A couple months ago I attended an event, Open Bite Night, an open mic and small plate event put on by RoE Creations (my sister’s non-profit). It was to highlight small businesses and budding caterers in the neighborhood … and we almost didn’t go. For that matter, they almost didn’t hold it. In the weeks leading up to it, across the nation it was like black people were being targeted by the police. Black body after black body brutalized, dismissed, disregarded, considered a threat no matter how young or how unarmed. We were tired, we were grieving, we were angry. But we ended up attending.
Open Bite Night was awesome. A couple hundred folks, all these neighbors, showing up and showing out what they could do in a kitchen. A community coming together to celebrate the gifts within it. The stage (my sister’s porch) became a place of healing. Poet after poet gave voice to our feelings. The pain. The anger. The hope. To protest how we have been treated. To demand to be seen and heard.
Then the police showed up.
A ripple went through the crowd like an electric shock. A wave of emotion swept through me. Anger. Resentment. Suspicion. Fear. I was afraid. Of our police. The Indianapolis Police Department, where I have friends who serve proudly and the sight of them put me on alert. My aunt started packing up her stuff and her son immediately saying “I’ve worked too hard to raise this black young man just to see him cut down by the police … a week before he’s off to college.” The fear was real. That we were seen as a mob, an unruly assembly. That we were a threat. Images of the two patrol cars calling for backup, of armed men arriving in riot gear. That our voices didn’t matter. That our right to assemble, protest, and critique didn’t matter.
That our lives didn’t matter.
Excerpts from a voice mail message left for a local church who had a Black Lives Matter sign in their yard: “Jesus would say ‘all lives matter’” … “…the blacks around here are almost as bad as in Chicago …” … “It’s not like the blacks are slaves anymore.” … “Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization.”
Acts of protest, acts of civil disobedience, by their nature and intent, disrupt the natural order of things. That’s the point. The natural order needs to be questioned, the fact that not everyone experiences this natural order equally needs to be highlighted. To say “Black Lives Matter” is a reminder. There is an unspoken “too” (as in “Black lives matter, too”) because it’s obvious that to many people they don’t. Black Lives Matter is not a difficult concept to grasp unless a person willfully doesn’t want to.
Those same people understand that saying “Blue Lives Matter” doesn’t mean they think only police lives matter to the exclusion of all others. Pro-life activists saying #unbornlivesmatter doesn’t mean they don’t care about anyone else. If an environmentalist chants “save the rainforest,” people understand that they aren’t saying the other biomes don’t matter. When Jesus said “blessed are the poor,” he didn’t mean that everyone else was out of luck. All of them are attempting to draw special attention to the fact that the object/people they are defending are under threat or being destroyed at an alarming rate. But people know this already and are disingenuous when they pretend otherwise. Obviously it’s the word “Black” they have issue with. That’s the word they find “divisive” and that’s rather the point.
If “All Lives Matter” was the case in practice, there would never be a need for Black Lives Matter. To go one step further, if All Lives Matter was the natural order of things, when a black life was cut down unjustly, all people of all races would rally in objection. They wouldn’t complain about how other people grieve their tragedies. Hiding behind #alllivesmatter is a distraction, an act of erasure, where people retreat to in order to cover their indifference with platitudes. Well-intentioned words instead of real action.
At church, the day after Open Bite Night, I was angry. Angry at the world. Angry at the country. Angry at how scared I was made to feel. Angry at how taken for granted my black life was. Angry at white people in general. Ironic, considering that I currently attend a predominantly white church. We’d fallen in with their community due to their work in the city and their commitment to the arts. And I never felt so apart from them.
I strode in, mad and determined to be mad. Dressed in all black, both to mourn and protest, as my t-shirt had the word REVOLUTION across it and featured portrait of historical black leaders. I barely got two steps past the door when the youngest daughter of dear friends of mine ran up to me. “Hi Mr. Broaddus. I’m so glad you’re here.” A few moments later, their next oldest daughter came around the corner and ran up to me. “Good morning, Mr. Broaddus,” she said and then gave me a hug. I managed a couple more steps when their *next* oldest daughter snuck up on me and gave me a hug. “Mr. Broaddus! You’re here.” Finally, before I had reached the coffeetable, their NEXT oldest daughter found me and gave me a hug. “Mr. Broaddus, I’m so happy to see you!” And I was left trying to figure out how to keep my anger in the face of unconditional love.
They were the welcoming arms of Christ. No guile, no politics, simply reaching out in love. Sensing my sorrow and grieving with me. It was not about needing validation, I have that by birthright. It was about being known, being recognized, being valued. I was still angry at a system that perpetuates racism. At the unjust power structure. The anger was real and just. Which brings me to whether or not Jesus would say “Black Lives Matter.”
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” –Luke 4:18-19
The simple fact was that Jesus often emphasized groups of people. The poor. The “least of these.” Those whom others—the majority, the system—would tend to discount or condemn. The marginalized. Those denied a voice. The persecuted. His was a ministry of empathizing the other. He stood in opposition to oppression and systematic racism.
The bottom line is that my life matters Just as much as anyone else’s. It’s not so hard to understand.