Justice & Inclusion Session 4, 16th March
Black lives – and all lives
“Let us not offer false equivalencies, thereby diminishing the particular pain being felt in a particular circumstance in a particular historical moment”
Article for background reading and discussion:
Why saying All Lives Matter is dismissive of the racism faced by black people
By Serina Sandhu, writing in the i newspaper, 9th June 2020
The phrase Black Lives Matter has been seen on placards in demonstrations across the world, following the death of George Floyd in the US.
Some people, however, have responded to the protests with the slogan “All Lives Matter”, which means that all lives are important regardless of race. But the phrase is seen as a criticism of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) campaign against systemic racism – even when the intention behind it might be sincere.
Welsh councillor Ali Ahmed was forced off a podium during a protest in Cardiff on Saturday after saying All Lives Matter. He later apologised, adding that he was unaware it had caused offence in the past, and that his intention was to support the BLM movement.
An Amazon customer wrote an email to CEO Jeff Bezos over the company’s support of BLM, saying it was “disturbing” and “offensive” because “All Lives Matter”.
BLM supporters, including Bezos, say that the slogan overlooks the racism towards black people and the danger they face.
This sentiment was captured in a poster held up by a young protester in the US. Her placard read: “We said Black Lives Matter, never said only black lives matter, we know all lives matter, we just need your help with #blacklivesmatter because black lives are in danger.”
Why is there backlash over All Lives Matter?
Some people have uttered the phrase All Lives Matter with seemingly good intentions to bring communities together amid tension.
But critics believe the phrase detracts from the immediate issues and danger facing black people and that it is a criticism of the BLM movement, or a counter-protest used by opponents.
BLM supporters say they have never suggested that all lives do not matter. Indeed the assumption is that all lives matter, but the racism, inequality and the risk faced by black people shows that is not the case.
Alicia Garza, civil rights activist and one of the co-founders of the BLM movement, told the TruthOut news website in 2015, that changing Black Lives Matter to All Lives Matter was “not an act of solidarity”.
“What it is, is a demonstration of how we don’t actually understand structural racism in this country. When we say All Lives Matter, that’s a given. Of course, we’re all human beings – we all bleed red – but the fact of the matter is some human lives are valued more than others, and that’s a problem.”
How do you convey the importance of Black Lives Matter?
Many use analogies, such as treating a wound or an injury, to convey why BLM is important and the urgency of addressing the issues the community faces.
“It is hard to believe that people imagine that because you are pointing out that one person is wounded, that if everybody else was wounded, we wouldn’t care for them. Black Lives Matter is like triage. You have to consider that everybody has got some kind of pain but at the moment the most crucial one is the Black Lives Matter cause,” said John Amaechi, a former NBA basketballer and psychologist.
“If you were watching children play in a park and one of them fell over and bumped their knee and they’re bleeding and then you went to attend to that child, and people focussed on that child and tried to comfort that child and somebody applied a plaster to that child, if somebody came along and said what about that child over there, but that child hasn’t got a wound right now.”
Speaking on This Morning, Mr Amaechi said black lives were not more important than everyone else’s but that the death of George Floyd and issues of police brutality showed that black lives mattered “a fraction of a white life”.
Activist Femi Oluwole said the All Lives Matter slogan itself contributed to the problem of racism, and offered his own analogy.
“An analogy that I’m going to use is, if Jack has five sweets and Jill has three sweets, if you give both of them three sweets, Jack still has more. If you say Black Lives Matter, you’re pointing out, ‘Look please stop killing us,'” he told Channel 5’s Jeremy Vine programme.
“If you’re saying let’s treat things as if everything equal when they’re not, you’re simply supporting a system that is already unequal. So that’s why saying All Lives Matter, when you’re faced with a situation where black people are being disproportionately killed, is actually contributing to the racism problem.”
Why is All Lives Matter dismissive?
Olivette Otele, Professor of History of Slavery at Bristol University and Vice-President of the Royal Historical Society, said the term All Lives Matter is “dismissive” and pretends not to understand where BLM “is coming from”.
“Of course all lives matter, we all know that, but in an ideal world we would all actually care for each other. But Black Lives Matter is because precisely black people have not been cared for,” she told i. “Through the police brutality we’ve seen that their lives actually matter even less than the rest of the population.”
She also raises a point about the “Black is beautiful” movement, which began in the US in the 1960s.
