Reponse to a friend re: taking a knee

There’s a lot swirling around in the world these days, and it’s difficult to keep up with the collective conversation when it seems to shift on a daily–sometimes hourly–basis.  But this topic is important, I think, so it deserved some closure.

Eons ago (at least that’s how it feels…really it was a week-and-a-half ago) I posted this on Facebook about Colin Kaepernick taking a knee.  Well, it generated some conversation that ended with this comment from a friend (who is a devout Christian, thus the religious bent of my comment) back in my homestate of Minnesota:

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I wanted to respond, but I got a little distracted.  You know…life.  And when I finally sat down this morning to gather my thoughts on his comment…well (surprise, surprise) it got a little long.  Considering I’ve been meaning to spin up the old blog again, I thought what I wrote might make for a better blog post than Facebook comment.

And I can’t think of a better way to nudge this old blog awake than to talk about something important.  Here is what I had to say:

There is a lot to unpack here, but I am going to try to respond as efficiently as possible.  The three main points to address, I think, are as follows: 1. The notion of Black Lives Matter being not “a truly peaceful organization,” 2. The notion that there is some competition between Black Lives Matter and the idea that “all lives matter,” 3. What constitutes an appropriate versus a “disgraceful” act in terms of protest.

Let me address #1 and #3 first.

Per the Book of John: “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.”

Was this a peaceful or appropriate act of demonstration on Jesus’ part?  Was it disgraceful?  Because at the temple, Jesus didn’t get down on a knee and silently and peacefully protest what was happening.  He got angry.  In fact, he got violent.  And I guarantee the Pharisees didn’t think this was either a peaceful or appropriate act in the face of their cultural status quo.  And I bet they also thought that Jesus’ actions were both disgraceful and selfish as he pursued his singular agenda.  Finally, though scripture doesn’t talk about it, there certainly had to be property damage and even some injury as a result of Jesus’ actions that day.  So…was Jesus right or wrong in this instance?

The New Testament lands squarely on the side of Jesus being right.  That sometimes tables need to be overturned in order for positive and necessary change to happen.  Is Black Lives Matter always peaceful?  No movement—including Jesus’—is completely peaceful.  Sometimes people need to be driven from the market with whips and tables overturned, at least according to the Bible it does.

In this case, though..?  Kneeling at a football game..?  How on earth can it be deemed either violent or disgraceful?  It was among the most peaceful and non-disruptive of acts.  No one stopped the national anthem from playing.  No one stalled or disrupted the event.  No one drove fans from the stadium.  No one did anything.  Except to respond against norms while the anthem played to draw attention to a critically important issue in our country: the rampant and longstanding tendency toward mistreatment of black Americans, in particular when it comes to interacting with law enforcement.

Yet, even if Kaepernick stopped or upset gameplay, does that somehow reduce the validity of the injustice and unfair treatment he is trying to bring to light?  If your answer is yes, then you have to also say that Jesus was wrong at the temple and that the validity of his agenda was diminished or negated that day.  A former pastor at a church I used to attend in Minnesota once said to me, “Christianity is not safe.”  Sometimes you need to turn over some tables to be heard.  I agree with Jesus’ actions, and I agree with Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter.  Moreover, I think what they are doing is among the most American—and the most Christian—of actions.  The only disgrace is siding with the proverbial Pharisees.

On point #2.

At no time has the Black Lives Matter movement ever said that their movement is defined as “black lives are the only ones that matter.”  Quite the opposite is the case.  The movement is a call for recognition that “black lives matter ALSO.”  It’s not a message of exclusiveness.  It’s a call for inclusiveness.

To their point, I am a white male who has never, ever feared for my life during a routine traffic stop.  I have never worried that an interaction with a police officer would turn violent and end in injury or death for me.  I am not saying that police are bad or anything of the kind, but here is a dose of reality…

Consider my friend, Ted, who is a well-known and respected Hollywood actor.  Ted is also black.  When he was a young Shakespearean actor in San Francisco in the 1960s, he and his friends feared driving together in a car to simply get from point A to point B because four black men riding together in a car nearly guaranteed they would be stopped.  It didn’t matter that these were all peaceful artists types.  The color of their skin was the only factor in play.  And they feared what would happen in such a situation because so many of their friends had already been harassed or harmed for no cause or reason when stopped by police.

