Black Lives are Sacred
Black Lives are Sacred.
Black Lives don’t only Matter. That’s not enough.
When Black people say Black Lives Matter, they are saying “Stop killing us!” They are saying that it is the minimum they should expect as fellow citizens.
And before you try to insert the phrase “Don’t all lives matter,” into the conversation, we all know that. And you know that the phrase is most often used to defer the conversation, which against decenters the Black people who are being killed today. Please admit that all lives won’t really matter until Black Lives Matter, until we have centered the needs of those who have been systematically left out of the American dream.
The last week has shown that more clearly than we’ve ever seen. With multiple people getting killed by the police all over the country, we should have expected the protests. We could have expected much more than that. Instead, the police continued to do violence against Black people standing up for their rights as they protested police brutality.
So let’s start over. Today, I am asking you to take a step beyond Black Lives Matter. I am inviting you to view all Black Lives as Sacred as your own. Let’s take a look at what our faith traditions says to us.
Black Lives are created in the image and likeness of God – as the Jewish texts and Rabbis remind us, all humans were created for relationship with the divine, with ethical, intellectual and compassionate abilities.
Black Lives are an expression of the divine – imago Dei as the Catholics like to say, with some of the same capacities as God of sharing love, mercy, justice and caring for “the least of these.”
Black Lives are also precious in God’s sight – as the Evangelicals like to sing. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight…
Black Lives are created by the same God as everyone else – despite what those white, slave owning Christians said, we are all members of the same human race. Today we can look back at that terrible theology, and condemn all ideologies that oppress anyone as heretical forms of idolatry. This includes all of the intersections of race, including: gender identity, gender expression, class, sexual orientation, and so much more. But will that stop the police violence? More is needed.
It’s also important for us remember that Black Lives are valued – they love their fathers, mothers, siblings and friends as much as you do yours. Sometimes that love for them is grieved because of the violent actions of others, but each and every one of them are valued by God as the blessing to the world that they were created to be.
Black Lives are brilliant – African- American intellectuals excel in every field of inquiry and social science. They invented many of the things we use everyday. Beyond excelling in every field, they are also the originators of many technologies that were stolen from them and repackaged as white created endeavors. Much of what we call Greek philosophy and science originated in Egypt. More importantly, their social critique of the way their community has been treated needs to be accepted as truth rather than ignored or resisted.
Black Lives are resilient – what other people group do you know that has survived millennia of theft, cultural genocide, ethnic cleansing, chattel slavery, slave patrols, their children and spouses being stolen, the Civil War, the Jim Crow South, the lynchings, police brutality, being underpaid for the same work, being used in medical experiments without their knowledge, being stuck in manual labor, never being promoted, you can fill in the blank….
Black Lives are protectors – creatively resisting oppression in all its forms. Black Lives call for the transformation of our systems of policing, which has proven itself intent on putting property over people. Instead, they call for the reinvestment in black communities, many of which still don’t have clean water, clean air or viable economies. I join my voice with those others that demand a defunding of the police in order to create new ways of ensuring public safety with services for all of those in need, whether that be services for those living without shelter, those living with mental illness or addiction, and even trauma informed, non-violent ways of deescalating conflicts.
Black Lives are colonized – even after the colonization of slavery, Black Lives are still at risk through systemic racism written into our employment, housing, civic and state codes. Poverty is always a policy decision. Enforcement of laws are always dependent on the implicit bias of the police or district attorneys. Systemic and institutionalized racism in all its forms must end. COVID-19 has exposed the health inequities that the poor, the disabled and people color have put up with for years. We need a viable health system for all Americans regardless of their employment status.
Black Lives are artists – our culture has a long history of appropriating Black culture, music, art and poetry. We remember the history of some people who love to watch African-Americans sing and dance, and then claim their art forms as their own – without attribution or the sharing of profits. African-Americans continue to lead in the arts, even using them as a form of resistance against the discrimination and violence they experience.
Black Lives are survivors – despite a history of repression, Black people have supported each other throughout history. They have stood up to police dogs, fire hoses, police lines, lunch counters, unfair jailing and a “criminal justice system” that is purposely stacked against them. Read the book Just Mercy to see how entrenched white supremacy is in our courts and prisons. Remember that some states have ended the death penalty because they have admitted that the system is rife with corruption and blatant racism.
