Posts tagged #blacklivesmatter
This Is What Its Like

She sits down in the hard chair using a cushion to soften the feeling. She knows she is in for a long wait. Her hair is washed and ready to go. Netflix is on and she has already decided what she will watch as the woman above her uses a rat tail comb to part and section her thick hair. Her hair is soft and its slight red hue can be seen under the direct light. As the braids start to form, she gets used to the click, click, click of nails taking up the same space to twist the three strands together. After the first movie has gone off, she needs a break to stand, to stretch, to unfold. She turns her neck back and forth as she reaches up to touch what has been done. Progress. She smiles to herself, enjoying the length of the braids. She knows there is still a long way to go, as she returns to the chair. Another movie. And then another. At this point the excitement is completely gone. All there is the sheer will for a finished product, and sleepiness. So much sleepiness. There are more breaks for both. More stretching and laughing. More yawns and shared looks of determination. And then she hears the words, "Last one." Suddenly she is wide awake. Click, click, click... silence. She has done it. With a head full of braids she hugs the soft body of the woman who dedicated her time and energy to this project. She slips her the cash she deserves and runs off for advil and a scarf. She is still in for a long night as she attempts to sleep through the pain, but she is satisfied. The braids mean freedom. The freedom of time because she will no longer have to do her hair in the morning unless she feels like it. The freedom to swim without worry about what her hair is doing or how it looks as she bobs in and out of the water. The freedom to enjoy her summer, to get up and go. 

She never expected. 

She never expected to have a violent encounter with an officer as she grabbed her towel and shimmied into her bathing suit. She flipped her braids around, enjoying them more now that the pain has disappeared. 

She never expected that she and her crew would walk barefoot in the street, wrapped in towels to get away from the startling discord of the party atmosphere and the racially charged words hanging in the air. 

She never expected that the officer would grab her arm. Her feet no longer stable, she is completely confused. Her reaction is to fight. The only time she has ever been treated like this was that one fight with that one girl years ago over some silly stuff. Her body is yanked again. She is trying to talk, to yell, to demand her mothers presence. She can hear her friends calling out to her, she hears in their horrified voices the confirmation that this isn't right. Her body continues to fight as he pulls her braids, yanking her tender scalp. Her body falls. She kicks her legs still trying to regain some measure of dignity. She feels the officer press one knee and then two onto her small frame. She cant breathe. The weight of him and all his gear is too much. She wants her mother. She wants her mother. She cries out, unwilling to let this treatment go unnoticed. She will be heard. 

Her long brown legs. Her braids covering her face. Her cries for her momma. That is what I saw when I watched that video. I saw myself. I saw every black girl I know, but I also saw myself. 

For a moment. For a moment I didnt care about the officers barrel roll or all the white people standing around watching this horrific behavior. For a moment I did not see the houses or the cars or the other teenagers helpless but defiant. For a moment all I saw, all I felt was her. I felt her shock and humiliation. I felt her fear and terror. I felt her outrage. Her sobs exploded through my own body.  

This is what its like to be a black girl in America. 

We look into the faces of the women who love and care for us. We see one another. We share in meaningful moments. We trade secrets. We know things. We know things about hair and patience and waiting. We know about love and laughter and dancing and joy. We know things about beauty and we create it together. And we know that beauty can be shattered. We know about ugliness. We know too well about dehumanization and violence. We know about the power of our voices. We wish we didnt. But knowing our power is a necessary survival mechanism. We know about being suddenly and violently unwelcome. We know about fear and defiance. We know about being publicly stripped of our dignity while others stroll casually by. We know about the walls violence erects so that none can save. We know about people with a repressed conscience, ruled by racism, unable to see us as we are. 

There are already many things you should go read about McKinney. You should read about the history of segregated pools. You should read about housing discrimination and restrictive covenants. You should read about the history of black women in this country. And after you have read all the things, you should take a look at your own life, your own decisions. Who are you trying to keep out of your restricted neighborhood? Your private community pool? How often do you call the police instead of parents over the inconvenience of a teenage party? Who do you assume is or isnt in your neighborhood? Were you hopeful for white neighbors? Do you even see anyone else? When this happens in your neighborhood, will you just watch? Will you use your body to protect children or to ignore them, or to hurt them? Yes, you must learn and reflect and decide how you will be different. 

But for a moment. Before this becomes about you and your actions and your reactions and your thoughts and your assessment and your judgements, i need you to know two things. 