“The other thing that is interesting is the historical context of Black Lives Matters reminding us of ‘Black is beautiful’… Of course everyone is beautiful, so why did people feel the need to specify that? Because precisely black people have not been seen as the canon of beauty in the Western world. It’s all linked to that.”
Prof Otele says it is “disingenuous” for people to say they are not trying to be dismissive by stating All Lives Matter. Inequalities, she says, are all around us and adds that an example of this is how black and minority ethnic people have been disproportionately affected by the Covid pandemic.
Starting points for discussion:
What are our thoughts about
‘triage’ of the most pressing issues in an unjust society:
how do we discern where we are most needed?
What issues do we feel called to?
How do we test that calling?
Do we sometimes opt for doing the relatively easy and comfortable things, not the prickly and difficult ones?
Looking forward to our Tearfund reading, how do we ‘sit in this uncomfortable place of listening and recognising, creating a space from which change can emerge’?
Musical interlude: Brother Sister let me Serve you Brother, Sister, Let Me Serve You (The Servant Song) [with lyrics for congregations] - Bing video
Tearfund reflection on Black lives and all lives
Why not ‘All lives matter’? All lives do matter. This is affirmed in the biblical truth that, together, humanity was created in the image of the triune God. ALL humans are image-bearers of God, and in community and diversity we reflect more of the fullness of who God is. Nevertheless, lived experience so often does not affirm this truth, and when people within our societies are discriminated against, the image of God is defiled.
To say that ‘Black lives matter’ is therefore to put the focus on an aspect of God’s image that has not been recognised as such, and that has been neglected and mistreated. This is about seeking to right the wrong that Black lives haven’t mattered as much as other lives. ‘All lives matter’, although true, is too often used to maintain our current status quo.
Jesus did not maintain the status quo – he disrupted it. He overturned the tables of the moneylenders in the temple, berating them for turning it into a ‘den of robbers’. Jesus was challenging them for maintaining a system that they benefited from at others’ expense. Jesus also gave stern warnings against hypocrisy. In the Sermon on the Mount, we find the call not to judge others by pointing out the speck of dust in their eyes without taking seriously the plank in our own eyes (Matthew 7:3-5). In a similar vein, we need to examine our own lives to see where we might be complicit in systemic racism before pointing the finger at others.
Genuine reconciliation is not possible without recognising and naming injustice, addressing pain, and allowing space for lament, radical repentance and re-envisioning. We cannot rush through these stages: we need to be willing to sit in this uncomfortable place of listening and recognising, creating a space from which change can emerge.
In Luke’s gospel, a spotlight is placed on Jesus’ compassion for the marginalised and oppressed. The story of Zacchaeus is messy. Zacchaeus was despised by Jewish society because of his affiliation with Rome – under whom the Jews were occupied. As a tax collector, Zacchaeus was complicit in and benefited from systemic injustice. Very often, tax collectors further exploited their place of power and authority by overcharging citizens.
What stands out in this story is Zacchaeus’ response to encountering Jesus. As he is convicted of his sin, he vows not only to repay his debt, but to give half of his possessions to the poor and to pay back fourfold those he has wronged. Encountering Jesus created a ‘recognition’ in Zacchaeus of his wrongdoing, which led to repentance that resulted in radical action. Although we don’t have insight into the process that Zacchaeus went through, we can assume that it might have been uncomfortable for him. Yet it stirred an outpouring of generosity that led Zacchaeus to go above and beyond in his response to the injustice in which he had not only been complicit, but had overtly reinforced.
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.
Here are the words, as they don’t feature on the video:
Lift Every Voice And Sing,
till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod, bitter the
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years, God of our
Thou Who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou Who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.
Closing prayer written by Revd Rhea Summit, Pastor, New Alexandria United Methodist Church, USA
Father of the Heavenly Lights, you brought us to life by your Word of truth,
We were made in your image, sons and daughters of all colours.
The cancerous wickedness of racism has caused your children to suffer.
Prejudice, discrimination, and hatred have led to brokenness, violence and even death.
We confess that we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.
We have allowed the sin of racism to divide us in what we have done and what we have not done; what we have said and what we have not said.
Purify our hearts and tame our tongues, we pray;
Give us courage to repent, to fight for righteousness, and to love and embrace one another,
In the name of Jesus, Our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.