Middleville, MI is has more than one stop light (barely), but it only has one coffee shop. That coffee shop is the Left Field Café, which stands out with an outspoken message of inclusivity on the Main Street of a rural, homogenous village. I’ve lived in Middleville for a year and used Google to find out if we even had a coffee shop! In my Google search, which took me to their Facebook page, I saw the above photo from Left Field Café in a post that read:
Middleville, let’s have a little heart to heart. Hate has no place in our cafe nor in our community. Black Lives Matter here in Middleville. They matter in Kenosha. They matter in Minneapolis, and in every city, every state, everywhere. Marking up our signs isn’t an issue. Writing racist slogans is, however. Racism doesn’t belong in Middleville. It doesn’t belong anywhere. Treat your neighbors with kindness. Black Lives Matter.
What ensued was what you’d expect: a litany of comments from people on both sides of the spectrum lobbing grenades back and forth about why “All Lives Matter” was correct and “Black Lives Matter” is a racist hate group, and then the rebuttals. I won’t dive into the details here as long, heated social media arguments take years off of my life.
It prompted me to write this post about what Black Lives Matter (or “black lives matter”) means and doesn’t mean, looking at the values of Black Lives Matter & All Lives Matter and say-it-ain’t-so, actually finds some common ground between the two.
If you haven’t noticed, we are really good at yelling at people who aren’t listening to us…so we yell louder…so they listen even less. So please know if you’re lookin’ for some good ol’ yellin’, you won’t find it here. (I like to call this alternate approach love and believe we should all try more of it)
What BLM and ALM have in common
It’s true! (By and large) Both Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter advocates care about black lives. Much of the rage that exists has to do with semantics and lack of context.
ALM folks are offended by the idea that BLM only care about black lives. ALM folks are saying “we care about black lives too…we just also care about all of the other lives…and you don’t. Therefore you are racist.”
BLM folks are offended that ALM folks don’t care about black lives, therefore are racist.
Let’s pause for a moment and celebrate that there’s actually some common ground between ALM and BLM. At some level, they both care about black lives.
That felt good.
Where misunderstanding rules
Ok now let’s get into the weeds.
There’s a few primary factors that dictate why and how ALM and BLM miss each other with such vitriol:
- Inability to understand how history formed the present
- Confusion over black lives in competition with white lives.
- The difference between the Black Lives Matter organization and the “black lives matter” movement
Inability to understand how history formed the present
I write about this in detail here. I encourage you to read it. You’ll be smarter and better and have better breath if you do. The context of the article was after Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed. Here’s some excerpts:
…the outrage about a death like Ahmaud’s is not necessary about his death itself (though certainly tragic, and worthy of outrage), it is that the shooters were not going to face criminal charges. (They are now, likely due to the protests and petitions) In many of the trending cases of unarmed black men being shot and killed over the past few years, the shooter either wasn’t going to face charges at all, or they were acquitted of all charges once they got to court.
…our recent history as a country. During the Civil Rights Movement, that was the state of our nation, particularly in the South (note that Ahmaud was killed in Georgia). Throughout the 50’s and 60’s, when the Beatles and Elvis Presley were in their heyday, it was commonplace in the South for blacks to be killed at random by whites and then for the whites to not face any criminal charges. Police officers, judges, and even pastors often participated in these killings and lynchings, let alone the members of a jury, so a black person was unlikely to find much help from those sources. I’m not saying every judge, police officer, or pastor was this way, but you can imagine this environment where so many were that it would make it impossible to trust any of them with you or your children’s lives.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, informally known as the National Lynching Memorial, opened in 2018 in Montgomery, Alabama. It reports that more than 4400 African American men, women, and children were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950. None of these deaths would have been prosecuted.
The purpose of these excerpts is to show that African-Americans have experienced a long history of being killed at will by white people and police, with no legal repercussions. So the understanding here is multi-fold.
On a real and serious level, black people are traumatized every time an unarmed black man or woman is killed by police or white killers because our legal system has often given free passes to the killers in these cases. This has given certain whites a sense of freedom and liberty to kill blacks without much fear of legal implications.
After Jacob Blake was nearly killed a couple weeks ago, a friend of mine received a text from a 17-year-old black young man he mentors where the boy was frantic in worry that he and his brothers would not live to be 25. Because they are black. You can argue with me on whether I’m right or wrong, but can’t argue with what this 17-year-old boy is feeling. This is a trauma that black people have had to live with their entire lives.