1. I need you to know that she is fully human. I need you to know that she is a full person who exists outside this one moment and also felt every yank, tug, pull, press of what you watch. I need you to know that this is not "just another" anything. This is a moment in this girls life forever. She slept in her bed this weekend, and ate breakfast prepared by her momma, and received phone calls from her girlfriends, and is right now trying to make sense of how her body, mind, emotions and spirit will carry on in the world. She is human. 

2. I need you to know that whatever feelings I had as I watched this unfold, whatever pain I felt, whatever reaction I had, God had tenfold. God felt every yank and pull. God felt every shooting pain and press of the body. God felt her sobs. For God knows the violence of this world, is intimately aware of state-sanctioned brutality. God needs not imagine. God knows. God knows this little girl's pain, a pain she didnt choose and should not have endured. 

Now usually, I would let you post what you want (within reason) in the comments. But you should know that anything that justifies the treatment of this child will be deleted without response. I am not entertaining debates on this one. You will respect the body of this little girl or you will have to go converse elsewhere with someone else. I cant protect her safety in real life, but I will protect it here. 

Nice Is Not Enough

By now you have seen the pictures, watched the video or read the story of Walter Scott's murder. By now you know there were 5 shots driven into the back of a man who was running away from the officer, imposing absolutely no physical threat. You've probably heard that the officer moved evidence to support his lie that he only shot Walter because of an immediate physical altercation. By now you have experienced the shock. 

But I need you to know, the murder of Walter Scott is all too familiar. 

Its too familiar. 

Black bodies running. Black bodies scared. Black bodies falling. Black bodies in the dirt. Black bodies in pain. Black bodies silenced. Black bodies unarmed. The broken black body has too often defined our American experience. 

And its traumatizing. Every time. Every story. Every callous murder recalls the ones before it, the millions who have died at the hands of white supremacy. And it all feels so hopeless. 

If you watched the video, did you happen to notice something in the demeanor of the officer? Did you happen to notice the care he took to cover his tracks? Did you happen to notice him yelling at the man he just shot five times to put his hands behind his back? Did you happen to notice how long it took for him to check Walter Scott's pulse? And according to news, do you know what people who know the officer said? "He was so nice. I cant believe it." 

He was so nice. 

And here I sit, once again screaming at my laptop, "Your politeness will not save you from the dehumanization white supremacy wreaks on yourself and the world". 

Somebody get me a megaphone. 

Because this is all too familiar. And niceness has yet to save us from the distortions of racism. 

And it won't. Niceness will never be enough. 

Niceness will never be enough. 

Talking Points: You bought the lie

So, just yesterday I was encouraging you to speak. I still want you to do that. But I thought it might be helpful to have some talking points: 


You bought the lie that extra force is necessary when dealing with blackness. That we are heartless, monstrous, beastly. You believe our bodies are to be feared. You believe that the police can't treat us the same way because we are far more resistant to authority, far more disrespectful. You believe that it is we who are solely responsible for the dangers officers face. You believe we bring it on ourselves because we couldn't possibly be innocent. For the rest of America we believe in innocence until proven guilty, but for us- there is no question of our criminality. 

You bought the lie that we are especially violent and that the violence is only getting worse. Since shootings are reported like baseball scores on the news, you believe the media's representation of us. You would never know that black-on-black crime has been in decline for the last 20 years. You would never know that many black people have never held a gun. You would never know that only 1% of black people commit a violent crime in any given year. You would never know that this generation of young people commit the least amount of crimes than any generation since the 60s  [1]

You bought the lie. You believe that black-on-black crime is somehow innately different from white-on-white crime. The latter is somehow normal, justifiable, uninteresting and therefore ignored. 86% of white homicide victims are killed by white perpetrators, and because whites make up the majority of the population, it is actually white people who commit the majority of crimes in America, including violent crimes. Whites led black 2-1 in aggravated assault arrests, forcible-rape cases, and larceny theft

You bought the lie that we don't care about our communities. But when was the last time you visited? Black people work tirelessly in their communities to close the gaps afforded to affluent communities. Our churches provide space for afterschool and summer programming. We have to create our own summer job programs and internships. We care deeply about crime and hold marches, prayer walks, protests, and vigils every summer. Our neighborhoods contain pastors, teachers, lawyers and church members who dedicate hours working with young people. We have to come up with our own innovative plans like mobile produce vans. We are independent businesses owners and our restaurants are amazing. Shootings do not define our neighborhoods. But you'd have to spend time there, instead of rolling up your windows and locking the doors as you drive by. 

