“Black Lives Matter to God and to Us.” That’s a banner on the wall of the church I serve.
Yesterday a neighbor of the church called to talk to me about parking concerns. In the course of our wide-ranging conversation, this neighbor said to me that the banner should come down because its purpose is over and it encourages people to kill police officers.
I admit: I’ve wondered how long the banner should stay up. Does it (or any banner) lose its effectiveness after a period of time? Is there a moment when this particular slogan is no longer relevant? I also admit: I am a well-educated, white, middle-aged, middle-class, Christian male who grew up in the American South—with all of the privileges and blind spots that come with that background.
Here are some facts:
- 1905. A group of 300 white men see the racist play, The Clansmen, then storm a jail and lynch an African-American inmate awaiting trial.
- 1912. White people with guns, dynamite, and bottles of kerosene chase 1,098 African-Americans out of Forysth County, GA, and take over their land and homes.
- 1920s. Restaurants had signs that said, “No Dogs, No Negroes, No Mexicans.”
- 1939. The DAR refuses to allow Marian Anderson to sing at Constitution Hall because she is black.
- 1944. The “race-neutral” G.I. Bill gives stipends and low-interest loans for returning soldiers to go to college; except that many African-Americans are not allowed to attend an overwhelming number of colleges.
- 1953. Black baseball player Frank Robinson is not allowed inside a movie theatre in Ogden, Utah.
- 1960s. The Moses Cemetery in Bethesda, Maryland—which was the burial site for dozens of African-American children, women, and men—is paved over for a parking lot.
- 1973. A white committee chairman in the U.S. House of Representatives makes a black Congressman and a white Congresswoman share a chair in a meeting, saying that “a black man and woman are worth only half of one regular member.”
- 1983. A medical school yearbook includes a picture of white people dressed in black face and a Klan hat. (In 2019, we learned that this was the yearbook page of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.) Klan garb is what white men wore as they raped, maimed, killed black people. Black face is an old form of "entertainment" used to mocking, dehumanize, and belittle black people.
- 1990s. White high school football fans in Pennsylvania shout, “Good luck in the playoffs, n*****,” to black players on the opposing team.
- 2007. Intel publishes a print ad of six black men bowing down to a white man.
- 2011. Countrywide Mortgage admits to charging higher fees and interest rates to black borrowers.
- 2012. Black people account for 31 percent of police killing victims in the United Sates, even though they make up just 13 percent of the US population.
- 2014. Academic researchers use two “white-sounding” names (Jake Mueller and Greg Walsh) and two “African-American-sounding” names (DeShawn Jackson and Tyrone Washington) to email public service providers. The emails from “DeShawn” and “Tyrone” get fewer and slower responses from government entities—including sheriff’s offices and even libraries.
- 2014. The owner of a professional basketball team tells his girlfriend, “Don’t bring black people to my games.”
- 2015. Professional wrestler Hulk Hogan is fired for referring to himself as a “racist” and using the “n” word in a conversation about his daughter sleeping with a black person.
- 2016. Flyers in North Carolina contain a picture of an black man and promise to beat “black apes.”
- 2017. A white man in a Chicago Starbucks is filmed calling a black man a slave.
- 2018. A white woman tells me that a banner that says, “Black Lives Matter to God and to Us,” should come down because it serves no purpose.
I wish the woman who called me was right. She is not. History and the present say that black lives do not matter in the way that white lives matter.
- Saying “Black Lives Matter” does not mean that white lives don’t matter; it means that black lives are at greater risk.
- Saying “Black Lives Matter” does not mean people should kill police officers. Are all police officers racist? Of course not. Are some? Sure. The system is stacked.
- The banner on our church is a fact: God loves black people. The banner is also an aspiration, a reminder, and promise: We (the members of our church) hope for equality and justice; we remember those days are not here; we must work hard.
- The Christian Church is complicit in racist structures.
- White liberals can be racist.
- Can’t black people be racist? Sure. That’s why it may be more helpful to think about the harm done by white privilege or white supremacy rather than racism.
- Saying “white privilege” doesn’t mean that some white people don’t have very tough lives; it means that their skin color is not an added difficulty.
- As the inheritor of white privilege, I have racist tendencies that frighten and worry me—many of which I’m not even aware of, I’m sure.
- Aren’t there other racial tensions (antipathy toward Native Americans, for instance)? Of course. And they should be addressed, but should not be used to avoid white-black relationships.
- Aren’t things better? Yes. No. Maybe. Slavery is outlawed. Jim Crow is abolished. Other forms of racism and white supremacy still exist and still harm black lives.
- Aren't the events on the timeline above isolated incidents. Each is unique sure, and together they are like individual drops of water that create a deadly flood.
- Racism, white privilege, and white supremacy harm black people (the oppressed). Those forms of injustice also harm the souls of white people—being an oppressor is soul-sucking, life-denying, energy-draining work.
“Black Lives Matter to God and to Us.” The world still needs that reminder. It’s not yet time to take the banner down.