There’s this microaggression happening online, offline, and all around that has a nice sentiment, but really needs to stop. Can we call for a week-long moratorium on decrying “ALL LIVES MATTER?”
This is a request specifically for my white brothers and sisters, especially those in the church.
I, of course, as a white heterosexual married middle-class highly educated American male, believe that all lives matter. It’s something I’ve been fighting for my entire adult life. Whether it is the mother infected with HIV by her wayward husband in western Africa, whether it is the undocumented immigrant father who may be separated from his American-born children, whether it is the NRA card-carrying white uncle who does an honest job and is a good neighbor back in the midwest, whether it is the homeless thirty-something woman coming off a bad meth addiction but needing shelter during a difficult winter, of course, by all means, every life matters.
Your life matters. My life matters. All lives matter.
This is a non-negotiable. This is true. This is what it means to be made in the image of God, as we’re told in the Book of Genesis — everyone, whether you’re white, black, brown, male, female, straight, gay, bisexual, transgender, Republican, Democrat, rich, poor, nice, kind of a jerk, young, old, middle-aged, we all matter.
But these past couple weeks — these past four months, five months, 22 months? — it’s important that we stand with the ever-growing chorus and declare, yes, black lives matter. With the heartbreaking, soul-wrenching death of Michael Brown, the news just yesterday of another non-indictment in the death Eric Garner, or the dark night when Trayvon Martin was shot down in Florida, a chorus of voices has risen to declare with one voice and hashtag that #BLACKLIVESMATTER.
And yet, I’ve noticed on my social network feeds that many of my white sisters and brothers reply ALL LIVES MATTER. Yes, yes they do. But do my white sisters and brothers realize that in this very moment these microaggressions are like another death by a thousand Facebook posts?
Back in 1970, Harvard professor Chester Pierce coined the term “microaggression” to describe every small, daily insult and dismissal made by non-black folks toward African Americans. Others have expanded microaggression theory to include insults made toward women, other ethnicities, gays and lesbians, and anyone seen by the majority culture as “other.” It’s the ugly partner of systemic racism — a racism that is indirect, cruel, and dismissive toward the daily suffering of sisters and brothers, neighbors, co-workers, colleagues, and friends that are, for lack of a better word, minorities.
Last December, a photographer at Fordham University asked students to “write down an instance of racial microaggression they have faced.” The stories shared by those students on Buzzfeed, however hurtful and prejudiced, are, unfortunately all too common:
Toward a biracial student: No, really, “what are you?”
Toward a black male: “You don’t act like a normal black person, ya’ know.”
Toward another student: “Courtney I never see you as a black girl.”
Toward another: ”You’re really pretty … for a dark skinned girl.”
And another: “When people think it’s weird I listen to Carrie Underwood.”
Microaggressions happen every day all over the country for our black sisters and brothers, colleagues, friends, neighbors, and family when ignorant white people say stupid stuff (often times accidentally) rooted in stereotypes. It happens all the time. I’ve done it, you’ve done it — almost every white person I know has done it.
I was with an African-American female friend once on a mission trip. Two of the white missionaries asked if she was my wife or girlfriend, because “we seemed so close.” She was my boss, brothers. We were talking about the fundraising email we needed to send out once we got back. #microaggressions.
We’re crying out, we’re Tweeting, we’re posting on Facebook, we’re marching with the refrain #BLACKLIVESMATTER because that notion is precarious these days. Every time a white person says ALL LIVES MATTER they’re not only missing the point of these voices rising up together, they’re inflicting further pain and anguish. (I will stand corrected if you have examples of African Americans, Latinos, Asians, or anyone else.)
The apostle Paul teaches us in the New Testament that when any one member of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer. Russell Moore, just yesterday, spoke out on behalf of Southern Baptists saying: “We may not agree in this country on every particular case and situation, but it’s high time we start listening to our African American brothers and sisters in this country when they tell us they are experiencing a problem.”
This is one of those instances where, yes, members of the body of Christ, citizens of this nation, neighbors, and friends are suffering. And we need to listen.
And we need to knock off the passive aggressive response ALL LIVES MATTER. We all agree with that. Right now we need to declare with one voice, until things really change, that yes, indeed, #BLACKLIVESMATTER.
Adam Phillips is pastor of Christ Church: Portland, a new church plant in Portland, Ore.