Why Black Lives Matter: A White Guy’s Perspective

blacklivesmatterI’m white. With blue eyes, pale skin, and 98% of my genetic composition coming from various parts of Europe, I’m fully seen as a white guy. Sure, I couldn’t exactly qualify  for the KKK or any other hate group (I do have some – very little – Western African background, as well as being a quarter Russian-Jew), but for all intents and purposes I’m a white guy who benefits from being white in the United States. I’ve worked very hard to get where I am in life and admittedly I’ve typically outperformed my co-workers, be they white or black. But the fact remains, I can point to specific examples where I’ve benefited heavily from being white. I can point to the times I’ve been pulled over, to how I’ve been treated in certain jobs, to how my aggressive “go get ‘em” attitude in business is valued rather than viewed as an “angry white man.” Right or wrong, being a white male in the United States (or really, almost anywhere in the world) is pretty fantastic, all things considered.

Yet, acknowledging such things is why I can say Black Lives Matter. I know, people want to respond with, “All lives matter!” But such a response ignores the entire point behind saying Black Lives Matter. If you truly and honestly believe that all lives matter, then it follows that you should say black lives matter. Let me explain:

To say “all lives matter” would require us to actually act like all lives matter, but we don’t. Currently in the United States a little over 1 in 4 African Americans live in poverty (compared to 1 in 10 among white Americans). The household wealth disparity between white families and black families is astronomically high (13 times higher, or $141,000 compared to $11,000). African American men are 6 times more likely to face incarceration than white men and are likely to face longer sentences as well. And, of course, we can point to the disproportionate attention African Americans receive from police. Most recently, Dylan Roof murdered people in cold blood and was treated to a bullet proof vest and Burger King. A young black girl in a school, however, was ripped and thrown from her seat for the simple act of doing what teenagers frustratingly do; not listen. In almost every facet of society – from political representation, to income, to availability of middle/upper class jobs, to treatment in general, to education – whites have a distinct and proven advantage over African Americans.

The above facts cannot be disputed. They actually exist and to question the existence of such a disparity is akin to questioning the existence of the moon. The question is the cause, but even then we’re left with two very disturbing conclusions. Either:

A)     Within the United States exists a system that is not only indifferent to black lives, but even hostile and purposefully oppressive to black lives. While we might say “all lives matter,” our system tacks on, “but some lives matter more than others.” Yes, “All lives matter” is a wonderful talking point, but when looked at in practice it’s more a punch line than an ideal. The disparity is caused by a system meant to promote white supremacy, to ensure that white people get ahead with greater ease than their non-white counterparts.


B)    Non-whites are inferior to whites. That there’s something to being of European ancestry that makes a person superior in terms of ability to obtain wealth and work hard.

Now, some well-meaning people might try to decline option A, but what are we left with other than option B? All arguments that aren’t option A tip-toe and conclude with option B: they’re lazy, they don’t work as hard, they expect government handouts, if they want better lives then they can work for them, the problem is their culture, and so on and so forth. No matter what, it all boils down to one sentiment: “They” are inferior.

I would hope that in 2015 I wouldn’t have to point out why such a sentiment is absurd, but sadly I do. No human, and I mean not a single human in this world, is inferior due to race, ethnicity, or culture. Individuals have strengths and weaknesses, but not races. All human lives are both worthy of dignity; that means all lives, irrespective of ethnicity or race, are just as capable of success as the next person. From a scientific perspective there’s no evidence or reason to believe that different races are “superior” to other races; there’s smart people and dumb people, hard working people and lazy people, in all races. Skin color has no impact on a person’s work ethic or intelligence.

If we (hopefully) reject option B, then we’re left with option A, that the system has failed an entire people. And not just failed an entire people, but worked against an entire people. To say “Black Lives Matter,” then, is to act as a reminder that black lives matter…as much as all other lives, therefore, treat them that way. No one is asking white people to give up the comfort of privileges, but merely to ensure that everyone enjoys the same privileges we enjoy. That is to say, no one is asking for the median income to drop among white people, but rather let’s promote a system that allows the median income to rise among non-whites. No one is asking white people to face the same brutality from police, but rather allow nonwhites to enjoy the same respect from police that white people are afforded.

Sure, it’s okay to disagree with the methods of the Black Lives Movement and even some of the rhetoric, but despite methods and rhetoric the message remains necessary and poignant. One doesn’t have to subscribe to the methods or rhetoric in order to appreciate and embrace the message, that we have a system that is violent towards black lives. And we have to work towards reconciliation, because without it the violence will only increase, spread, and become worse.

