Tuesday, July 26, 2016

If Any Matter, All Matter

Black lives matter is not rhetoric, not an empty promise that fades from our collective consciousness like a piece of candy, or like an ad for one more product our already over consumptive material world needs like another bullet hole.

Black lives matter is not a slogan, a flag we can wave on Independence Day while we barbecue in the backyard, play by the pool, and neglect to think for even one moment why it is we are here, celebrating in the first place.

Black lives matter is not a calling card, an emblem that we whip out when it suits our needs or when something happens (again) or when we start forgetting (again) because our attention spans can no longer extend beyond a story, or an event, or even a moment.

Black lives matter is simply a reality that ebbs and flows, like the tide, from this existence. It is not debatable, nor is it cause for the venomous hatred it has inspired. Nor is it necessary.

Or at least it shouldn't be.

Saying black lives matter is like saying air matters, or water, or soil, or food. It is like saying that earth matters. Interesting, that each is under some form of attack, almost beyond and outside the recognition that their mattering should be so obvious that the words needn't be spoken.

Alas, that is not the world we occupy. And as long as things that matter are attacked as if they don't, the obvious must be reiterated and the unnecessary must again become necessary.

Black lives matter means nothing more than all lives matter. But, as anyone paying attention knows, that broader generalization misses the most critical point. Because no one questions whether white lives matter. No one gets rewarded for snuffing out a white life. No one gets paid leave and 'not guilty' verdicts raining down upon our world like a flood. No one gets immunity, ever, for ending an unarmed white life. 

The reality of which really makes black lives matter a reminder, as if we'd somehow forgotten the lesson we finally seemed to learn. A lesson that took us four hundred years to learn; took less than forty to forget.

Beautiful man, you matter. You matter like your brother standing on the corner selling cd's, your cousin walking down the street in his hoodie, your friend who teaches kids with autism, your neighbor who got locked up last week for stealing bread. You matter like my son and my daughter. You matter like the leathered brown man working the fields, the still unsuspecting yellow man sitting in internment camp, the black father floating his family on a perilous raft to a mirage across the sea.

Your words matter. The love that pours from your heart matters. The music and vision and desires and hopes and dreams that you not only mold, like clay, but share with the world, matter. You share them in Sedona, safe and secure and separate from the rest of the world. You share them in Providence, fraught with fear that you'll get shot for legally refusing to share your name after an illegal and unnecessary police stop. You share it in a world that is confused, looking for reminders that this is not the way it is supposed to be. The love you share is one piece of that bigger story, that fabric that lives and breathes and undulates in all directions, searching for a place to grab hold and explode like the most beautiful light ever created.

You matter where black lives matter, you matter where all lives matter, you matter where everything that matters, matters. You are more than a survivor filled with unearned guilt. More than a hash tag. More than a single life, winding your way through this existence. You are part of a collective, and not just the one in Sedona. Part of the collective that is this existence.

You are as vital as every other piece of this fabric. The void of your loss would begin an unraveling that would not cease until there was nothing left. Just like the void left by Delrawn, Alton, Philando, Michael, Trayvon, Eric, Tamir, Tony, Walter, Freddie, and countless other strands of this beautiful fabric that we are helplessly watching unravel before us. But we are not helpless.

They matter. You matter. If any of us are to matter, then all of us must. It's time to put down our guns and hashtags and lift our needles and thread. We have so much work to do.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Race and Class: Shhhhh

A President has no choice, really. Not every President does it and few do it well. But that doesn't mean it's not a critical part of the job description: demonstrating leadership, cheerleading, team building, calls for unity, and yes, reminding us of our commonalities - all are vital components of a successful leader.

We need a leader who can try to bring us all together when things are falling apart and we are in a pretty scary place right now. So thank you for trying. “As painful as this week has been,” President Obama said, “I firmly believe that America is not as divided as some have suggested.”

But then the President goes on to say that the “demented” individual who committed this atrocity is no more representative of African Americans than white criminals are of white people or Muslim killers are of Islam. I agree, mostly.

One might ask themselves why people of color in this country sometimes have a strong desire to revolt, and not necessarily peacefully, against people who continue to abuse their class and race based privilege. Why some people break. Why people get frustrated when the rest of us neglect to work, daily and in all ways possible, to reduce the class and race based injustice that continues to persevere in the United States.  And if we are honest, the things that we collectively embrace (the national anthem, the Apple Store, the Superbowl, and lattes) are probably insufficient to weather the storm of poverty, injustice, racism, and inequality.

So yes, it is laudable and worth ongoing mention that we have a lot in common and, generally speaking, do not create a war, riot, or violent protest every time something goes wrong. But there is foment smoldering and nothing can stop it other than a bigger change than the one we are making.

The frequency with which unarmed black men are getting shot by police is a symptom, not a cause. Homelessness, a lack of good paying middle class jobs, and the reality that the only promise we are willing to make is that we will house and feed and clothe every single American as long as they commit a crime. Otherwise, they are on their own. Then add eviction, brutality, and endemic societal racism. Focus your lens on these problems, these every day occurrences that are happening on our streets and in our cities; the brutal reality that faces literally countless families in our country. Then zoom the lens out, to the macro level, and focus on the unarmed black man who was killed last week, the one killed yesterday, and the one killed today. Or the steady stream of verdicts, one after another that mirror each unnecessary and unjust killing: not guilty, not guilty, not guilty.

Let us each put ourselves in these shoes for a moment and make an honest, real attempt to imagine the world from that perspective.

Violence only begets more violence and that will never be the answer. If someone is resorting to killing, there is something wrong with them, period. What if they have tried and tried and tried and simply cannot find a path to justice or equality for themselves, their family, their community, or their race. If things don’t change, will a growing number come to the same conclusion that they have no other choice, that the only way to create the change that is absolutely needed in our country, is to perpetuate the endless violence?

If we don’t want to find out, we may need to acknowledge that while our similarities are pretty special and worth noting, our differences are real and profound. And far too little is happening to ensure the former outweighs the latter.

Leadership, yes, absolutely, comes in the form of cheerleading. But it also comes in the form of saying that which is incredibly hard to say, but needs to be said. President Obama has done as much on this front as any President in a generation, but today, his comments were not enough. It’ll take more than words and a pom pom to heal these wounds.