A Simple Thing that Might Change Everything

Julian BondJulian Bond has died. A major voice for justice has been stilled. How will we choose to honor him? A monument or two would be good. Perhaps a federal holiday? I hope there already has been a postage stamp, but if not, that should be done quickly. Certainly, pausing long enough to say “thank you.”

But how about this? How about everyone wearing a button, “Black Lives Matter.” And here’s something we can do even before we get a button: those of us on Facebook, can post the button on our page, or even make it our personal FB photo.

I'm White and I believe Black Lives MatterI posted this image on my Facebook page a couple of days ago, after being reminded about the heroism, the martyrdom, of Jonathan Daniels (you can read more about him here). I am gratified to say that 44 people, mostly white, “liked” the sign. Three people indicated disagreement, and we have had some dialogue.

I asked white Facebook friends to post this on their pages, to spread the word. I hoped that if enough of us did it would spread and we could really spread the message and create momentum for real change.

Some friends did share: thank you, Anne Evers, Peg McBride Cook, Cheryl Owen-Watson and others.

I don’t expect Black friends who liked the sign to post it, but I was hoping more of my white FB friends would do so. I am glad so many clicked “Like,” but I am also disappointed for two reasons. First, that only 44 clicked “Like.” I generally draw more response than that. Second, that only two shared the link on their FB pages.

I admit I was surprised to by the negative comments from several friends of mine, and it was hard to read some of them. But at least they took the time to share their feelings.

But I suspect that is why some did not take the step of sharing. Who wants to be bothered with negative comments? That is especially so when they reveal a deep divide between them and you (I feel that about two old friends from my hometown).

I had decided not to say anything about this, and just chalk it up to people being too busy, Julian Bond being voted out of the GA Houseand perhaps too frightened. Then, my friend James Schuyler posted this picture (right) on his FB page this morning. Julian Bond is seated as his colleagues rise to vote to remove him from the seat to which he had been elected (by 82% of his district).

Bond was then elected again, and again the House threw him out. He took them to court. After his third election victory, the U. S. Supreme Court told the House they had no choice but to seat him as a duly elected representative of the people ( click here to learn more).

It’s not easy to stick your neck out. I know that. But if more white people don’t stick our neck out and take on our shameful history and help people take responsibility, we will never overcome.

White people have to take up the cause. Julian Bond did his part–and not just for African Americans either (becoming an advocate for LGBT people, all poor people, and people in other parts of the world).

It is long overdue, but it still matters that we do our part. It must become our cause, not just for “them,” the others (African Americans, Latino/a peoples, Native Americans, etc.), but just as much for our own souls, and the well-being of the nation we love.

We are only as well as our sickest cell, and the United States has not recovered from the illness of white supremacy/racism that marks 400 years of history. It is buried deep within us as a nation and in us as individuals.

FB share buttonWe have been given yet another opportunity to shine the light of truth on this illness–that is what the tragedies of recent shootings make possible, and what a gift it would be to those who were killed due to racist rage if their deaths could be the occasion for national repentance and renewal. The question is, “Will we do it this time? Will we decide to stand up and lead the way forward towards true healing?”

Seen in that light, posting a sign on FB is not a big deal.

But then again, it could change everything.

Marriage Equality, YES! White Supremacy, NO!

2014-calendar-2As we take down one calendar in order to put up the new one (if you are still using a paper calendar, as we do in our kitchen) or learn to write a new year on checks (if you still use a checkbook with paper checks)–or simply notice that the annual cycle of birthdays and holidays begins again on your phone and/or other device–it is right to pause.

What about this year 2014? Did anything good happen? What about the other stuff? Will we do better in 2015?2015 Calendar

In terms of my work and my personal life, the amazing string of victories for marriage equality (not “gay marriage”) in Virginia and many other places ranks at the top. This has been an amazing year. Incredible. Simply incredible. Who would have guessed on February 4, when a small knot of us braved bitter cold to stand across the street from the Federal District Courthouse in Norfolk to support the plaintiffs and Norfolk courthouse witness Feb 4 2014their lawyers and Attorney General Mark Herring in the suit to bring down the Anti-Marriage, Anti-Love, Marshall-Newman Amendment that eight short months later, on October 6, victory (for marriage, but not other freedoms) would be complete?

