2020 seems like it’s all been about breath.
We started the year panting after 4-years of an increasingly frenetic (and frantic) pace of life.
We then saw a virus rise that literally threatened our physical ability to breathe, and that forced us to stop everything and catch our breath.
We later watched the public execution by strangling of a Black man whose original sin was the color of his skin at birth. A transgression he, and countless others around the world pay for every moment of every day.
It was 2015 and I was in a room with about 30 other Fellows at an organization looking for ways to bring about the “Good Society.” We were all there to discuss a scholarly piece that addressed racism. For some of the participants the article triggered lifelong wounds and people began to declare “Black Lives Matter!”
I had been out of the country for about 18-months and as someone who typically does not follow much of what the media is choosing to discuss, I hadn’t ever heard the phrase “Black Lives Matter” at that time. My immediate response as someone who believes in the inherent goodness of humanity and is equally optimistic about the future was, “why would you say that… all lives matter.”
The group debated the issue of race for about an hour. It was a heated conversation; there was yelling, there were tears, and one of the participants even left the room in a rage.
It has taken me half a decade to understand why I was on the wrong side of that debate. Why I wasn’t being compassionate, but rather being intellectually insensitive to the plight of my fellow human beings.
When George Floyd was murdered it triggered something in the hearts and minds of people around the world. Him calling for his mother as the flame of his Life was slowly extinguished broke the heart of anyone willing to actually see what it meant. It meant that Blacks, though they are inherently equal in the human family, have not, for 400-years, been treated as such.
For the first time in my life I understood that the refrain “Black Lives Matter” is not a declaration of superiority or of any form of exceptionalism. It isn’t coming from human beings who want “special treatment”, it is coming from human beings who want EQUAL TREATMENT.
I understood for the first time that though people may argue that Black people have “equal opportunities” in life that they do not, in fact, have equal access to those “equal opportunities”.
The statistics are undeniable and I strongly suggest you take a moment to investigate them for yourself. The socio-economic and cultural reasons for the horrible picture they represent have been studied for decades. But no one heard the story they were telling. No one really saw the picture they were painting.
Generation-after-generation of Black children was born into this world and they were told they are no longer slaves, but despite their freedom from the visible shackles of slavery, they were imprisoned to debt, illiteracy, under-education, food deserts, shattered family units, subtle racism, overt racism, actual incarceration, exploitation, despair, and the list goes on-and-on.
Because they are Black.
Any other answer is ignoring the foundation upon which all of the suffering is staged.
It doesn’t matter if they become Doctors, Lawyers, Police Officers, Nurses, Engineers, Architects, Entrepreneurs, Billionaires, Mayors, Congresspeople, Senators, Supreme Court Justices, or even Presidents.
It doesn’t matter if they’re polymaths, savants, artists, athletes.
It doesn’t matter if they have a family waiting at home as they work through an 18-hour work day.
It doesn’t matter that they feel like I do; it doesn’t matter that they Love like I do; it doesn’t matter that they dream like I do; it doesn’t matter that they hope like I do.
None of it matters…
Because they are Black.
I’m not sure what the path forward is. I truly don’t know. I empathize with the protesters and there is a part of me that wants to rage with them.
I also know that whatever fuel it will take for us to achieve the escape velocity away from the ignorance that has poisoned us for too long, and killed and destroyed the lives of a huge segment of the human family for countless generations, will not come from anger alone, as righteous as it may seem.
My heart is physically aching as I write this. I don’t know how to repent for my foolishness, for my ignorance, for my complicity, as unwitting as it may have been. I don’t know how to atone for my sin of omission.
All I know is that Black Lives Matter.
If you still don’t understand why, it’s time to take responsibility and educate yourself, these links might be a good starting point:
*As of the writing of this article Rayshard Brooks was killed in Atlanta as part of a DUI stop.