Sunday, October 4, 2015

Thoughts on the Black Lives Matter Movement

This post is a bit harsh, but bear with me.
Imagine you're watching the news and you see a report that a mosquito was killed today. Would you care? What is the report said a mouse was killed today? What about a kitten? What about the baby boy?
If you are anything like me, your emotional reaction increased dramatically as the subject got closer and closer to human. By default I empathize more with things that are similar to me. I started with an extreme example, but this applies to different types of people too. I feel it in my stomach when an American soldier is killed in Iraq, but hardly notice when I hear about a mosque being bombed.
An American soldier is much more like me. We speak the same language, look the same, and share the same cultural customs. It's *easy* for me to relate to people like me, and I naturally feel a stronger emotional reaction when someone like me is hurt.
When I hear about a poor black man killed by police, my default emotional reaction as an affluent white man is muted compared to what it would be if an affluent white man was killed.
This is not a good thing. It's a horrible thing. This is a facet of my fallen, sinful human nature. I find Matthew 5:43-47 particularly relevant:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
To rephrase slightly:
43 You have heard it said "Love your neighbor and ignore strangers." 44 But I tell you, love those you don't understand and pray for those who don't look like you. 45 God loves everybody equally. 46 If you love those who are just like you, what reward will you get? Even the Nazis did that. 47 And if you greet only people from the same socioeconomic background, what are you doing more than others? Even ISIS does that.
Jesus' point was that we need to put *effort* into loving people that are not like us. This doesn't happen easily. It takes work. It takes a conscious effort to mentally put yourself into the shoes of someone totally different from you. When you do this, you start to empathize with them. When you empathize with them, their pain starts to matter to you. You start to feel it in your gut.
This is why the slogan "Black Lives Matter" is important to me. I needed to be told, need to be told, and will need to be told, to care about those who are not like me. To care about the black men and women whose backgrounds are wildly different from mine. To force myself to put myself in their shoes so that when I hear about black men dying, I feel it like a punch to my stomach.
Is this limited to black lives? Of course not. White lives matter, asian lives matter, hispanic lives matter. The point of "Black Lives Matter" is to acknowledge that the backgrounds and stories of black people in America have been marginalized and trivialized to the point that much of the country has little or no empathy for them.
Jesus didn't tone down his rhetoric to a safe statement like "love everybody" or "all lives matter". He knew his audience, and he spoke directly to them. He pointed out the people who were absolutely different from them, and said "Love them. They matter."

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