Why Black Lives Matter Matters

12 Jul

For many years I was very ‘involved’ politically. During that time I had passionate experiences on both sides of the political aisle. It has been years, however, since I’ve posted anything publicly. A few years ago, a frustration and weariness set in, causing me to think “What’s the point?” I also realized I was doing more harm than good given my predilection for winning any argument no matter the cost or even whether I was on the right side of the debate. There was also my intense viewpoint, i.e a big fat mouth. So I’ve remained silent, for the most part happily so. 

Like everyone else, the events last week unnerved me. After a lot of thought, I decided to make a rare post on events more weighty than food and film. 

For those who don’t know me, a few declaratives are in order that relate to the title of this essay. Few people will agree with me on every one of these statements of belief. I humbly ask you to continue reading if you react negatively to any of them. Nor am I asking you to agree with me when you have finished. Just hear me out all the way.

As for my declarative statements:

Socially I have ended up fairly liberal, though I definitely have a few conservative positions as well. I am a believer in God, a person of faith. I cannot stomach either of our presidential candidates. I believe in the Second Amendment, but that does not include the right to automatic weapons. You could not find a more ardent, fierce supporter of the police, our amazing men and women in blue. And I believe the statement ‘Black Lives Matter’ is of the utmost importance, though it took me a while to accept this last belief.

When I first heard the phrase ‘White Privilege’ I bristled.  Big time. 

I can’t help I was born white. I can’t help my dad worked hard his entire life, from having no money to having a very successful career, one that gave me a comfortable life growing up. I don’t ask for anything, I work hard. Even thought I am white, my own life has been very, very difficult at times. More thank you might imagine. I’m not racist, I’m anything but. Don’t make me feel guilty because I’m white.

I bristled similarly when I first saw the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’. 

Well, yeah. Of course they do. We all agree on that, don’t we? If someone doesn’t agree, they are a racist. Why do we have to single it out? “All Lives Matter”, that’s all we need to say.

In a word, no.

Let me start from a faith perspective. God calls each of us to a primary action, a continual undertaking. This primary action is something I struggle with daily and see many fellow believers continually ignore. God calls us first and foremost to look inward. He calls us to examine ourselves, daily, continually. Our desires, our motivations, our supposed needs. Even our core beliefs. God calls us to do this the minute we wake up, before we take a step, before we speak a word. He calls us to look inward first, to look inward over everything else, certainly before speaking out, even when we know we are right. Because even if we are right, maybe it might be best to keep quiet for a little while. And hear what somebody else has to say.

Yet we don’t. Because looking inward is humbling. And hard.

I’ve learned over the years when something makes me bristle, makes me angry, makes me self-righteous, makes me want to immediately let loose the fierce debater that lurks just under my skin, there is always a very good reason. A personal reason. Instead of sounding off, when I bristle, I know I need to look inward. It’s tough and I still fail but I know now when I react this way I should wait a little bit, be silent and look inward rather than project outward. 

My temptation with White Privilege and Black Lives Matter was to ignore a few deep personal truths lurking inside. I wanted to immediately project outwards my righteous indignation. Because, let’s admit it, righteous indignation feels really good. It’s why so many of us express it all the time. Additionally, projecting outwards negates humbling inward reflection. Thankfully all the years of mouthing off and embarrassing myself helped me remain silent when I first heard these phrases. Instead, I thought about why I was so bothered by them. 

I think the main reason was they made me uncomfortable. If you are white, when you hear either of these phrases, you basically have two choices… look inward in discomfort or project outward. I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable nor did I feel anyone had a right to make me uncomfortable. Who are you to make me feel this way, particularly when I am not a racist? Hmph

Hmph is a very comfortable place for most of us. Hmph means I can sit in my annoyance and disagreement, feeling good about myself and my beliefs. Hmph means I don’t have to examine myself or entertain another point of view. Hmph is safe. Hmph feels good. 

But Hmph is not good.

When I initially heard White Privilege and Black Lives Matter I thought ‘Hmph’ and then I thought Who are you to make me feel uncomfortable? I wanted to sound off. Before I could sound off, I heard a pastor I respect, someone who is black, say, “I’m tired of having to talk about the Black experience only in ways that make white people feel comfortable.” 