You bought the lie that the police treat us all the same. We are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than our white counterparts. This would only be acceptable if you truly believe we are 21 times more violent than white people. Do you? If we look at the number of black people killed from 2010-2012, in order for whites to have an equal risk as black people, police would have had to kill a white person every week for those three years. While this is hugely disturbing, Black (and Hispanic) people must also live with racial profiling policies and stop and frisk policies. For real stories of the crimes white people commit and get away with as opposed to the black experience with police, check out #crimingwhilewhite and #alivewhileblack. Black people (and other people of color) have a fundamentally different experience with police because they are allowed to treat us as suspicious and potentially dangerous on sight. 

You bought the lie that disobeying the police ought to result in our death. Tamir Rice didn't obey police orders to drop the [toy] gun. Eric Garner was [possibly] selling lose cigarettes. Meanwhile, we have watched white people argue with police and the police are patient- annoyed, but patient. We watch white people point actual guns at them and the police respond by (at least trying) to de-escalating the situation, resulting in long stand-offs before decisions are made to use lethal force. We know that white people can shoot up public spaces, and be arrested alive. Would it be okay for your son, your daughter to be killed for disobeying the police? Would you just shake your head and quietly bury your child? Or would you be outraged? Would you expect greater restraint, better use of training? Would you say its your child's fault for being disobedient? Or is that a line of thought reserved only for black bodies? 

You bought the lie that our kids are far worse, far more violent, far more disrespectful. Today's young African Americans display the lowest rates of crime and serious risk of any generation that can be reliably assessed. Crimes committed by African-American youth have been on the decline for decades, most having been cut by more than 50%. FBI records indicate that black youth account for only 2% of the nations homicides. It is often the perception of disciplinarians and authority figures that over-estimate the age of our youth, and determine that greater force is necessary. We know most recently to be true in the case of Tamir Rice who was assumed to be "about 20". He was 12. And this is not uncommon according to The American Psychological Association's Journal of Personality and Psychology

You bought the lie that I am the exception. That I am not like "them". It has been pounded into you that the normal black experience is shaped by violence, steeped in brutality, and is inseparable from "thuggery". There is great danger in believing this single story of black America. There is great danger in assuming that anyone's story who falls outside of this narrative is somehow special, unusual, or amazing. The number of black experiences are as great as any other people group. We are not defined by a single story

You bought the lie that our crime is worse. Somehow the crimes of theft, prostitution, even gang banging are worse than other crimes. How is it that a man could be accused of selling loose cigarettes and lose his life? How could we possibly justify this? We distinguish "blue collar" crimes from white collar as if those who do white collar crimes at least get a gold star for receiving the best education before committing their crimes. White, educated men caused the great recession and that is acceptable, but selling loosies is just too much. Get him off the street. 

You bought the lie that our communities are the result of our own "bad decisions". But pick up these books Family Properties, American Apartheid, The Promised Land, or read this article and you will find a much more complex history of black communities that is inextricably linked to white America.   

These lies are all based on the belief that there is something inherently wrong with blackness- that we are especially violent, that our crimes are particularly brutal, that our kids are uniquely savage, that our neighborhoods are inherently bad because its residents are different from white people. If you hold any of these- any of these- even in the deepest recesses of your heart, it is a rejection of the Imago Dei in blackness. The logical conclusion is that only certain black lives matter, that only certain lives are worthy of dignity, of patience, of justice. These are the beliefs that drive excessive force, the beliefs that lead to 911 phone calls about how dangerous we are. These beliefs are leaving us dead on street corners, stairwells and playgrounds.

And they eat at your souls too. These lies make you less human- less loving, less caring, less merciful, less gracious, less understanding. The lies demand that you put up walls, move your home, keep your children separate, keep us at arms length. The lies demand your allegiance, demand your humanity. 

We are not inherently different from you. We are not inherently different from you. We are not inherently different from you. Our lives matter. #blacklivesmatter Until you uproot these lies, you will be ineffectual not only in racial justice but also racial reconciliation. 

