Published 1:49 p.m. ET June 1, 2020
The recent killing of a young black man while he was out jogging in Brunswick, Georgia is a chilling reminder that the streets are often not safe for people of color in America. While the court of public opinion should not replace the fair trial to which the three men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery in cold blood are entitled, the stunning video of Mr. Arbery being attacked certainly supports the conclusion that his death was equivalent to a lynching.
The Unitarian Universalist congregation that I am privileged to serve as minister affirms and promotes the inherent worth and dignity of every person, as well as justice, equity and compassion in human relations, as a matter of religious and spiritual faith.
In keeping with our UU values and principles, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York has proudly displayed a Black Lives Matter banner on our property facing South George Street for a couple of years now. We intend to display our banner until people of color are safe to live in America without being subject to hatred and violence. Sadly, that could be a long time coming.
Recently, I received an email from a person who said she had a concern about our Black Lives Matter sign. “As I drive to work every day during this [COVID 19] time, I am concerned and saddened,” she said, “by the [Black Lives Matter sign]. To me, All lives matter and during this time in our country and world division is not a solution. We need unity that doesn’t even see skin color.”
No one could disagree with the need for unity at a time when the COVID 19 pandemic has caused 100,000 people to lose their lives and tens of millions of Americans of all skin colors to lose their jobs.
Over 170 years ago, Abraham Lincoln gave the closing speech at the Republican Convention in Springfield, Illinois in which he reminded us of the advice in Mark’s gospel that “[I]f a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” President Trump and some other Republican leaders, federal and state, however, seem bent on using the pandemic as a lever to further divide our country between red states and blue states, rather than a United States of America. Our house will indeed fall down if their efforts are successful.
Nevertheless, the trite reference to “all lives matter” in response to the Black Lives Matter movement misses the point.
To support Black Lives Matter is to support a call for unity, a call for all of us to stand behind people of color in their struggle against oppression, against white supremacy and white privilege.
No doubt the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement could have named it “Black Lives Matter Too,” or “Black Lives Matter As Well As White Lives,” but could anyone seriously doubt that such modifiers are inferred in the name of the movement, Black Lives Matter, especially after the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and others?
As a white minister serving a religious liberal faith, I have paid much more attention in recent years to the impact of cultural, systemic and institutional racism on the lives of people of color than I have to individual, personalized, racism. I am so used to hearing individuals earnestly say “I am not a racist” that I have talked myself into believing that individual racism is not a problem.
The recent killing of Mr. Arnery, and the recent firing of two black FedEx drivers who shared a video of their being abused by a white customer, was a wake-up call. Far too many people harbor active racial hatred in their hearts. And, it is those hearts and minds that need to be changed in order for America to be great, finally.
Condemning bigotry of any kind should not be a matter of politics, especially bigotry accompanied by violence. Republicans and Democrats alike should support the Black Lives Matter movement because it is the right thing to do. Black Lives Matter does not detract from blue lives or any other lives. My church’s Black Lives Matter banner is an expression of support for unity in a world that is deeply divided. Unity against oppression, bigotry and hate.
The Rev. Terry Cummings is minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York.
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