Old habits die hard

blmsmall

When my son died seven years ago from lack of access to health care, I set about telling people that his life mattered. It mattered to me and to my family. It mattered to his friends and to the people whose lives he saved through his work in addiction recovery.

His life mattered. I used that phrase a lot when I spoke in public about his life and death, and I couldn’t think of a phrase that said it better or more succinctly.

So, a couple years ago, when the phrase “Black lives matter,” began popping up, I really, really understood the meaning.

But as much as I got it, I began to realize I would have to give up that phrasing when it came to my son and others who die from lack of care. Yes, their lives matter, and it wasn’t without a tinge of resentment that I realized the phrase now belongs to a civil rights movement that doesn’t necessarily include my son.

Breaking the habit of using it in reference to health care is a hard thing to do. That’s because my son’s life did matter; I just have to find another way to say that because I have great respect for the Black Lives Matter movement, and I fully understand the need to specify that black lives matter.

My son died from lack of access to health care. That happens to people in poverty, and more people of color are trapped in poverty than are white people. More people of color are denied care. More people of color die, and each of those lives matters to me.

What’s worse is that more black people die at the hands of law enforcement; more unarmed black people, in fact. It happens far more often that a person who might have committed a minor offense if slain by police if that person is black.

I understand this. I have internalized this. I have sat at a table with three African-American women and learned that all of them have lost sons to gunfire. I, on the other hand, got to say goodbye to my son. At least I have that.

So, I know I shouldn’t use the “… lives matter” phrasing, but the habit creeps in and it’s done before I realize I have done it.

Recently I used it on a Facebook event page and faced a shitstorm of criticism. I was on the road, traveling to my stepbrother’s funeral and didn’t have a chance to change it immediately, which only made people angrier.

I apologize. Really. I will try not to use that phrasing again. But if I do, please do as one of my friends did and private message me gently. I’m trying to break the habit. It can be difficult for me to remember that I need to find another way to phrase what my son;s life meat, but I am willing to do that.

I know all lives matter, but we must specify until people really understand that black lives matter every bit as much as mine or my son’s.

I understand. I get it. I will break the habit. Just, please, don’t call me names — especially racist.

A united front is dangerous to the enemy

We must stand together if we are to defeat the corporate forces.

We must stand together if we are to defeat the repressive corporate forces in this country.

A few days ago, a young woman saying she was with the Black Lives Matter Movement interrupted Bernie Sanders during an appearance in Seattle.

Turns out she was a provocateur — a self-described “radical Christian” and a Sarah Palin follower.

I won’t go into her choices here — they’re hers to make — but I will question people’s reaction to her action.

Several of my older white friends have said they no longer will support the Black Lives Matter Movement because of this one woman’s actions. I find that short-sighted and, quite frankly, deeply offensive.

The Black Lives Matter Movement came together in reaction to the deaths of unarmed young men. I lost a child to injustice and I can tell you, this movement is more than justified. I stand with these young people because we all need to stand together.

Whether or not this woman was affiliated with BLM isn’t the point here. The point is that her actions shouldn’t drive away those of us who believe in what Blacks Lives Matter is doing. I will continue to stand with Black Lives Matter.

The right-wingers in this country are more than pleased that we seem to be able to be split apart into smaller, less effective groups.

Even more important than that, who are we to tell our youth how to run a justice movement? The worst thing we can do as elders is to tell others “we’ve always done it this way, so you need to listen to us.” Remember, racism and other injustices are still with us, so we weren’t as right as we would like to think we were.

We had our youthful movement, and it did accomplish a lot. But we still have young, mostly black men and women being enslaved by a prison system that captures them right out of school. Private prison companies predict how many people they will have by assessing third-grade reading scores.

States run by old white men are restricting voting rights with laws that they know will affect blacks, poor people, elders and college students.

I recently was criticized for a comment on a Black Lives Matter page on Facebook and asked to take my comments to a White Allies page. In other words, let’s stay separate. We’ll keep the black people on one page and whites on another. How the hell does that help anyone? If what I say offends you, tell me why. How else are we going to unite and defeat the real enemy? Let’s have a discussion.

At the Proctor Institute in Clinton, Tenn., a few weeks ago, young people from the Black Lives Matter Movement reached out to us elders because they want to learn from us — and we eagerly met with them because we, too, have much to learn.

