BLACK LIVES MATTER! They do, and we should not be ashamed or intimidated into keeping quiet about that fact. Neither should we be waylaid or our voices muted by naysayers. Some try to assert that the statement infers or denies the fact that White lives do not matter, or rather, that Black lives matter more than White lives. That is a red herring, and we should be sufficiently well versed in the rhetoric of racial politics not to be caught out by that ruse. In fact, the contrary is true. When we assert that Black lives matter, we are making a prophetic statement about the interconnectedness of every human being and about the society and communities in which we live – specifically about their covert undermining and minimising of Black lives.
So, when we say Black lives matter, we are resisting, rejecting and repudiating any notion or representation of Blackness that is not inextricably linked to and coupled with the same levels of dignity that is conferred on the lives of White and other privileged social groupings. Let me be clear: the Blackness in ‘Black lives matter’ includes but at the same time transcends the superficial categories of colour and race, and embraces all marginalised and disadvantaged peoples.
Sadly, there is a denial in the minds of many as a result of ideological and unconscious conditioning from pseudo-scientific assertions about the non-personhood and lack of humanity of Black people. This ideology informed the justification of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (The Maafa or Black holocaust). It continues to inform contemporary expressions of racisms – both in the UK and USA – and undergirds explicit and implicit beliefs about the inherent inferiority of Black individuals, and the superiority of White people that maintains and promotes racist beliefs and practices that adversely affect Black communities and seek to render Black lives irrelevant.
Implicit to many of the challenges I hear about the assertion that Black lives matter by White individuals I speak with, especially the liberal contingency, is an unrecognised, latent or carefully disguised racism that betrays the individual’s inability to consider Black lives as equal to Whites. This is because, in their mind’s eye, there is almost always an unconscious comparison between Blackness and Whiteness, where Blackness is seen as inferior.
Some would argue that church leaders, such as myself, should not get caught up in the politics or race and racisms that have proven to be so divisive. They might argue that the cross has ‘removed the middle wall of division’ (Ephesians 2:14) and that, in Christ, the superficial distinctions of race and colour are done away with in the cross (Galatians 3:28). This is partly right. However, it was this same Christ that challenged racial stereotypes and cultural arrogance in the story of ‘The Good Samaritan’ (Luke 10:25-35), and transcended cultural beliefs and practices in speaking to a lone woman at the well (John 4). Perhaps He was not so neutral after all, but we prefer Him to be that way. But He is not – He confronts reality!
‘Black lives matter’ is therefore more than just a politically correct statement. It is a critique of White cultural hegemony, where Whiteness is represented as normal and Blackness as abnormal – a deviation that falls beyond the scope and parameters of justice, whether structurally, economically, socially or otherwise.
To say that Black lives matter is therefore an assertion that the denigration of Black human beings – made in the image and likeness of God – is a sin against humanity and against God Himself. It is a bold call, a prophetic reminder, that treating Black human beings as less than human or with any form of contempt is unacceptable, and worthy of condemnation in the strongest possible terms. Simple.
I am therefore calling fellow Black church leaders, Black communities and supporters from across all cultures to be proactive and intentional in emulating our American colleagues in ministry and community activism, and to resist the temptation to be silent about this matter and challenge the status quo. Jesus said: “If they are not against Me, they are for Me” (Luke 9:50). Fact. Therefore, a failure to lift our heads above the parapet, to ‘sound the trumpet’ (Isaiah 58:1) and ‘cry aloud’ (Isaiah 58:1) means, whether we like it or not, we are indifferent to and regard any loss of Black lives as unfortunate happenings or as ‘accidents’ of personal brutality by rogue individuals, rather than as an expression of institutional violence, sometimes by instruments of the state, in the form of unlawful acts and social injustices.