I felt like I’d just done that ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. 

Yeah. That was my demand. My right. To address this issue only in a way that made me feel comfortable.  Don’t for a minute challenge me, even for a simple discussion much less challenge a perspective change. But we must look inward. 

If you are white and can’t admit our experience is different than someone who is black, you are not looking inward. Even something as simple as walking down the street is different for someone who is white. If you are bristling about this, do this for me: take right and wrong out of the equation. It’s not right or wrong, it’s not good or bad, it’s just different. If you can start there, at least admit experiences are different for blacks and whites, you might then start to understand why even something as seemingly obvious as Black Lives Matter needs to be said. Because once you admit the experience of blacks and whites is different, you then have to admit that in many ways the black experience is different in a negative way. That negative experience needs to be addressed. To say, in the current climate, All Lives Matter wipes that negative experience under the rug. It gives us whites a comfortable place to sit. We don’t have to do something else God calls us continually to do which is walk down the street, even for just a block, in the shoes of someone who has a very different experience. Walk in their shoes, hear what they have to say, take a breath and look inward and your perspective might change.

As for Black Lives Matter vs All Lives Matter, I liked Matt McGorry’s simple and blunt explanation:

#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean other lives don’t. Like people who say ‘Save The Rainforests” aren’t saying “Fuck All Other Types Of Forests.

Readers who bristle… have you ever asked for a donation to a charity? If you said to me, “Please give to the Cancer Society” and I said, “What about all the other diseases? They are all important!” you would say “Yes, they are important too, I’m not asking you to disregard them, but those other charities are not what we are discussing right now. I’m asking for help with Cancer.” If I then said, ‘Well, sorry, I think all charities are important” and walked off, you would know for sure I was never going to support any charity. Which is why, in our current climate, to say All Lives Matter disregards the fact that Black Lives Do Indeed Matter. Blacks have a very different experience than Whites and All Lives Matter is an easy excuse to do nothing and ignore there is a problem. It’s an easy excuse not to look inward. Which we are called to do. Daily. Continually. Rather than, or at least well before sounding off.

If you are reacting with ‘Yeah, but…” just stop for a second. A great example is “Yeah, but Blue Lives Matter too.” Amen and indeed. I again want to say there is no more staunch defender and advocate of police than myself. Some of the best people I know and love, men and women, are cops. Zoe. Jose. Miguel. Mike. Sam. All amazing. Are there a few people in the Black Lives Matter movement saying terrible things about police? Yes indeed. But in the same way a bad cop does not, should not taint all cops, most of whom are good, strong men and women who want to make a difference in their towns and cities, don’t go all Hmph when someone in the Black Lives Matter movement says something wrong. That also is not an excuse for ‘Yeah, but…” If you are white and agree you should not be judged as a group by a Dylan Roof or Timothy McVeigh, don’t make that easy fall back of doing the same with Black Lives Matter. Look inward and try to understand why someone black has a different experience than you, try to understand what these phrases mean, where they come from and why they are important. Look inward before sounding off.

I get it, honestly. I bristled. For a while. At times I still do. Stop making me feel uncomfortable. 

I think we also can agree that as Americans, of any political or cultural swipe, we love to sound off. It’s our right, right? Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing and I can exercise it any time!

Well, yes indeed you can. You can also embarrass yourself anytime, as I am wont to do. Yes indeed it is our right as Americans to sound off that way. It might not always be the most helpful thing, however, to exercise a right to free speech all the time.

How about we all look inward for a change before sounding off? Take a glance inward before saying Hmph. 

Can you disagree with some of what members of Black Lives Matter say? Yes.

Can you support black lives and blue lives? Hell yes, as we say in Texas.

And Do All Lives Matter? Of course.

But that’s not what we are talking about right now. All Lives Matter is a given. What’s not a given, still, in our country, is that Black Lives Matter. 

27 Responses to “Why Black Lives Matter Matters”

  1. Sarah July 12, 2016 at 8:18 am #

    Oh my goodness! Well done you!