And there were many other good things, too, and some personal ones, too (our youngest daughter, Robin, married Christopher–a match made in heaven, e.g.).  I hope that you had some good news, too!

Much that is not good happened, too. Wars continued, and famine wiped out children and families, and preventable disease injured and killed too many. And many, perhaps most, of us lost friends and family, too. Christopher and Robin wedding photo

But in my book, the saddest–and ugliest–story of the year is the continuing failure of our society (our nation and our state) to deal with white racism (what I prefer to call white supremacy).  We will never become the society we can be, the community God creates and calls us to be, until we finally really deal with the deep and pervasive stain on our individual and collective identities.

Why do I say this? Here are a few signs of the times, in addition to not being able to talk in a civil and reasoned way about, and really deal with, the killing of too many black men and boys by too many public safety officers. How about outrageously high incarceration rates (the highest in the world by many counts) that are particularly harsh on African American men? Or this: Black women (and poor women generally, among whom Black women are disproportionately present) have the highest rates of HIV infection. Or this: income inequality, already significant, continues to rise between white people and all others in the United States. Or this: new studies showing that charter schools, supposed to help our ailing public education system, are in many cases re-segregating our schools–60 years after Brown vs. Board of Education.

APTOPIX Police Shooting MissouriAnd here’s another interesting situation. Many people now expect President Obama, our first Black President since George Washington was inaugurated in 1789–and he, the (rightly, in many ways) revered Father of Our Country, owned slaves–to lead a national dialogue on race. Once again, “we” expect the Black people to do the work.

Sure, it is a good sign that as a nation we finally elected a Black man–and maybe we will finally elect a woman, a white woman, no doubt, soon–but way too many of our fellow citizens remain hostile to him at least as much, and in many cases more, as they oppose his policies (and some of them are unable to sort this out because he is the policy in their view).

But it is not the skin color of our President that matters as much as the skin color of those who really run so much in our culture–the corporate leaders anobama_portrait_146pxd politicians at all levels and the judges and the opinion makers and media moguls and billionaires and others who make decisions that touch millions every day in so many ways. Together, this white-dominated group, I think unconsciously most of the time, seems to make sure that white people are not displaced from our dominant rung on the social ladder (and some of them actually do things to change this).

Unconscious or not, most of the time white supremacy just keeps being replicated, even as more Black people and other people of other colors do make it up the ladder.

But the basic system remains in place.

Here is a simple test: when you, if you identify as a white person, describe someone you just met, or a person you just heard about on the news or internet, do you mention their skin color? Do you do that equally for both white and Black, or other, group (Native American, Latino/Latina, Asian, African) members?

Be honest.

Most of us who are white only mention race when it is someone not white. That is what white supremacy, in a seemingly mild way, looks like. Race only matters when it is not ours.

If that is not true of you, Hallelujah! You are helping the rest of us move forward. But if you are like most, do not despair. We can fix this, and so much more. We can be untrained and retrained, especially if we do it together, and we hold ourselves accountable not only to each other but also to the Black people in our lives and in our wider society.

Israel and November in Richmond 033Over the course of the coming years, I will write more about this, and I hope it may help at least some people begin participating in a national process of dismantling racism and reconstructing a new society (and I deliberately use the term, RECONSTRUCT, to highlight the last time we had white leaders who were determined to change us, in the era known as Reconstruction, from 1865-1877).

In the meantime, let us pray for healing, and let us begin it by admitting our personal share in the national wounds.

All lives matter. Yours and mine, of course, and everyone else. And that means Black lives matter, because they are human, of course, and because they are Black.