Look, I’m an old white woman. I know that. But I am most definitely affected by injustice toward anyone. I lost a son to an unjust health care system that deliberately neglected him for no reason other than he couldn’t afford to pay for his care. I sat by his side and held his hand as he breathed his last. Every time an unarmed young black man is shot and killed, I weep for the mother who didn’t even get to say goodbye to her child. I can’t know what it us to be black, but I do know what it is to lose a child to injustice, and if you haven’t been through that, you can’t know how it feels. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a passionate advocate. And I am grateful for every advocate for justice.

I am deeply, deeply invested in the justice movement. I am more than eager to learn from young people, from black and brown people, from anyone who will work toward a more just world with me.

This isn’t the 1960s. We didn’t have Facebook and Twitter. We didn’t have cell phones that could capture injustice in action; we had to rely on television cameras for that. Times have changed, but injustice hasn’t.

I have no right to tell anyone today that they should fight injustice the way we did 50 years ago. After all, we didn’t end war or racism or sexism. This generation has new ideas. I look forward to working with them.

 

 

Why #blacklivesmatter

A group of elders and youth met to talk about how they can work together.

A group of elders and youth met to talk about how they can work together.

Have you wondered why the hastag isn’t about all lives mattering?

Well, I have a story for you.

I’m in Clinton, Tenn., at the Children’s Defense Fund’s Proctor Institute, a week-long retreat of preaching and workshops devoted to social justice for children.

Of course, that means social justice for their parents and others who love and care for them, but let’s start with children.

I listened to a panel of three teenage boys today who have lived through unimaginable horrors.

One young man’s father left before he was out of diapers. His mother went on to have several more children and then sank into deep, deep despair and hopelessness as she struggled to care for her children.

By the time he was 8, this young man had lost his first friend to a bullet.

As his mother was unable to care for the family, he was left to care for his siblings.

“We ate toast for a month once,” he said. “I knew I had to do something because I couldn’t have my family eating toast every day.”

He is entering his senior year in high school as a star athlete and his prospects for college look good. But it pales in the face of the losses he has suffered.

“I have been to 12 funerals since my freshman year,” he said. “I have lost all my friends. All of them.”

Next to him sat a young man who was expelled from school after the school’s safety officer lied about him making racist threats.

“I asked him why he lied. I asked him why he thought I could even BE racist, since he was the one with the power.”

This kid finished his school year online, making excellent grades by going to the library every day to do his work on the computers there.

At dinner, I sat next to a man who spent 17 years on Death Row for a crime he didn’t commit. He is grateful to be out in the world again.

“Want to know the first time I ever set foot in Tennessee?” he asked. “When I was brought here in shackles and chains to stand trial for a crime I didn’t commit.”

He finished high school and became a paralegal while in prison.

Black men are 27 times more likely to be shot by police. They die in the streets in their own neighborhoods because no one cares what happens to them. Their schools are neglected.

One young man from Philadelphia said today that 40 inner-city schools have been closed in his city and a $1.3 billion prison built in his neighborhood.

Another told me about how friends have been suspended from school for not wearing a belt. Suspension often means involvement with the “justice” system, and for-profit prisons are just waiting for this new inventory.

I have met a group of youths from the Black Lives Matter Movement. Several also are in the Moral Monday Movement. I know their stories, and the atrocities they face would never have happened where I grew up because I lived in a pretty much all white town.

I listened to them today as they met with a group of “elders,” both black and white.

The idea was formed at the breakfast table when someone said they should gather with their elders and form a coalition to seek social justice for people in poverty. Not just black people in poverty, although the majority of people in poverty are people of color.

At lunchtime, dozens of young people met to talk about what they might do in such a coalition, and at 4:15, more than 50 of us met in a small room to talk about how we might work to improve the lives of people in poverty and how we might get government to work with us.

Tonight, the youth are writing a document asking the predominantly black protestant denominations to work with youth. They will present it at national conventions as an item to be adopted.

You can’t call these kids lazy or stupid. They are smart, dedicated and desperately hoping to bring about change in peaceful ways, if that’s possible.

It was deeply rewarding to sit in a room with these young people who want to seek the wisdom of those of us who participated in the Civil Rights, the anti-war and the women’s movements in the 1950s through the 1970s. We are eager to hear their ideas and to work with them.

The lives we change will be mostly black and Latino because more of them are in poverty. But we all will benefit from the lifting up of the least of these, as Jesus called the people in the margins.

Yes, all lives matter, but right now, institutionalized racism affects — and kills — more black people than white, and we need to recognize that. We need to change that.

 

 

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