  2. teresa lundy July 12, 2016 at 9:35 am #

    This is a very tough time in our country. One of my co-workers son was killed a few weeks ago. The fact that she is black didn’t make her lost any less painful and yes her son’s life mattered to her, her family and friends and her co-workers. It wasn’t news worthy as it was black men that killed a black child. She and her husband have worked very hard put themselves through college and work hard everyday to make the best lives for their children much like our parents did for us. It saddens me everyday that she has had to go through this lost and that there is very little I can do. My gift of flowers seems insufficient and insignificant. I have to admit it was tough for me to come to terms with the movement “Black Lives Matters” and I too have sounded off that “all lives matters” in my ignorance of not understanding the movement. That was at the beginning, although now I’m also saying “Blue Lives Matter Too”. I’m glad you put this out here it gives us a healthy way to view the subject matter and a healthy way to discuss it. I too am very political and have backed away from most post about politics. I just hate that we can’t discuss the things we believe in a clam and helpful manner trying to learn from all sides of things. Even so I’m going to correct your political statement; we do not have just two candidates we have three the Republican, the Democrat and the Libertarian parties all have a candidate in the race. The only reason I do this is because I truly believe we need a three party system and this is the year for the Libertarian party to stand up and be noticed. I won’t mention the other two candidates because everyone else is doing so but please take a look at and listen to Gary Johnson former Gov. of New Mexico. You may not like him enough to vote for him and I can understand that but he does deserves equal time and consideration and a least being mentioned with the other two candidates.

    • onfoodandfilm.com July 12, 2016 at 9:47 am #

      Thank so much for this. And you are right about the parties. I agree we need to break away from the two party system and I will give him a long and thoughtful look!

  3. Doneane July 12, 2016 at 11:45 am #

    Wonderful words spoken from the heart. Thank you Tom. I will no longer say Hmpf and sit in my righteous indignation when these words make me bristle!

  4. Ashlyn Simon July 12, 2016 at 1:56 pm #

    Tom….THANK YOU for speaking from the heart! This is a great message, and one that I agree 100% with. Love and hugs to you!

    • onfoodandfilm.com July 12, 2016 at 2:01 pm #

      Hey you! Thanks very much and as always, I appreciate you taking a look. Love to you as well!

  5. Mary Barras July 12, 2016 at 4:46 pm #

    Bueno Tomas! Very well thought out & clear presentation of a very difficult subject. Love you, Mary Bear

    • onfoodandfilm.com July 12, 2016 at 5:24 pm #

      hey! Many thanks, Mary and I miss you much. I hope to be in Austin sometime in Nov, would love to see you! (Is that where you still are? I’ll find you wherever : )

  6. tiffyfed July 13, 2016 at 2:42 pm #

    Preach it. I’m so glad that I work in an urban school with such a diverse student population (ethnically and SEC). It helps me not get locked into my small world and mindset. Seeing through the eyes and lives of my students is an education I would not forgo. Social Justice is something they feel is very important, and I agree.

  7. Mike Chapman July 13, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

    Wow! Well said. Our organization has been wrestling with this for the past year & longer, & it was eye-opening for the majority (white) to spend 10 days at our national conference last summer hearing from the minority (Black, Latino, Asian, Native American, etc) about life from their perspective. I’d never really gotten “white privilege” until I heard a speaker talk about things like the hundreds of millions in low-interest home loans offered only to whites after WWII that helped build the white middle classes of the 50s & later but left minorities at the socio-economic bottom. We cringed to hear story after story of unbelievable white staff cluelessness & insensitivity borne of total ignorance of the black staff life experiences. That began so many conversations that are ongoing. There has been healing & apologies & repentance & a greater understanding, but as the minority keep reminding us, we still have a long way to go.

    • onfoodandfilm.com July 13, 2016 at 5:52 pm #

      Thanks for this, Mike, great words. I had a section in this essay about my own White Privilege, how I have realized how much I have experienced. But the essay was getting long and it was a little too much about myself. In a nutshell, given my lead foot and some hard partying in college, I’ve had way too many experiences with the police, probably more than most people in prison. All have been really “great”, as far as such experiences go. Looking back I can see why I was treated the way I was. Yes I was very respectful. But I also was extremely comfortable as I had no fear anything could or would go wrong. One of the times I was pulled over for speeding, a person of color was in the passenger seat. The policeman and I had a very good time talking, he even let me off. When he walked back to his squad car, Iooked over at my friend, someone very strong and secure, and they were sweating and shaking. I was all, ‘What the hell is wrong with you?” It took them a while to even be able to talk about it, and they expressed how terrified any encounter made them, given their experience and the experience of many in their family. I could not understand it. ‘Look how nice that policeman was! And he even let me off!” It took me a long time to start to understand how different was that person’s life experience than mine.