Black Lives are human – all Homo Sapiens came out of Africa black. Africa remains the most genetically diverse continent in the world. We are all related to each other. Our best science reminds us that we are one family.
Black Lives are intrinsically diverse – as with all groups people, there is a spectrum of thought, beliefs, religious expressions and life philosophies. Likewise, there are a variety of expressions of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, political philosophies and economic philosophies expressed in the community. Despite the common experience of discrimination, over generalizations about the community abound as a form control or making excuses for the present conditions that they live within.
Black Lives are a rainbow of colors – expressing the greatest diversity of the human family, and there remains an implicit bias against darker skin in our nation, as there is in the greater society. We must eject all cultural messages around beauty or personal value that demeans those with darker skin tones in favor of finding beauty only in lighter skinned people. God created the whole diversity and values all people as having intrinsic worth and beauty.
Black Lives are beautiful – as the Black Power Movement taught us. Isn’t it sad that our culture has had to remind people of this to counter the projection and socialization of white supremacists?
Ultimately, Black Lives are sacred, whole and needed. Our culture needs to step back and take in the lessons the African-American community has to teach us. We need to celebrate all Black Lives for the mirror they hold up to us as a society. And, we need to celebrate that sacredness – this holiness – that they express in the many loves and lives that they hold dear. And, we must reject any offer of a white savior to know this and experience this.
Black Lives have been more patient with white America’s violence longer than any of us realize. But no more. The message I take away from the last few weeks is that it is well past time for America to wake up and reject the lies being told us to keep us from working together.
The Movement For Black Lives (M4BL) is working to help us all see Black Lives. They aren’t asking for special rights. They are demanding equality and the end to the systematic colonization of their very lives.
If you aren’t ok with that, it’s your problem to work through. The rest of us are moving on and we won’t be playing your games any longer. We are taking your power away. But, if you want to join us – you are more than welcome. This will mean doing your own work, exposing your own implicit bias, and working against the systemic racism that is so embedded in our nation and culture.
As we join our hearts, minds and prayers for the grief and pain of our country these days, we remember the lives of Ahmed Aubrey, Breanna Taylor and George Floyd, we also remember the thousands of people who have died at the hands of police departments that should have been their protectors.
And let us begin right here in Contra Costa County, which marked the one year anniversary of the murder of Miles Hall at the hands of the Walnut Creek Police, on June 2nd, 2019. Miles was a young African-American man who experienced mental illness. He was killed by the police despite the fact that his mother had informed the police that Miles was having a mental illness episode, and we continue to call on Police Department to be truthful in their deliberations with the family, to be transparent enough to change their policies and institute repercussions for the officers involved, and brave enough to admit that there is no excuse for their actions.
We also lift up Joseph Malott, another young black man from Walnut Creek, who was assaulted by the police, and then attacked by police dogs, hit with rubber bullets and tear gassed. He’s being charged with attempted murder for tossing a tear gas canister back towards the police who threw it at him. Why is it attempted murder and endangerment when a peaceful protester sends the tools of police brutality back to their source? Why are they using tear gas at all, after it was included in the Geneva Conventions as illegal to use in wartime? Why did the police shoot anyone, like the peaceful young woman who was shot in the head with rubber bullets that had to spend days in the hospital? This isn’t an expression of public safety, but public terror brought about by people paid with our own taxes.
Let’s move beyond meaningless, diversionary conversations towards the genuine substance at hand and how our actions can recreate our world. Real actions will include changes to our school books, our public policies, and all of those things that tell our culture that it’s ok to do violence against Black people. And then, when our actions have surpassed the weak public pronouncements of our politicians – and have won the day – perhaps we will be ready, because we will have learned how to be equal. So, let each of us use whatever level of privilege our culture gives us in the service of others. Let us remind our friends and neighbors that we can change the policies that have beset Black people for so long.
As we grieve together, and as we hope and pray and dream of a new America, let us also work for that new day. Let us reclaim our own sacredness and wholeness – as we help reclaim the sacredness of all Black people. Amen.
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