I have young millennial friend on social media. Like many of his generation who were raised evangelical, he’s been asking a few questions about why (especially during the presidential election- and then the insurrection on January 6) so many Christians were behaving in such unChristlike ways. When he tries to discuss his feelings, the older generation becomes offended and says that everyone is fine except the trouble makers (radical/left-wing Democrats, Antifa, Black Lives Matter). So, when I expressed my appreciation on social media that BLM had been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Jake asked me how I would explain being happy about “radicals taking charge”.
He was asking for a friend. So, here is what I shared. I decided to turn it into a post here so it is easier to read. Remember: as Christians, it is our #1 task to pray for our nation. However, our #2 task is to walk in love towards our neighbors.
Here is what I wrote for Jake:
Jake, could you pass this along to your friend.
Dear Jake’s Friend,
Thanks for your question. To answer it, please allow me to tell a little about me:
I have been a counselor for more than two decades now. I make my living trying to understand how and why people think and feel the way they do.
In fact, a lot of my life has taught me to look at life through “both sides now” (as an old Joni Mitchell song said, but I’m betraying my age…)
I was raised in the old South, so deeply understand and lived in the culture of mandated segregation. I was also the daughter of civil rights activists in those MLK days.
As an adult have lived through times of deep poverty (in fact, lived in Chester, which will tell local folk a bit about the poverty). And I have enjoyed many years of middle class White American financial comfort.
And I have spent years as part of the support system for an urban ministry and hear the stories of staff and students from the world of the difficult-to-escape inner city.
So when I tried to understand Black Lives Matter, I did my best, with my knowledge and experience to figure out what made and drove the movement.
Here are my thoughts:
Any adult, however focused and mature, will devolve into a 2 year old temper, anxiety or despair if they are Hungry, Angry, Afraid, Lonely or Tired for too long. (You have probably noticed that in yourself, right, Jake’s Friend? We all get cranky at times like that.)
(BTW- I’m not saying any BLM action was devolved behavior- just trying to explain a protest to White folks who have rarely been really uncomfortable- a point of common experience.)
- Can you imagine being a person who grows up feeling one or more of those things every day?
- When we lived in Chester for several years, there was not one single day that I did not feel afraid for our safety or that we would not have enough money to pay the bills or feed the kids. It was lonely knowing that most of the folks I knew had no idea what it was like to scrape together gas money to get the family to church. When we were finally able to move to better living situation, my anxiety and health improved, for sure. (But, I’m sure it had a lasting impact on my kids who were born during those days. Poverty is trauma.)
- What if you were like many of my neighbors there? Because of the color of your skin, you could not live somewhere else. (This was not because of mandated segregation, but red-lining codes and traditions and credit requirements. Not only that, the rents or mortgage rates were SO high compared to what folks mostly White towns were paying, that it was impossible to get ahead with downpayment for a move.)
- What if your kids attended the local school that was funded by property taxes from the neighborhood? In other words, schools had little funding to pay teachers, keep the building safe, buy curriculum and supplies. I watched this, right where I lived. While the White towns around us, with higher property taxes had decent schools- the local kids didn’t have a chance. The graduates of White town schools were able to get into college or vocational training that set them up for life. The graduates of our town, could not perform well on SATs or hold competitive transcripts, so had to accept minimum-wage jobs. (Let me tell you, you can never pay today’s bills with minimum wages- thus the need for federal supplemental programs.)
I learned that it could make you “suspect” if you have black or brown skin when I was attending the international conference for the American Association of Christian Counselors several years back. I attended a panel where several leaders in the Christian counseling profession shared about racial reconciliation. A couple of these leaders were Black psychiatrists, highly successful and revered in the psychological profession.
- Both of these men shared that, if they stopped at at store and were not dressed in suit and tie, it was not unusual for them to be followed by store personnel.
- Even if they were professionally dressed, they were sometimes subject to random traffic stops. (That was where I first heard about “the talk” that every Black parent has to give their teens when they start to drive: WHEN you are stopped, hands on the steering wheel…) I never knew until that time that driving while Black can be a life threatening situation.
- Even in America today, if you have Black skin or a non-white-sounding name, it is more difficult to get job interviews and move up the corporate or professional ladder. My Black friends tell me that they have to be prepared to outperform their White colleagues by at least 10%.
Now this one is difficult for any White person who wasn’t raised in the old South, but I was, so I watched it: Slavery never died.
- When slavery was officially outlawed, the need for free and forced labor did not go away. In the South, Jim Crow and situational norms were enacted that kept Black people in enslaved lifestyles. Sharecroppers were trapped in rigged systems where they could never get out of debt to big farmers who controlled seed and county legislatures that enacted tax laws making success difficult for non-Whites. If anyone stood up to those with money or power, there were lynchings or arrests:
- And when a man was arrested, he would be rented out to local farms, groves, chain gangs.
- Black people were kept in slavery in a system that is still alive and well today in for-profit prisons systems and a culture of power-by-terror. This culture migrated North and became embedded in our big cities as Black people fled north to TRY to escape the slavery of the South.
- And when people tried to vote the systems out, they would face “reading tests” and “citizenship tests” that were impossible to pass. (White folk did not need to take these tests.) Or had to pay heavy “poll taxes”. When these were outlawed in the past few decades, politicians had creative but legal voter suppression ideas:
- Randomly eliminate or move polling places
- Purge voter rolls randomly
- Add extra voting requirements that were difficult for poor people (drivers licenses- for folks who don’t drive, photo ids that come from a motor vehicle administration office so far away folks can’t get to it, requirement of a steady address for folks who may move from family location to family location due to finances).
I’ll stop with these, Jake’s Friend. I hope they help you understand, the way I have come to understand, that Black lives do matter but unfortunately they are not treated like they matter the same way that we White folks matter.
They’ve been working in the system since the Civil Rights Era when MLK and John Lewis and others were constantly being criticized for making trouble.
Folks don’t need to be making trouble if they are not Hungry, Angry/Afraid, Lonely or Tired. It is our job as Christians or American citizens, to listen, try to understand and then do something to help. (Not looking for ways to be offended is a good place to start.)
The Nobel Prize nomination is that organization’s way of saying: See, there’s a problem and at least SOMEONE is trying to make a change.