The recent violence in Charlottesville has once again stirred up the conversation on racism. It’s an uncomfortable conversation that brings with it feelings of anger, fear, sadness, and fierce loyalty. But nevertheless, it’s a conversation that needs to be had. Unfortunately, it also tends to bring with it political arguments. The reasons for this are vast, and many are accurate, but the fact is that racism isn’t something that can be neatly shoved into a left or right category. It transcends politics and it brings with it enough strong feelings that adding those that come along with politics only causes a further mess that makes it feel almost untouchable and beyond repair. Historical and present political issues are certainly tangled with racism, but racism is not a political matter. It is a heart matter, a human issue. Politics are man-made and we simply cannot value them over our neighbor. Racism deserves a discussion that is not mired in the competitive fervor that is politics.
We cannot hide behind our political ideals, we cannot continue to point fingers and throw stones. “An eye for an eye” will only cause the problem to persist. And at the end of the day, many of those who are responding so defensively to violent acts being called exactly what they are — racist — are part of a group that, as a general rule of thumb, is not disenfranchised. It’s so hard to have empathy for a group of people when you yourself have never experienced true disenfranchisement. It’s easy to shut down their feelings with your anger, to shut their voices out with your own righteous indignation.
I’ve seen many people respond to recent admonishments against White Supremacy groups and Neo-Nazi slurs, against bigotry, religious extremism, and racism, by pointing fingers and casting blame in other directions: well they did it, too! His actions excuse my behavior. My attitude is justified because his behavior was also poor. As a friend pointed out to me, we don’t even allow that type of behavior in Kindergarten. How can we condone it in ourselves?
I’ve seen this a lot geared specifically toward the Black Lives Matter movement. I’ll go ahead and be honest here and say that my initial response to hearing Black Lives Matter was “Woah there, guy! All lives matter.” But then I did something incredible: I stopped and thought about it. Yes, all lives matter. But we already knew that, didn’t we? Or did we? Here’s where I ask you to allow yourself a moment to lay all your defenses down and put yourself in another person’s shoes. Your neighbor deserves that moment from you, your children and grandchildren deserve it. You deserve it. Because exposing your heart and vulnerability, allowing yourself to be open and possibly learning that you’re wrong, are actually really wonderful experiences if we allow them to be. This is how we grow and learn, this is how we become better. This is how we set the stage for our children to learn and be better than us.
Now ask yourself this:
If in response to violence on women and rape culture, a popular chant became, “Women’s Lives Matter,” would you respond with anger? Would you call it sexist?
If in response to child abuse people began shouting, “Children’s Lives Matter,” would you rush to the defense of the abusive adults and point out the obvious, that all lives matter?
If you’re firmly against abortion and heard at an abortion protest, “Unborn Lives Matter,” would you respond with, “All Lives Matter?” Or would you even blink an eye?
There are, I’m sure, a few of you who will adamantly insist that you would absolutely respond the same way in each of these scenarios that you do to Black Lives Matter. And I’m here to tell you, friend, that’s bullshit.
We can pick and choose our morals, religions, and ethical beliefs. None of us are ever going to agree on everything. But y’all, can we at least not be hypocrites? Can we at least agree to firmly stand against things we know to be wrong? Can we stop pointing fingers and start making changes? Can we stop worrying about defending our side? Can we stop getting so caught up in hating one another for our differences and start coming together on the things that we do all agree on? Because we do all agree that all lives matter. But can we now please open our eyes and see that some lives are not being respected? These supremacy issues — the idea that one skin color is more valuable than another — have happened before and the whole world said it wasn’t okay. We literally fought a war against it.
I’m raising three white men, and I have to do better. Because there are moms out there who are terrified of sending their sons into the world simply because of their skin color. I cannot even begin to fathom how those mamas feel, and I won’t be so insulting as to pretend to grasp a full understanding of it. But I will try and I will stand next to them, mom to mom. I will do better.