Anyone who knows me knows that I spend very little time watching sports. But once in a while, I wind up catching a football game on TV. Several years ago, I was watching a game and noticed players wearing pink socks and pink armbands. I thought that was strange. I asked my dad why they were wearing pink armbands, and he said they were wearing pink for breast cancer awareness and to raise funds for medical research and treatment. I shrugged my shoulders and thought, “Good for them.” That’s likely the response most people had. I can’t imagine too many people thinking, “Why don’t they raise awareness for brain cancer or prostate cancer? Doesn’t all cancer matter?”
Of course, all cancer matters. Raising awareness about a particular form of cancer does not diminish the significance of other types of cancer. It merely highlights the need for a specific kind of cancer research and treatment, especially if that need is going largely unnoticed. The Black Lives Matter movement was built with a similar objective in mind.
I’ve heard it said this way: “When a house is on fire, you draw your attention and resources to it, not because the other houses don’t matter, but because they’re not presently on fire.” Black Lives Matter began as a hashtag to raise awareness of the gross mistreatment and marginalization of certain Americans. The goal was not to elevate black lives above other lives, but rather to say that if all lives do indeed matter, then let’s address the mistreatment of our black brothers and sisters.
BLM doesn’t mean [Only] Black Lives Matter. It means [Even] Black Lives Matter. It was a movement formed in response to the experience of most black Americans (85%) who feel that they are treated as inferior to dominant culture Americans. Ta Nehisi Coates shines a light on this devastating reality by saying, “The plunder of black communities is not a bump along the road, but it is, in fact, the road itself that you can’t have in America without enslavement, without Jim Crow, terrorism, everything that came after that.”
The cold reality is that racism is not a bump in the road of our history. It has shaped our nation from the very start. The black body has been treated with less value and dignity throughout history—and that didn’t end in the ‘60s. And while we have certainly made progress, there is still awareness to be raised and work to be done. That’s why the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was created. It was meant to capture people’s attention with a shockingly simple message: Black lives matter. They matter. They matter to God, and they should matter to us.
Perhaps we (dominant culture folks like myself) should ask ourselves why that message is so offensive? Why does such a plain message about the humanity of our black brothers and sisters disturb and provoke us so deeply? Do we feel marginalized by the dignity of our black neighbors? If so, perhaps it’s because we feel we’re falling behind as our black neighbors take steps forward. And while we may feel that way, I would argue that feeling isn’t grounded in reality. Our black neighbors aren’t getting a leg up on anyone by claiming their God-given dignity. They’re crying out for justice in a country soaked in the residue of injustice—and I want my voice to be heard among theirs.
As our black neighbors take steps forward, they are catching up to the dignified position they should have had all along. Dominant culture individuals aren’t being left behind; we’re beginning to experience (maybe for the first time) what it might look like for people of all racial backgrounds to stand side-by-side at the same starting line.
Sin, by its nature, blinds us to the simplest of realities. Sometimes the truth seems provocative, not because of its outlandishness but because of its simplicity. “Black Lives Matter” is a simple truth that presses hard against the blinding reality of sin. It reminds us that all lives matter, even black lives. So, I’ll continue to raise the banner of that shockingly simple message until we see that reality reflected in the structures and systems of our country. Why? Because I love the country God has placed me in, and I love my neighbors. Every single one of them.
“Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” Colossians 3:11