- she was taught that "all lives matter."
Some cheered at this sentiment but many others just took to Twitter and Facebook exclaiming disbelief at her audacity to make such a statement, in this particular space, under the pretense of being concerned about our community. I took to Facebook and Twitter.
On my way out of the sanctuary, I was stopped for an interview with National Public Radio regarding what I thought.
So what did I think? I know that Hillary missed an opportunity to build support among those -- like myself -- who have been on the fence about her politics. By making a point to say #AllLivesMatter she played to those that she thought were her main audience -- in the community and in the media.
In the eyes of many activists, she defined herself as being for the establishment, not the people. She did not seem to be talking to the community with whom she came to be on display.
My comments to NPR have been quoted quite a bit -- there is a lot of energy around the #BlackLivesMatter vs #AllLivesMatter debate. Part of my understanding is from my theological framework as a Christian along with the experiences I have had on the front lines of the movement and how I have witnessed history as present-day reality.
As protesters stood on the streets of Ferguson declaring "BlackLivesMatter", white folks were deeply offended! Twitter and Facebook were all abuzz with discrediting statements: "If black lives matter, stop killing each other." "If black lives matter, get a job." Soon white folks emerged on the streets with signs and counter chants: "AllLivesMatter", "Police Lives Matter," "My Children Matter" and "I Matter."
It is true that all lives have inherent value -- the presence of the divine within. The problem is that systems structured in the evil hatred of racism do not acknowledge that black lives have value.
Europeans have long devalued the lives of those who did not look like them. The massacre of the people indigenous to this land is a prime example. Trickery, genocide and forced cultural assimilation is how this land was "settled." When Africans were stolen from their homeland and forced into chattel slavery it was through trickery, attempted genocide and forced assimilation. There was no value for the divine within Africans.
The American Government declared that people of African descent were not fully human. This lie was necessary to justify the egregious acts of violence perpetrated by white slave owners. After all, white folks could not be guilty of hate crimes and declare themselves to be God-fearing Christians. "Good" white folks looked away as black people in America were systemically and violently denied rights, lynched as public spectacle, raped, murdered and terrorized in their forced homeland. Those who fought for black lives were discredited, destroyed and in some cases, brutally murdered.
After the slavery was abolished and Jim Crow banned, black people in America were still terrorized, still not honored as humans, nor as citizens of the United States of America. The American policing system as we know it today was structured to legally protect and enforce the values of white supremacy -- as were the systems of education, economics, healthcare and religion, among others.
In 2015 the systems structured in white supremacy are struggling more than ever to maintain their power. As a result, there are legal attempts to disenfranchise black voters, criminalize black people, neutralize black culture, sterilize the black economy, emasculate black men and dismantle the black family.
Blacks who refuse to have their identity white-washed are deemed less valuable to whiteness than those who are willing to "play the game." Those who "make it" are held up as the standard to which all blacks should be able to reach, while at the same time being held responsible for the behaviors of the entire black community.
Divide and conquer is the order of the day -- divide the community against itself and the community will destroy itself from within. Strategies which have been employed include the introduction of drugs and guns into the community; the removal of resources that support a thriving community while blaming the community for its own demise; the mocking of the black church and black culture; and the elevation of black performers over black scholars. These supremacist tactics to implode the community have caused harm but not utter destruction -- black people thrive in spite of supremacist tactics.
In addition to the divide-and-conquer strategy there is an intentional direct assault against black lives: Sentencing disparities, the school-to-prison pipeline and terroristic law enforcement practices such as harassment, no-knock raids and over-aggression. These state-sanctioned practices are to keep black men and women in a place of subordination and incarceration by any means necessary. Every now and then (specifically every 28 hours), a black man or woman is killed in police custody as a means of preserving white supremacy and assure white supremacist of their ability to maintain power.
There has never been a question that white lives matter. To be white in America is to be at the top of the food chain. In many situations a poor, uneducated white person will receive deferential treatment over affluent and educated black persons. Whites have less non-crime related contact with police (but not because they commit less crime), more employment opportunities, are sometimes paid more, are more trusted by society and more aided by the government.
There is no question that white lives matter. White lives matter to the point of murdering blacks who disrespect white power.
When the counter-protestors began the chant #AllLivesMatter what they were really saying is that black lives do not matter more than theirs. If these people sincerely believed that #AllLivesMatter, we would not be forced to chant and declare that #BlackLivesMatter.
If #AllLivesMatter was believed, those who declare this statement would demand justice within the unrighteous systems. #AllLivesMatter means that no child is ever left behind, colleges are fuller than the prisons, and everyone has equitable access to the tools necessary for thriving -- preventative health and dental care, affordable healthy foods, clean environment, removal of dilapidated buildings, walkable sidewalks, safe play zones -- we could go on and on.
#AllLivesMatter was not chanted to proclaim value of all life -- it was chanted to neutralize the message of #BlackLivesMatter. The counter-chant was to proclaim the power, privilege and position of whites. The counter-chant was to soothe white fears of disempowerment.
When Hillary proclaimed #AllLivesMatter, she was speaking code to the establishment -- "You don't have to worry, I will protect you." She sent her coded message from a black pulpit while exploiting the black community. This is what makes her proclamation unacceptable. This is what makes Hillary unacceptable, to me.
The awakened community does not need the politicians to merely say #BlackLivesMatter. The awakened community is looking for evidence that the candidate believes #BlackLivesMatter. If a candidate is too afraid to say #BlackLivesMatter, it seems unlikely that they will use their position to legally validate the humanity and citizenry of black people in America.
Hillary talked about being a Methodist. I, too, am part of the Methodist tradition -- African Methodist Episcopal. In our church (as in many other Christian traditions), we make public confessions. On communion Sunday, we publicly confess that we have sinned in thought, word and deed against God's divine majesty. We publicly confess baptism vows, church membership vows, ordination vows, marriage vows. We are a church of public confessions. The United Methodist Church has similar types of public confessions -- I am sure that Hillary understands public confessions.
#BlackLivesMatter is more than a movement, it is a public confession.
To be non-black and proclaim from the heart that #BlackLivesMatter is to publicly confess sins rooted in white supremacy: willful or ignorant participators in white privilege; benefactors of wealth built by the blood and tears of black men and women; complicity with the theory of whiteness.
Yes, #BlackLivesMatter is more than a movement.
For awakened Christians:
#BlackLivesMatter is a prayer of confession for those who have stood by in silence as genocide has been launched against our black brothers and sisters.
#BlackLivesMatter is a prayer of repentance proclaiming an intent to turn from our wicked ways: silent, complacent, apathetic, blind, self-righteous, wicked ways.
#BlackLivesMatter is a vow to speak truth to power; to give up our seat at the table when our black friends are not invited; to step away from the microphone when a black voice should be heard; to honor the knowledge, wisdom, experience and insights of our black family.
#BlackLivesMatter is a battle-cry in the fight to protect blackness from being whitewashed, co-opted, appropriated and annihilated by whiteness.
Until the system concedes that #BlackLivesMatter and restructures to embrace this sacred truth #AllLivesMatter is an nothing more than an affirmation of whiteness and a vow to continue the system of supremacy.