I remember the day in American History class when we watched decades-old news footage of the American Civil Rights Movement.
I watched in horror as young black men and women were beaten in the streets, mauled by dogs, and ravaged by water hoses. I saw the signs that pointed to negro bathrooms and water fountains, cringing as the consonant sounds came together forming all-too-close to the word I’d read so many times in To Kill a Mockingbird and other such famed American works.
I remember learning about how it had gotten so much better.
Fast forward a few years and I remember the day we elected the first black president. I watched with pride thinking to myself, this is one of those moments where history is made and you tell the story to your grandchildren.
But the truth is, my horror, just the same as my pride, did not glean for me an insight into empathy. As an American-born white, Christian woman, no form of discrimination brought against me will ever compare to that which has plagued my black peers and their ancestors.
There are too many names that flood my head, and far too many more I don’t even know, when I think through the violent acts committed against individual black people, and moreover, the collective black community in recent years.
For too long I thought it best to keep quiet on the matter. Nothing I could think of to say felt empathetic or enough, so instead I said nothing.
Well, I’m done saying nothing.
Do I say African American instead of black? Is it weird to mention how I grew up in white suburbia but went to a Title I middle school? Is it racist and stereotypical to offer up that I was raised by a single mother?
I may clunk through my words, or mar the politically correct niceties. I may get some of it wrong, or I may miss the mark on the whole lot of it, but as a Christian, as a woman, as a white person, as an American, and most-importantly as a human I will tell you black lives matter, and none of this is okay.
But it got me thinking. Words don’t feel like enough because most of the time words are just a little bit empty. They don’t require action, but worse they imply it. Our words don’t actually make us accountable to the action that follows them. More often than not, without our knowledge they make hypocrites out of us faster than we even realize.
So, without ceremony, I offer up just a few things we average white folk can start putting into action to stand in the gap for black lives.
I remember it clearly from my childhood, at certain stoplights, in distinct areas of town my grandmother would, likely subconsciously, lock the doors of the car as we came to a full stop. Just a few short weeks ago, I began driving the highway home from work after multiple shootings were reported in the neighborhoods along the path of my back road shortcut.
Having spent time ministering to children in Alabama Village in Prichard, AL, one of the deadliest gang-violence ridden communities in America, where concrete road blockades were placed to leave one way in and one way out, I can only mildly communicate the injustice we create by segmenting our cities into safe zones and danger zones, or worse white neighborhoods and black ‘hoods without bile forming in the back of my throat.
On the heels of Jesse Williams’ impassioned BET acceptance speech, I found myself Googling “systemic poverty” only to grow more appalled by something I myself have been privileged not to experience all while being complicit in perpetuating the issue. While my white peers’ parents enrolled their soon-to-be sixth graders in private school, my mother enrolled me in a Title I middle school, where for the first time I found myself uniquely familiar with the cultural norms accepted inside the invisible walls of poverty built less than a mile from grandiose displays of systemic white privilege.
Call it like you may not see it
Growing up with a single mother, I found myself familiar with a tight budget and a babysitter. Mom worked hard to provide, but what she couldn’t fell flat in the face of a firm “No.” My sister and I wanted for nothing until we saw what others had, some would call this the beginnings of cultural gluttony and envy. Both of us would likely shy away from the phrase “privileged upbringing” counting the list of luxuries we were wont for.
But we grew up white, so we grew up privileged.
Fact of the matter is, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, if you grow up white in America, you have an 87 percent chance of graduating high school (compared to black students’ 69 percent). Only 42 percent of black high school graduates go on to college while 62 percent of their white peers pursue similar higher education.
School discipline, crime rates, sexual assault and domestic dispute statistics follow similar trends. Meanwhile, trends for Latino Americans and Asian Americans plot in between whites and blacks in equal opportunity and sociological categories.
If you understand Black Lives Matter, act like it.
Our subconscious has power. Late at night as we walk to the car our eyes dart for safe havens when a black male is in our midst. The condescending “bless her heart” escapes our lips when we see a young black woman caring for a less-than-content child in the grocery store. Lean into those moments, becoming aware of your own habits helps you to adjust them to align better with what you actually believe.
But what about those conscious decisions? Research the ballot initiatives on social policy and reform. Pay attention to issues like education, health care and government aid programs. Don’t vote blindly based on party affiliation. Do your own research, pray for discernment and seek wise counsel. Make good decisions.
In typical Mom form, mine has always told me, “When you know better, you do better.” Put to use the tenacity with which you filter and absorb your hours-old Twitter feed and figure out what you need to know.
Then do better.
Look to Jesus and remember that life matters.
When we look to Jesus to direct our steps, it is easiest for me to draw parallels where I see the Jew who walked through Samaria.
Shocked that He, a Jew, would ask her for water, the Samaritan woman goes on to say, “Do you think yourself greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well?”
The truth is, the well of systemic inequality we sit at, inherited from our forefathers has brought us water that isn’t quenching the thirst for liberty and justice for all.
Jesus, God in human form, came to earth to minister to humans made in the image of God. He saw no lines of Samaritan or Jew. Rich or poor. Prostitute or queen. God uses the afflicted and the affirmed. The children of God, made in the image of God, redeemed (or still redeemable) by the blood of Jesus, matter to the heart of God.