Those of you who are breaking the silence, its time to uproot the lies. Its time to declare the human dignity of black life. Its time to identify and unlearn racism. When you speak- you do so with power. When you speak, you do so with conviction. When you speak, you do so believing that our lives are as worthy as yours to be lived.  

[1] Thanks to Katelin Hansen at BTSF blog for your consistent work, especially with this article that was incredibly helpful. 

Break the Silence

I need to start this by saying, it is not for everyone. In this season where so many people at different stages in understanding racial injustice are asking, "what should I do?" the answers must be given with care. This post is for those who are not surprised but disheartened at the no-indictment decisions and the police response to Ferguson. This is for those who have been studying quietly and developing cross-racial relationships intentionally. If you are new to the conversation, this is not your time to lead but to listen. I have a different post coming for you.

To those of you who have been fearful to speak, its time to break the silence.  

By Andy Miah [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Andy Miah [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Its time for churches across the country to break the silence on racism and racial injustice. There are many who have chosen the way of silence, believing it to be an apolitical stance. Except that we all know the truth. We all know that silence is a political tool used to plead ignorance or plan avoidance. In this moment in history, there are many tools made available to you, and silence is certainly one of them, but I encourage you to smash silence into pieces. 

If you believe that racism and injustice are not sitting in your churches, indicting your credibility as a witness of God, you are sadly mistaken. If you have ever heard one story about injustice. If you have ever had one complaint from a person of color. If you have ever been  in a meeting and heard one insensitive joke, heard one racial stereotype, heard one racial slur, heard one inappropriate comment- than you have work to do. Silence cannot be an option for you. 

If you proclaim to believe that we are all created in the Imago Dei, you must break the silence. If you say you believe we are all brother and sister in Christ then you cannot hold back. If you believe that we are all one body and when one body suffers- we all suffer, then you must break the silence. If you profess love as a defining characteristic of your body, prove it. Prove that you love all people. Prove that black lives matter. Your silence speaks more than you realize. 

The other side of silence is scary. I know. Because silence once broken gives opportunity for the hearts of people to be revealed. Anger. Hatred. Frustration. Confusion. Grief. Hurt. Fear. Bitterness. Outrage. If these come pouring out, you must then know they were sitting in the room the entire time. You must know that if this is what leaks across the floor when silence was broken, then Outrage was already sitting in the pews, Frustration was teaching the class, Hatred was baptizing the people. Your silence doesn't make these things disappear- only keeps it hidden, keeps it protected, keeps it festering. We must smash silence to let these loose and let understanding in. 

Silence must be broken, never to recover because your one sermon will fix nothing. Racism and racial injustice has been a problem for centuries. Silence must be broken so hard that no one can put back together the pieces. We must remain committed to giving voice. We must remain vigilant in our storytelling. We must remain absolute in our commitment to watch, to see, to hear, to unpack, to learn. This is not a one-time event. This is not a check list. This is a structural change to the way your church operates.

Silence must be broken so that action can break forth. If we won't talk about it, how will we fix it?  Smash the silence with protesting. Smash the silence with advocacy. Smash the silence by speaking truth to power. Smash the silence in your services, in your classrooms, on social media. Silence never breeds hope. If you will be a place of hope for our families, a place of hope for our children, a place of hope for the future, a place of hope for tomorrow- you cannot remain silent. 

There are many who have chosen silence in our nation's past. There were those who chose to be silent during abolition. There were those who chose to be silent during civil rights. You would certainly not be alone in choosing this way of being- but is that the company you want to keep? Or will you chose to join the company of the outraged, the grieving, the defiant, the hopeful that things can and will change. Will you choose to stand for oppressed? Will the world outpace you, Church, in declaring the human dignity of all? 

There are black churches who can lead the way- who are skilled in protesting, understand community building, and preach regularly on the affirmation of human dignity. Why would you recreate the wheel? For too long you've thought of yourselves is little independent bodies, functioning more like business trying to retain customers than a unified body of believers. Its time to break the silence between our churches. 

What does the Lord require of you? Can you do justice silently? Can you love mercy silently? Does your humility require silence in any other area of your life? 

Break the silence as pastors and teachers. Break the silence as lawyers and journalists. Break the silence as counselors and doctors. Break the silence as artists and innovators. Break the silence as students and professors. Break the silence wherever you are, using the influence you have, employing the gifts you possess. Break the silence on racism and racial injustice. 

In our Bible, the Divine regularly requires that we give voice. Regularly. Will you break the silence?