      • Mike Chapman September 30, 2016 at 4:38 pm #

        A long-time African-American friend on our staff was getting some marriage counseling from a white colleague during a rough patch, & the subject of possibly changing jobs came up (to minimize the stress of having to raise their own salary). The clueless white counselor said, “But what would you both do? Would you be a cook, & your wife be a maid?” This to 2 well-educated professionals!! We heard story after story like that.

        I remember discussing The Long Walk Home (pertinent film to this topic) with a mutual Af-Am friend of ours, & I so appreciated his response when I expressed remorse over white bigotry & racism. He said, “Is this the part where you apologize for something your grandfather might have done to my grandfather? Don’t worry about it. That was then, this is now, & you’re like a brother to me.”

        Working in the nearby prison has been eye-opening w/regard to race. I frequently feel like I’m breaking or counteracting negative stereotypes or real experiences when I reach out to black inmates. It especially happens on the retreats, where 42 of us white guys spend 3 days inside with 42 inmates, at least half of whom are black, listening to their stories without judgment, & expressing God’s love & forgiveness however we can.

        (Shameless plug warning!).

        • onfoodandfilm.com September 30, 2016 at 5:04 pm #

          That was great, Mike, thanks! Really enjoyed it. No worries about shameless plugs : ) And I have been meaning to watch THE LONG WALK HOME again, I was very moved by it when it came out.

  8. Colleen Morrissey July 14, 2016 at 8:01 pm #

    Great perspective Tom!!

  9. Paul Anton Schweizer August 9, 2016 at 1:06 pm #

    Damn, Tom, this is an OUTSTANDING piece! … As another white guy from a comfortable background, albeit one that essentially was built over a generation by immigrant grandparents (Swiss butcher and Czech homemaker), your perspective captures my belief system and struggle on the race/police topic, then carrying me through an airtight analysis that is true to the issue and what I have wanted to verbalize, but couldn’t. … Thank you, my friend.

    • onfoodandfilm.com August 9, 2016 at 1:41 pm #

      hey! Thanks for reading and your perspective. Very cool! And great to be in touch. Sure hope you make it to Cinema Language as well!

  10. pavgreen August 11, 2016 at 12:23 pm #

    Thank you Tom, I think I needed this. As usual I find that wether you are talking about food, film or on a personal subject you get to the heart of the matter and your perspective adds substance.

    • onfoodandfilm.com August 11, 2016 at 12:32 pm #

      Hey there! Thank you very much. Much appreciated and means a lot.

  11. Pinkspen December 7, 2016 at 11:18 am #

    wow! that was soooo powerful!!!! It just boggles me that this has to be explained at all! Of course, all lives matter, but those that are in need; the less-fortunate, the sick, the hungry; the elderly, children, those who are discriminated against, ridiculed, and even murdered for being of a specific race, need more attention. So, say it loud #blacklivesmatter right now because we are being killed because we are black!
    I wrote a poem this morning on my blog site LADYHOOD and I would love your feedback, please check it out https://aladyhoodjourney.wordpress.com/2016/12/07/black-girl-in-a-white-world/

    • onfoodandfilm.com December 7, 2016 at 12:49 pm #

      Hey! Thank you so much for this! I know it boggles the mind but it even had to be explained to me, to get to this point. Frustrating, I know. I loved your poem… and btw, I talk loud because I am passionate, too! You are awesome!

      • Pinkspen December 8, 2016 at 6:42 am #

        Thank you sooooo very much!!!!! I am glad that you were able to check it out.

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    […] best documentaries, challenging, angering, frustrating and ultimately devastating. Even with my “Why Black Lives Matters Matters” post earlier this year, it was easy for me, an “old white guy”, to continually think […]

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