What’s Going On?
“All Lives Matter.”
Right now, that simple declaration, which would seem perfectly logical and something most caring people would accept without a second thought, has become –in this hateful era of white-hot racial, ethnic, religious and class warfare — fighting words: A declaration of war.
Black lives matter; White lives matter; Blue lives matter. So do those of innocent school children; worshipers in a Charleston, S. C., church, and revelers at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub.
All lives should matter!
Yet …. You simply cannot stand up and publicly declare that “all lives matter,” and not just those of young African Americans killed brutally by law enforcement officers under questionable circumstances, or those of police officers ambushed by killers seeking perceived justice or blind revenge without being quickly labelled a racist, a traitor — or worst.
It is as if, by declaring that all lives on this planet matter, you are, somehow, downplaying or refusing to acknowledge the value and sanctity of the lives of those in specific segments of the population who seem to be suffering disproportionately from the current wave of violent deaths inflicted by members of other segments of our society. The searing heat of condemnation would overtake you so quickly you wouldn’t know what hit you. Many in the Black Lives Matter movement would condemn you before the words of your declaration had cleared your mouth.
They strike with toxic venom, publicly attacking anybody who tries to point out that they don’t shoulder, by themselves, the burden of pain and suffering from the string of tragedies that has beset us in recent years, nor are they solely responsible for speaking up for the victims and their families, and demanding that solutions to this carnage be found — quickly.
That is what fear and widespread distrust and division have done to us.
Make no mistake about it; this is not the beloved community that Martin Luther King, Jr., and other visionary thinkers worked so hard to achieve and for which many lost their lives. This is the America (Land Of The Free) wrought by decades of friction among the human tectonic plates of cultural, racial, religious and economic-class differences colliding with one another, ripping the social fabric of this nation to shreds. We are a nation of strangers, not just suspicious and distrustful of one another, but afraid of one another and quick to let that fear and distrust turn us into hateful, selfish beings.
“Seek any advantage you can, and do to your neighbor before your neighbor can do to you” is the law of the land. Codified by politicians and hate mongers who see opportunity in our division, chances for them to climb the ladder of our misery into more power, more money, more control.
President-elect Donald Trump, whom I believed would never cross the threshold of the White House except as a visitor, but who now is preparing to make it his part-time home, has been the national drum major for jingoism, intolerance of those different from us, public incivility, selfishness, political bombast, bullying and saying whatever you believe will help you get what you want, regardless of who gets hurt in the process.
Any unsubstantiated accusation, slanderous barb or outrageous claim is permitted as long as it is in the service of your desires and so-called quest to straighten out all the things in this country that the rest of us, obviously, have screwed up.
Mr. Trump and those like him have taken advantage of our human weaknesses, our willingness to distrust and blame one another, our apparent inability to keep our unreasonable fears under control, the things that in concert make so many of us — and I say this as a black man who has felt the searing lashes of segregation and second-class citizenship in the deep south — willing participants in our own destruction.
We can’t see that our blindness to our own prejudices, and fears of losing our status, privilege and dignity, has also made us blind to the fact that Donald Trump — and others like him– are not The Lone Ranger on a white horse coming to save us, but are, instead, Snidely Whiplash — drunk on ego and applause from the peanut gallery — groping our women, kicking Tonto to the curb and riding off with the codes to the nuclear launch system of the most powerful nation on earth.
Members of the Black Lives Matter movement, however, are not the only ones quick to pounce on those whom they perceive as being unsympathetic or opposed to their cause. The same is true of those who recently came down hard on a popular American company that made statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, because the company obviously saw it as a human-rights issue, not a black-versus-white issue. The company was bombarded, immediately, by harsh criticism from organizations that represent law enforcement officers and the relatives, friends and sympathizers of officers killed in the line of duty, allegedly by gunmen seeking random payback for the deaths of young black males at the hands of law enforcement officers.
“Blue Lives Matter!” came the angry cry against the company. Proponents of the movement encouraged supporters to boycott the “offending” business and any others whom they believe showed disrespect to the sacrifices of the slain officers, their families and the whole law enforcement community.
Groups that understandably band together in support of victims of this current tidal wave of violence, often — in their moments of anger, concern and caring, while trying to process the immediate tragedy — don’t take time to stand back and absorb the full tidal wave and all of its consequences. That is human nature. However, it results in a kind of circling of the wagons that, instead of binding us all together and seeking to preserve the frayed strings that unite us, pushes us to become more and more thin-skinned and ready to retaliate without waiting for the full facts to be uncovered.
