My white Christian friends, please stop using the phrase “All lives matter.”
We know that all lives matter to God. That isn’t the issue.
Before you think I’m picking on you for being a good person, let me explain.
When we attempt to blanket the world with “All lives matter”, what we are really doing is disrespecting the black community. By changing “Black lives matter” to “All lives matter”, we are taking the focus off of our black brothers and sisters, trying to give that saying a different meaning than what was intended when the phrase was coined. Whether or not you consciously intend to, changing “Black lives matter” to “All lives matter” is dissing the African American population.
When white Christians use the phrase “All lives matter” we’re attempting to make ourselves more comfortable. It’s our feeble attempt at inclusion. Done poorly, I might add. We’re trying to put a thick salve over what we don’t have answers for, what we don’t want to look at. We’re trying, foolishly, to say, “We get you. We’re all in this together.”
Except, we’re not.
Sometimes, we use the phrase “All lives matter” to say we understand you.
Except, we don’t.
You and I do not share the black man or woman’s experience.
We aren’t looked upon in suspicion while going about our daily lives. We are not being subdued and murdered by those sworn to protect and serve as others watch. While we may be raising sons and daughters and have our own fears for them, we cannot share the black mother’s fear for her children simply because of the color of their skin.
The best, most honest response any of us can give is: we don’t know what it’s like to be black. Period.
There. That’s our stripped down response. We. Just. Don’t. Know. We can’t comprehend it.
I was raised on a farm in an all white community. Brought up in a Christian home, I learned “Jesus Loves the Little Children” in Sunday School. I knew the words by heart:
“Jesus loves the little children; all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
If I sang that song once, I sang it a hundred times. While I had very little exposure to children who didn’t look like me, I knew it meant I was supposed to love them because Jesus did.
As an adult, I moved to another all white community. Over the years, I’ve had a few African American friends, but the truth is that my placement in this life has not exposed me to much cultural and ethnic diversity. I never went to college, a place that would be a first melting pot to many like me. And while my community is slowly changing and becoming more diverse, I feel woefully inadequate in weaving myself into the current conversation in any meaningful way. What can a middle aged white woman in a small town in Pennsylvania add that could be of any value?
If nothing else, I can ask friends who share my upbringing to stop saying “All lives matter.”
While it makes white Christian people like me feel like we’re helping, we are not. We want to be all “kumbaya” except that we don’t even understand what that means or where it originated. Our hippie understanding is that we are all one, all in this together. (Kumbaya means “come by here” in Gullah. It was a spiritual sung by former slaves living off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina in the 1930s, and later made popular in the 1960s as a folk revival song. Yes, a white woman hijacked a negro spiritual, turning it into the camp song we know today. )
When we take away “Black lives matter” and replace it with “All lives matter” we’re actually helping to make the wound just a bit deeper…and pouring salt in it to boot. Often we want to say that we aren’t oppressing the black man or woman, that we didn’t have anything to do with slavery, that we aren’t prejudice…and maybe all of those things are “technically” true. What is also true is that our ignorance, our arrogance and our unwillingness to understand and acknowledge their mistreatment and inequality is what keeps the divide wide and the oppression heavy.
How do we begin to bridge this chasm?
The first step is for us to admit we just don’t understand the reality of being black. And, yes, there is a different reality to being black than to being white. Anyone who denies that just isn’t living with their eyes open.
The second step is to not diminish people of color further by slapping on the sloppy band aid of camaraderie. While we can empathize and sympathize, we do not share their experiences. This is why it’s important to leave “Black lives matter” just as it is and not try to make this an all-inclusive club.
The third step is to admit we feel helpless to help.
Finally, we pray daily for black men and women. Specifically. For in the injustices that continue to occur. In the wake of what we’ve just experienced, we rush to pray for our law enforcement and pray for peace. And rightly, we should. But eerily absent are prayers for George Floyd’s family and the black community at large.
And, that, my friends, is our problem.
If we’ve somehow skipped over the original crime, the original suffering, and went to praying for “our own”, our officers and those caught in the wake of riots, that is where our focus, and our hearts, have failed us.
Mr. George Floyd’s death woke me from my white existence. It poked holes in my Christian, country girl exterior and pierced something in me. I have never witnessed anyone pleading for his life. Never experienced the smugness of law enforcement. I have never seen anyone murdered in the street. Then it occurs to me that these are all too common experiences for much of the black community. And I can’t begin to process that.
The fact that it is the “norm”, a reality, for someone…a black someone…stuns me.
While I may not currently have a sphere of influence that can help the black community in any tangible way, the least I can do is appeal to my peers to stop diminishing their lives with our ignorance. And I’m speaking from experience when I say, we really can’t comprehend our own ignorance.
It took the death of Mr. Floyd to unveil mine. To reveal just where I was complicit in racial prejudice: ignorance. I always thought that to be nice to all people, regardless of their ethnic or cultural background, was enough. Perhaps it was a start, but it was not enough.
Alice Hoffman once said, “Once you know some things, you can’t unknow them. It’s a burden that can never be given away.”
This is our starting point. The first layer has been ripped back exposing the wound. Let us not continue to reopen the wound time and again for the black community by touting “All lives matter.”
Black lives matter.
They matter to them. And as Christians, they should matter to us.