Consider my friend, Bernard, who is also black.  Growing up in Philly, Bernard would use his white friend, Jim, as a shield to avoid police confrontation.  Recently, he told me a story that whenever they wanted to grab a six pack to drink together, Jim always went in to buy it because the liquor store owner didn’t like black people “hanging around.”  He’d call the cops immediately, which had ended badly for other guys just trying to buy a little beer.  Does wanting to buy beer make you feel any less sorry for Bernard or the other guys?  I mean, I like to buy beer.  I bought some last night, and no one called the police.  No one beat me up.

Finally, consider so many of the young black men I interact with at the college where I teach.  Being a dad, I also call all my students “my kids.”  Because they are.  I feel very protective for their well-being.  Because they are all great people.  Some of my favorite kids—some of the best and brightest and most peaceful of kids—are young black men who trust me enough to tell me stories of their interactions with police.  How they tense up and are so afraid every time they even see a police officer because they have been harassed or harmed, or had a friend or family member harassed or harmed in the past, simply for being wherever they were when a police officer happened by.  Where these young men always in the right place?  Of course not.  Sometimes they were partying, sometimes they were doing dumb stuff kids do.  The same stuff we ALL did when we were younger.

Contrast that experience with the story of another young man–a young white male, who one day in my class bragged about drag racing with his other white buddies up a local highway at 140 mph and “didn’t give a shit if they got stopped by the cops.”  Why?  Because these young men knew the worst that would happen if the police stopped them was they’d get a ticket or maybe their license suspended.  In no way, shape or form did any of these young men fear for their lives as they wantonly disobeyed the law and put others’ lives at risk as they did so.

Like the young braggart in my class, when I did dumb stuff as a kid, I never carried the fear that I might die at the hands of law enforcement as a result of my dumb decision.  This is what Black Lives Matter is trying to tell white guys like me.  Not that I’ve gotten a pass they deserve instead.  That I’ve gotten a pass that they deserve ALSO.  That we are all just people, and we all deserve a break.  We all deserve to get home safe to our families and loved ones, even if we’re a young guy doing a dumb thing every once in awhile.

I want that for all my kids.  And I have too many times seen the unnecessary fear and stress put upon these young men, especially.  Some of them have literally cried on my shoulder because they don’t understand why white people hate them or are afraid of them them simply because of the color of their skin.  On top of that, they want to be proud—they are proud—of their heritage, as they should be able to be.  They want to stand tall, but they are afraid they’re going to get shot if they do.

Again…this is not about whether or not police are good or bad.  I have a deep respect for law enforcement and believe the vast majority of law enforcement officers are good people who have good intentions.  The point isn’t what’s specifically wrong with law enforcement.  It’s that what happens when black people–particularly young black men–interact with law enforcement is a(n often injurious or deadly) symptom of a larger cultural issue that we all need to recognize and deal with.

So…do all lives matter?  Of course they do.  But we don’t need to talk about how the lives of white America matter at the moment.  Because our safety and, in particular, the safety of of our sons isn’t threatened in the way that these young mens’ safety is threatened on a daily basis.  So right now we all need to shine a bright light on how Black Lives ALSO Matter.  That all of our kids…especially our kids—regardless of whether or not we’re their actual parents, and regardless of whether their skin is white or black (or brown or any color, for that matter)—deserve to grow up in a world where they feel safe and proud and cared for.

And we white people?  We do have some work to do to help people who look different than us feel all of those things that we simply take for granted.  Things that we have never questioned in our own experience in American culture.  Safety, security, a sense of belonging.  If we’re being good neighbors, and if we are all part of the same American family, why wouldn’t we want to go the extra mile to help everyone feel like they also matter?  Especially if they’re feeling frightened and downtrodden and put down.  It seems to me that we’d want to give folks feeling this way a little special care and attention.  Or at the very least to acknowledge that we see them and feel compassion for them and their concerns.

It’s not too much to ask.  And in my own experience, recognizing that Black Lives Matter has not diminished my life or identity one iota.  In fact, it has enriched both.

So…I not only support and applaud taking a knee, I am right there with my brothers and sisters.  Because Black Lives Matter.