In this current climate, it is difficult to see how we can find our way out of this forest of bloodletting.
Those in the Black Lives, Blue Lives or other super-focused activist movements are subsets of larger congregations of the huge cultural mix that was once celebrated in the America we often referred to as a melting pot, then later, a tossed salad. Those metaphors were our way of grasping the cultural, religious, ethnic and skin-color differences we optimistically believed were strengths we could build on to fashion a nation truly united, and not just in name only. A place where all people with good intentions and hopes for a better life were welcome.
But many things have changed us: the internet; adverse economic disruptions; loss of jobs due to corporate decisions; world-wide terrorism; pressure — and resistance — to moving the populace toward greater freedom, and better understanding of those who are different (not just in appearance and language, but sexual identity, religious beliefs and practices, moral and political values.)
All of that is why the power to chose future Supreme Court justices has become the holy grail of American life, prompting some of the most respected religious leaders in the nation to make deals with devils to ensure that no liberal thinker is placed on that important body for the foreseeable future, if not longer.
While we seem to be deathly afraid of what the outer appearance of our “fellow” Americans might mean, we should, first, be examining our own inner selves and what things may be incubating in the hidden chambers of our own hearts.
There was a time — perhaps a brief time — when it seemed we were trying hard to figure out how to change, to be more accommodating to those who were different from the so-called mainstream, but who were drawn to this country because of what it appeared to represent. And to also be more accommodating to those already here, who, because they were “black,” “brown,” “red” and “yellow,” had suffered for generations at the bottom of the totem pole topped by white privilege.
We seemed to have been making progress after the Civil Rights Movement and the riots of the 1960’s. Even though we weren’t all helping, equally, to push that train, there were signs that many, who were previously opposed, were joining the procession toward positive change.
Now, that train seems to be stalled on the track, and protesters of different hues, ideologies and economic and political agendas shout and spit at one another across the train track. Fights break out, and there are injuries and blood, and few seem wiling to step into that train.
I don’t think there is any doubt that the election, eight years ago, of a black man to be president of this country triggered animosities and hate that had seemed, on the surface, under control. That breakthrough was a kind of “last straw” for many in the white community, who saw themselves losing too much privilege and power after what had been, to that point, a slow national march toward reconciliation and racial progress.
On the other hand: While, just as it is difficult to take only a single sip of a tantalizing and delicious drink, many in the black and brown communities saw President Barack Obama’s election as merely the first thirst-quenching sip of much-needed change. They wanted even greater transformation in their own situations — and they wanted it by his second week in office.
Expectations and disappointments on both sides, and tensions created by his surprising rise to power eroded the efforts to be nice and move slowly toward a shared America — not just palatable to, but also nurturing to all.
That dissatisfaction has been fueled largely by the internet since hostile pronouncements, counter-statements, outright insults, denouncements and threats can be sent to millions seemingly at the speed of light — and millions more can join in the rumble until nerves across the world are frayed and countless people are ready to attack others they believe to be their enemies. A slip of the tongue, er, keyboard, or a thoughtless tweet can sink ships theses days, or fuel a conflagration.
So, what can we do about this cultural mess? I’m not sure. But a good first step would be to hold off on the angry tweets, the hateful memes, and the incendiary bombast of radio talk-show hosts — and recognize where we’re headed. Do we want to be one nation, sincerely striving to become a place where all lives are valued and cherished — and where common sense and love are championed?
Are we willing to stop the instant blame-game for a minute and seriously look at one another, free of automatic doubt and distrust? Do we really care about what this nation, for generations, has claimed it stood for? Do we still believe in that ideal enough to listen to one another?
It is easy to grab onto slogans and use them as weapons. But slogans don’t solve problems. And they can keep us from having the kinds of open, caring, genuine dialogues that can get us past the hurts, the hatred, the distrust, and the selfishness that block progress.
Do we really want to change? Or, are we content to keep moving toward that inevitable and destructive uncivil war in which your skin color, or religion, or gender identification or economic status is your uniform?
I truly believe all lives matter, and it grieves me now when I turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper or sign on to the internet and see what’s going on; when I see that in Chicago more than 700 people have been murdered already this year (many of them young black males) — and not by white supremacists, or white police officers, but in so many cases, by other black males, largely in gang warfare.
Do black lives really matter?
Do white lives really matter?
Right now, it seems that No Lives Matter to us –much.
But they matter to God. So does our response — or lack thereof — to the almost-daily slaughter.