I had some unscheduled free time on my hands being the only one in the house and sat down to read The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement by Dr. William J. Barber II, one of the leaders of the North Carolina Moral Monday movement, and the president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP. Dr. Barber was one of our keynote speakers at our annual UU General Assembly this summer and he took us by storm, preaching of the moral revolution that is upon us and our call to join the fight as progressive people of faith that we might be the new freedom fighters for the third reconstruction that is upon us. He gave a powerful speech at the DNC this year, the best sermon that many have heard in a long time from a national stage, insisting that we must be the defibrillators for the heart of democracy. I say Amen.
Now, I am no Dr. William J. Barber II, but his words inspired me, called me, reignited the fire for justice I have always felt but which has been slowly dying under the crushing weight of violence this summer; a fire which is fueled by my Unitarian Universalist faith. Thinking about how I can become a better ally, how I can help my congregants see the wound of racism and become better allies, this is what my heart had to say:
To say “all lives matter” is to miss the point. The phrase silences the lived experience of an entire group of people quickly and without listening, without acknowledging their pain. In the wake of this summer’s shootings of black men and women and in the wake of the attack on the Dallas Police, which is tragic and horrifying and black people across this country are grieving too, but we cannot allow it to overshadow the continued systemic violence against black people. We must listen to the pain and agony of our fellow citizens of color in a manner to which we are unaccustomed. We must hear their cries and their stories without dismissing them, without explaining it away or offering our perspective (as white people). We must just sit and listen more deeply and openly and quietly and reflectively than we ever have before.
May I suggest, as many others have, that saying “Black Lives Matter” does not imply the word “only” preceding the statement. Rather, saying “Black Lives Matter” lifts up and recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of black people and people of color who have been historically marginalized and oppressed in this country for hundreds of years. And not just historically, but still today, people of color are marginalized, oppressed, singled out, plagued by more violence, more incarceration, more suspicion, and more poverty than most white people have ever experienced.
We (white folks) will never know what it is like to feel the deep wounds of racism and violence, both obvious and implicit, that people of color are forced to confront every moment of their lives. We will never know what that feels like, but we must try to imagine. That is why we choose, we choose, to say “Black Lives Matter,” because it is a reminder that we must wake up and acknowledge the systems and structures of racism that exist today, that were foundational to the building and thriving of our country. We must acknowledge how those systems and structures seep into our individual thinking and being and fight against them.
I am not immune to my own racism. I think about how it has shown up in my life in ways conditioned by culture. When all I saw growing up were mostly young black and Hispanic men being arrested and sent to jail, it naturally seeped into my way of understanding the world. When two young black men harassed me on a bus in Chicago it added to my fear and bred deep internal judgements. I know I must hold those moments, and many others, in the forefront of my awareness and fight against them regularly, because I know I cannot be truly free in the world if I am holding a group of people to a set of judgements based on isolated experiences and cultural messaging.
I have also been witness to the deep wound of racism in my own family. My Hispanic father-in-law was pulled over for “looking tired” when he helped us drive our U-Haul on our move to Los Angeles. He’d only been on the road for 30 minutes. I have heard the story of the Tucson, AZ (my hometown) police chief (also Hispanic) when he was mowing his front lawn in his upper-middle class neighborhood and someone pulled up to ask him for his card because they were looking for a gardener. Racism is pervasive, systemic and we are conditioned to it.
But as white allies becoming, we can fight to deprogram ourselves, to listen to the stories, to journey in solidarity, to be the change, to push the moral arc toward justice for all––let’s not forget the “for all” part––and step into the moral revolution until the glory comes.
The tear in the fabric of our humanity is ripping further, wider, almost beyond repair . . .almost. Together, with an openness and a vulnerability that will stretch us beyond our imagination (and not without some pain), we can slowly begin to stitch up that tear with colorful threads of love, compassion, and solidarity; tears, pain and grief; wholeness, healing, and transformation.
I’m all in. Are you?