You can argue with me on whether I’m right or wrong, but can’t argue with what this 17-year-old boy is feeling. This is a trauma that black people have had to live with their entire lives.
Some will say these shootings are bad, but they don’t have to do with race. They may even say that more whites get killed by police than blacks. These arguments miss the key point of understanding here: when unarmed black men and women are killed by police or white killers, our legal system has shown a consistent pattern of letting the killers go free. It’s not about amounts of deaths (particularly when there are way more white people than black in the United States population), it’s that when a white person is killed, generally, the killer is prosecuted and convicted.
And talking about police brutality and our legal system is only the tip of the iceberg, but the historical piece remains. History (slavery, sharecropping, lynching, Jim Crow, redlining, mass incarceration, et al) has shaped today’s landscape in ways well beyond the scope of this singular blog post.
black lives matter (TOO)
White people do not live in the same fear that this 17-year-old black teen does. If my daughter was unarmed and killed by the police, I have confidence that our legal system would bring justice on the killer. A black person does not have this luxury.
This is where the Black Lives Matter movement comes from. It’s not saying white lives don’t matter, it’s saying black lives have not mattered in the United States since its inception. And it’s making the bold declaration that they do matter. Maybe it’d be more helpful if the movement was called Black Lives Matter Too. But it’s not. So instead of fighting about semantics with warlike vitriol, let’s just get behind the heart of the message, understanding what it is and isn’t saying.
A picture can be helpful: (borrowing this, not sure who made it)
If I was able to add to a graphic to this image, I would put in another line of fists where white fists were up high and the black fists were down low, with a heading “The way things have always been.” That idea is represented well in the following satirical cartoon:
It’s not that we don’t care about the house that’s doing okay, it’s that one of them (the one on fire) is not like the others and we aren’t okay with that.
The difference between the Black Lives Matter organization and the “black lives matter” movement
I understand some people’s criticisms of the official Black Lives Matter organization, and agree with some of them. But here’s the deal: You don’t have to agree with everything the official Black Lives Matter organization says or does to be in favor and support of black lives.
We live in a society that teaches us that everything is partisan. Everything is totally right or totally wrong. I don’t think this is a wise way to live, and it’s a very modern, Western way of thinking. I think it feeds off of a sinister type of pride. Wanting to be the winner on top and doing whatever it takes to conquer and embarrass “the other side.” No longer caring about what is true or what is loving or compassionate, only caring about winning.
Here’s a confession: I used to have a Black Lives Matter yard sign in my front lawn. (It was even vandalized!)
And that’s not even the confession. The confession is: I decided to remove it. You can read all about that here. It’s when I decided I couldn’t support the official Black Lives Matter organization due to official statements on their website (in 2016) that supported violence and that denounced Martin Luther King Jr., as well as denounced the African-American Church.
Does that mean there’s no such thing as police brutality?
Does that mean I, as a follower of Jesus commanded to stand up for the oppressed and stand against injustice should stand by as George Floyd and so many others’ lives are taken needlessly within a safe system of systemic racism?
Of course not. The founders of the Black Lives Matter movement certainly don’t have everything right (neither do I). That doesn’t negate that black lives haven’t mattered in this country for a very long time, and that they need to matter.
I removed my yard sign and wrote that blog article in 2016. Today I own and wear a Black Lives Matter t-shirt. One reason is because I think a growing number of people realize the (lowercase) black lives matter (or “movement for black lives”) has grown bigger and stronger and separate from the official Black Lives Matter organization. You can support the former without fully endorsing everything the latter does. But the primary reason I wear the shirt is to communicate to that 17-year-old boy that his life does matter.
And that I love him.
And that Jesus loves him.
And that it’s not supposed to be this way.
That our country has systemic sin woven into the fiber of its being.
That we are in desperate need of Jesus’ Kingdom to come here, to the United States. (Jesus told me to pray this in Matthew 6:10) That I need to pray this over anything that is not like his Kingdom.
And I won’t stop as a white follower of Jesus, who is benefiting from all that systemic sin, while those who have been stepped on for so long are left to eat the scraps that fall from the table. That is unjust. I won’t stop doing what the Bible tells me to do:
Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.Isaiah 1:17
Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!Amos 5:23-24
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.Micah 6:8
you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.Matthew 23:23
No matter your political allegiance, everyone needs to be behind the movement for black lives. This movement isn’t saying all other lives don’t matter. It’s only saying black lives need to matter equally. I think that’s something we can all get behind.