When I was running for the Capital School Board, one of the questions my two other candidates and I received at a debate was “Do black lives matter.” It threw me off. I prepared myself for a lot of questions beforehand. That one threw me for a loop. My two opponents, who happened to be African-American, almost seemed offended at the question. One of them said “Of course black lives matter. All lives matter.”
This is how I answered. It isn’t verbatim, but this is the essence of what I said. I agreed with my opponents that all lives matter. But we need to understand where those words are coming from. I explained how there has been an inequity and disproportionality in respect to how African-Americans have been treated in this country for centuries. I said we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. We have a school to prison pipeline in many places in America. Too many African-Americans don’t have the same opportunities white people do. I concluded with the statement that the Capital Board would be remiss not to understand where those words are coming from. I meant every single word of it.
Afterwards, a gentleman in the audience clapped. He happened to be African-American. I thought it was a bizarre question for a school board debate, but it was important to him. I later found out he asked that question in an attempt to trip me up. Why? Would the wrong answer have given him the impression I would have been a bad school board candidate? Did the answers my opponents gave matter? Given what happened yesterday, I can no longer support the idea of black lives matter if it brings more death.
We are at a crossroads today. The situation got very serious in Dallas when snipers decided to shoot eleven police officers, four of which have died at this time. The police officers were assigned to a protest where people were speaking out against the police shootings of two black men on Wednesday, one in Louisiana and one in Minnesota. I can’t process death well. Especially deaths that don’t have to happen. I don’t know enough about law enforcement procedures to say if what they did was within their authority. I can’t even figure out my own state, Delaware, and events that have happened here. Some believe that our cops have the authority to do whatever they want based on court rulings and attorney general opinions. Some say the cops were justified with their actions.
This is what I do know. I am seeing a lot of crazy talk on Facebook. I’m seeing people talking about how they have their guns ready when “they” come for them. I’m seeing a lot of sadness too. From all sides of diversity. The hopeful side of me wants to believe this is a wake-up moment for all of us. The fearful side says this is just the beginning. I want to believe we can find peace out of all this. I really do. But that is going to take a monumental shift in thinking. It takes both sides to listen.
I was in McDonalds a couple months ago. I had just gotten off work and I was starving. I just wanted a quick bite to eat and go home. I work long days at my job and it is very physically demanding. As I sat there, peacefully eating a cheeseburger, I see two African-American teenagers laughing at me. I asked if everything was alright. They said I had food around my mouth. I thanked them for letting me know. They kept standing there, laughing at me, talking about the food around my mouth. Meanwhile, an adult, who I presumed was their mother or caregiver watched them do this. She didn’t say a single word. I asked them to stop. They kept laughing. Finally, and with a bit more assertiveness in my voice, I asked them to show some respect. Only at this point did the adult intervene by saying “Come on boys,” and she gave me a nasty look. The boys walked out with their mother. This wasn’t the first time this kind of situation has happened to me, and something similar happened another time since. I can say I have never treated a human being like that before. It made me angry. Not because they were black. But the fact that they felt they could treat another human being like that and think it was okay. That an adult, someone who should be teaching these young men the difference between kindness and cruelty, stood there and did nothing. I could let situations like these harden my soul. I could let it change my thoughts and apply the actions of a few to an entire group of people. I could make false labels about black people based on this. But I choose not to. I understand, at the end of the day, that for some reason they don’t trust me. They don’t know who I am and by taking the offensive they are actually being defensive to whatever happened to them to make them think that was okay. Discrimination and racism goes both ways. We may not be allowed to talk about that, but I am talking about it. It’s real, and it happens. We all know it.
