“There was a time when skepticism was an act of rebellion.
Since to a degree I both believe in evolution and have faith, I can only conclude that, as prophesied, to have faith will someday be an act of rebellion.” ― Criss Jami¹, Killosophy
(whites must fight) UNTIL BLACK LIVES MATTER.. is realized Part One
So many white people have grown weary of the national debate on racial matters.
So weary that race will continue not to mater until an abolitionist-like² spirit is born into this present generation of white folks.
Therefore for the overwhelming majority of white people – black lives will continue to not matter.
Please indulge me for one moment.
I am a white male. I am sixty-three years old. I hold a Masters of Divinity degree. I have gone to the top ten percent of schools in the country. I grew up in the typical (WASP) white Anglo Saxon Protestant home. There was one black student in my high school. I have seen all four of my children through excellent colleges. I am a person of unearned privilege. I still believe in Liberation Theology. I embrace existential Christianity and I am an unapologetic social democrat³. I have been in the civil rights/ anti-war/ peace and justice movements for over forty years. (And as a best friend says I am a, “little pile of laundry with blue eyes“).
I confess these facts to prove my being an “expert witness” in the case that white people must fight for the reality that Black Lives Matter. In that light I make this opening statement and submit the brief that follows.
“The vast majority of my white race in America does NOT understand the BLACK LIVES MATTER movement. Without our informed camaraderie the movement will fall into our post-post modern pedestrian blindness of tolerated segregation. Period.”
Only recently did I have this shattering epiphany and wakefulness. It was Saturday Aug. 8th when Senator Bernie Sanders was campaigning in Seattle.
(pictured) Marissa Johnson speaks as Mara Jacqueline Willaford holds fist (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
(Sanders was pre-empted in a chaotic confrontation with a pair of Black Lives Matter protesters, who took the stage and refused to let him speak).⁴
Over coffee with a colleague I confessed my unease at the action taken by those young Black Lives Matter activists. I said, “Come on.. Bernie Sanders? I mean he’s the only one running for president who has consistently fought for civil rights and against all its’ systemic affiliations.”
My colleague agreed and added, “At the very least the action was rude. And it certainly didn’t help their cause.”
There it was. My white professor friend and his white protestant minister friend agreeing that these kids were rude to interrupt such a fine gentleman. Senator Bernie Sanders, a selfless servant to the cause of justice for all people. How could they hope, with these type of tactics, to win people over to their cause? How will their generations voice, that Black Lives Matter, ever be heard?
There it was. The man in the mirror was staring at me. There was my righteous white man’s face saying, “When will they ever learn?”
When will I ever learn?
If not for those few courageous young people.. I would not have learned.
If not for their willingness to be mocked by a large crowd of white people (who were supposed to be “sympathetic” to “their” cause).. I would not have been “offended.”
If not for their impassioned insistence to have their message attended to.. I would not have heard their voice.
Dear God I finally heard them.
Thank God they had the audacity to interrupt this caring white politician as he rallied his mostly white supporters. Bless them for walking the same path of uncertainty that their elders took fifty years ago during March of 1965 over bridges in Alabama.
After my friend was gone I just sat alone at our coffee hangout. I stirred the near empty cup. My new view was vivid in my mind. Then I remembered. It haunted me from so long ago. There was another group of young black students that seemed so disrespectful and offensive to yet another gathering of progressive white supporters of the cause.
In 1993 the first National Urban Peace and Justice Summit (AKA: National Gang-Peace Summit) ⁵ occurred at St. Mark’s Union Church in Kansas City, Missouri. Community activists, city leaders, and rival gang members came from across the nation hold a summit in an effort to curb youth violence in the nations mostly black ghettos. It was a success.
The next year – again at St. Mark Union – many representatives from the first summit came back together to meet with the half a dozen other summits that had spawned in major cities around the country. Other new activists came as well. One group was the so-called New Black Panther Party (started in Dallas, TX). They were just as young and just as angry as the original (Black Panther Party for Self-Defense) under Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale organized in October of 1966.
Most of the assembled white folks (and some of the black folks) were intimidated in various degrees. It was not until a circle gathering later the first day that things changed for my unease. I sat beside the pastor of St. Mark Union Rev. Sam Mann. (Sam was the white Methodist minister at the all-black St. Mark Union. A son of the deep South he became an advocate for human rights active in the fight against racism for more than four decades — despite his upbringing.)⁶
I asked him what did these young men need. It bothered me that they were not allowing anyone to finish their contributions without interruption. What did they want to hear?
(pictured: Rev. Mann and kids from St. Mark”s)
He whispered to me, “That is it. They want to be heard. They want to be heard until they are finished speaking. No matter what they say and no matter how long it takes.” Then he suggested that it would be interesting to see what they would do if, “one of you white clergy was to ask for their forgiveness.”
I was so humbled I did not need to ask “forgiveness for what?” I was almost too afraid and certainly too ashamed to ask Sam, “Should I?”
So I stood with my hand raised like I was back in 2nd grade. I suppose I looked so ridiculous in my clergy collar, blue jeans, cowboy boots and sixties hair cut (little pile of laundry with blue eyes) that they were embarrassed for me. I ask them if they would please accept a plea to forgive the Church, my ancestors, and me for our actions over so many years. I told them that I wanted to hear their voice today.
One young man answered that it was easier for him to forgive me than it would be for me to give their voice access into the white church.
Even though this group, the New Black Panther Party, was disavowed and shunned by the original founders of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense – and declared a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center – the young man’s’ reply was (and absolutely is) just as valid a statement. And the action of confession from people of white skin is still critical for reconciliation to be authentic.
Are we too weary to listen?
My epiphany that was jump started by the Sanders campaign incident in Seattle came into a clearer focus at the Senators next event in Los Angeles.
Rory Carroll of the Guardian reported from LA last week that, “Instead of protesters upstaging him – something that has sabotaged two previous events – the 73-year-old senator from Vermont had African American allies on stage to introduce him and reassure the Black Lives Matter movement, and others, that he may be an old white guy, but he was their old white guy.”
Carroll went on to recount that, “Before Sanders took the stage,.. some supporters had worried about Saturday’s fiasco in Seattle, when two women who said they represented Black Lives Matter seized the mic and demanded Sanders do more about police violence. It left nagging questions. Was he out of touch? Was Vermont too vanilla for a diverse nation? Would protesters again leave him mute?”
Instead a young African American, Symone Sanders, appeared and introduced herself as the campaign’s newly appointed national press secretary. (Omaha native, Black Lives Matter supporter, criminal justice advocate, and communications specialist Symone D. Sanders was named national press secretary for Bernie Sanders.)
Another African American, Dante Harris, the leader of a local flight attendants’ union, helped warm up the crowd. “Workers’ lives matter! Black lives matter! The truth matters!”
Senator Bernie Sanders is – of course – a professional politician, but I believe he has been consistent in progressive actions over his career as an elected official.
In that light he is not displaying hypocrisy when he declared at the LA rally, “There’s no president that will fight harder to end institutional racism.”
What becomes troublesome for the singularity of Black Lives Matter was what Harris intoned before Sanders took the stage – when he said, “Workers’ lives matter! Black lives matter! The truth matters!”
I submit that black and white companions in the Black Lives Matter Movement must focus on just that for now until it is a reality.
UNTIL BLACK LIVES MATTER
Grace and Peace be Unto You .. Michael O Harrington
NOTES Part One:
- 1.) Born May 29, 1987, Criss Jami is the lead singer of the rock band Venus in Arms based in Washington, D.C. He is also a poet, essayist, existentialist philosopher, and the founder and designer of Killosopher Apparel. He studied philosophy at George Mason University.
2.) Dictionary.com 1. (especially prior to the Civil War) a person who advocated or supported the abolition of slavery in the U.S. 2. a person who favors the abolition of any law or practice deemed harmful to society:
3.) Heywood, Andrew (April 10, 2010). Political Ideologies: An Introduction, 5th edition. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 127. ISBN 978-0230367258. “Social democracy is an ideological stance that supports a broad balance between market capitalism, on the one hand, and state intervention, on the other hand. Being based on a compromise between the market and the state, social democracy lacks a systematic underlying theory and is, arguably, inherently vague. It is nevertheless associated with the following views: (1) capitalism is the only reliable means of generating wealth, but it is a morally defective means of distributing wealth because of its tendency towards poverty and inequality; (2) the defects of the capitalist system can be rectified through economic and social intervention, the state being the custodian of the public interest”
6.) http://www.depauw.edu/news-media/latest-news/details/11350/ http://www.indianapolisrecorder.com/religion/article_f662d409-bce9-5f5f-b6ba-b51a143ccb92.html
PART TWO to be continued..
‘We need co-conspirators, not allies’: how white Americans can fight racism’
“With the end of empire, we are coming to an end of the epoch of Rights. We have entered the epoch of Responsibilities which requires new, more socially-minded human beings and new, more participatory and place-based concepts of citizenship and democracy.” – Grace Lee Boggs
I am glad that they made their statement, but also glad that Sanders got to say his piece at Hec Ed. Disempowered lives everywhere matter, and they must shout from time to time until they find a voice that gets heard.