This is my plea to African-Americans like the two teenagers and their mother in McDonalds that day: stop blaming white people. Stop thinking it is okay to taunt us, to intimidate us, to bully us. Stop thinking we aren’t worthy of the same respect you want for yourselves. Stop telling us there is no way we could possibly understand unless we’ve lived it. Stop saying that’s just how we are when one on one you talk to me just fine but when you are around your friends it is something completely different. You are whatever you choose to be. It isn’t the situation that makes you who you are. It’s how you deal with the situation. And to the adults who are too wrapped in years of hatred over their own circumstances, you need to turn those bad memories into something positive. Don’t let what hardened your soul mold the life of your children. Teach your children right from wrong. Let them know that whatever happened to you was horrible, but they have the power to embrace the future and practice forgiveness.
This is my plea to white people with obvious race issues: Stop thinking it is okay to refer to black people as animals when something bad happens. Stop looking down on them as if they are from another planet. Stop with the twitchy fingers if you are a cop and don’t fully understand a situation. Stop using black people for your own political ambition or warped sense of greed. Stop thinking every time a killing happens it will be the advent of martial law in our country and President Obama will finally take away all our rights. I’m pretty sure if this was Obama’s plan, he wouldn’t wait until his eighth and final year to get that going or he is paving the way for Hillary to do it. Stop putting up pray for Dallas pictures on Facebook unless you are prepared to put up a “Pray for…” every single time someone dies in this world. I will pray for Dallas along with every other city and town in America until this stops.
This my plea to all Americans: stop the hating. Stop the killing. Stop the labeling and false accusations and the paranoia. Take responsibility for your own life, for your own actions. Don’t put the weight of history on your shoulders and think you have to live it. Be someone new. Every day is a new day. Every day is an opportunity to be better than the one before. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying it isn’t hard work. What I am saying is this: if you don’t have love, for your neighbors, your co-workers, your classmates, your enemies, or anyone you encounter in life, but most of all yourself, you won’t ever be able to see the light in each and every heart. Some shine bright while others are turned off. But you can make a difference. You can help others to turn their light on. It may just be a smile, or a hello, or a helping hand, or saying “I care. I understand.” Teach your children. Let them know that our differences are what makes us unique. None of us are the same. We all have one thing in common though. We are all children of God. In times like this, and in times of happiness, I pray. I pray to God that we can do what He wants for us. We can go through the Bible and pick apart this verse and that verse and apply it to every situation possible. Many do. But I believe the message is very simple. Love each other.
It comes down to respect when you really think about it. Respect for others. For their circumstances, their situations. Words have power. But only as much power as we choose to give them. But words really don’t mean anything if the tone behind it is hostile. Which is ironic given the very nature of this blog and what I write about. Something I have been guilty of on more occasions than I can think of. I can sit here and say it is all out of love. But I let my anger get the best of me. We all do. But I can change that, and so can you. Before a hand-held device was smaller than our hands (they were bigger than a toddler’s head). There were race issues, and most of them probably weren’t talked about the way they are today. We glossed over them in the face of the Russian threat and the fear of nuclear war. We honored Martin Luther King Jr. and made a national holiday.
Back in 1986, something called Hands Across America happened. The goal was to create a line across America of people holding hands. I don’t remember what is was for or if they accomplished the goal. I would like to think it would have been impossible with the presence of rivers and high mountains and whatnot. But the spirit was there. We had issues back then, but not like today. This was in the days before a gangster lifestyle was glorified in our culture. Before the internet and social media took over our lives and gave us all transparency beyond what we could have dreamed of. We need to somehow incorporate what we now know, what is talked about everyday with very real statistics, and stop talking about it and start acting. We need to come together, lay down our walls of mistrust, hatred, fear, and suspicion, and work it out. Our future, our children’s future, depends on it.
I’ve heard a lot about the Black Lives Matter movement over the past two years. They are right. Black Lives Matter. White Lives Matter. Hispanic Lives Matter. Oriental Lives Matter. Criminal Lives Matter. Baby’s Lives Matter. Children’s Lives Matter. Muslim Lives Matter. Christian Lives Matter. Gay Lives Matter. Lesbian Lives Matter. Disabled Lives Matter. Jewish Lives Matter. Native American Lives Matter. All Lives Matter. Your life matters. But do you want to know what doesn’t matter? Hate doesn’t matter. In the end, only love matters.