Lions, Tigers, and Humans, Oh My! About the Life and Outrage

Kevin Carter's famous Pulitzer Prize winning photo, 1993

Kevin Carter’s famous Pulitzer Prize winning photo, 1993

As everyone has heard, Walter Palmer of the United States shot Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe, causing international outrage and making people hate dentists even more than usual. People are rightfully upset; the lion posed no threat to Palmer, he merely wanted to mount the head (and leave the body) as a trophy, the death served no purpose, and worst of all, the killing was illegal. People are (rightfully) calling for prosecution against him. Others have gone a bit further, arguing that we ought to capture him, hunt him, tie him down, and skin him alive. Of course, such suggestions are hyperbolic, but the rage is there.

Where we aren’t seeing any anger or rage, however, is over other doctors choosing to kill humans and sell their body parts. The videos are so upsetting that even Planned Parenthood’s staunch defender Hillary Clinton admitted that the organization ought to be investigated. Imagine if Jimmy Kimmel broke down in tears over this controversy, or Piers Morgan called for the killing and selling of the doctor’s body parts. Why is it that a lion – majestic though it is – gains more sympathy and attention than a human being, who is infinitely more majestic than a lion?

Rage also lacks in multiple other areas. There are no celebrities shedding tears over the fact that one in three people in sub-Saharan Africa face hunger and starvation on a daily basis, or that nearly half (46%) live on less than $1.25 a day. Africa remains a continent in crisis, but we avoid outrage because such outrage would demand action, and action requires work, and we’re lazy. It’s understandable and noble to be upset over the unjust killing of an African lion; but it’s inexcusable to lack any feeling or outrage over the death or suffering of an African human.

Rage lacks – at least for the white portion of America’s population – for African-Americans who live in fear of the police. A week can’t go by where we hear about another innocent black man (or recently, black woman) getting killed by the police under suspicious circumstances (at best). Yet, more energy is spent over the unjust death of a lion than the unjust death of a black man in an Ohio Walmart, or black child in an Ohio park, or black woman in a Texas jail cell.

The saying “life is cheap” isn’t exactly true; for Dr. Palmer to kill Cecil the Lion it has cost him his business, his reputation, and – hopefully – his freedom. The man deserves justice for what he has done, there is no doubt. Life, for Dr. Palmer, certainly isn’t cheap and comes with a cost. But, there is a certain truthfulness to the saying if we simply say, “Human life is cheap,” unless of course you’re Planned Parenthood, in which case human life is quite profitable.

Lord knows we can’t be outraged over every act of murder, over every loss of life, as we’d simply stew in anger for the rest of our days. It seems that as humans we sometimes require violence on our brethren almost as much as we require oxygen. Their blood is our water, their body is our bread in some twisted, evil, demonic version of the Eucharist. Perhaps, however, we should show some outrage over the loss of human lives. Not just hashtags on Twitter, but protests and – hopefully – action. Not on a legislative level, but on a personal, communal level.

We can ask the government to investigate Planned Parenthood (and we should require such a thing), but we can’t ask them to investigate the life of a woman considering an abortion. Only on the local level can a community come together and help such a woman and provide care. We can ask the government to send money and food to Africa, but we can’t ask them to do so in a sustainable way. After all, such an action is basically neo-colonialism, and colonialism is what got Africa into this mess in the first place. Until we begin to help Africans make Africa stronger on a personal and communal level, we won’t see much change. We can ask the government to put laws in place that keep police accountable, and we should, but there’s only so much they can do. Until the community – especially the white community – stands up against police abuses against African-Americans and other minorities, nothing will change in any drastic way.

Human life is valuable by virtue of being human. Human life is more valuable than any other type of life on this planet. That doesn’t give us an excuse to abuse such life (because we are dependent upon it, and they are still God’s creation and we are their stewards, not masters), it does mean that for all the noble and justified effort we put into preserving animal life, we ought to put at least as much into preserving human life. After all, when we cheapen human life, whether that life belongs to a fetus, a person of a different color, or a person of a different nationality, we inherently devalue our own life as well.

The Ubiquity of Evil and the Hope of Christmas

IMG_0031Whenever describing the evil actions of a person, most Americans will typically turn to the WWII Nazis as an example of evil personified. For the Russian writer Dostoevsky, he turned to the actions of Turkish soldiers to describe the detestable nature of human deeds. We can point to almost any nation at any given time and find people performing some of the most inhumane and violent acts. One can point to a San Francisco sheriff’s deputy who stands accused of attempting to choke a hospital patient to death and then charged the patient with assault. He did this for no apparent reason, which just stands as evil. Or we can turn to New York where two police officers – one a husband and father, the other a newlywed – were murdered for “revenge” right before Christmas.

It is near impossible to look into this world and not see it consumed by evil. Certainly, it seems that we have fallen into a void, one in which all can agree that we have gone astray. Many people hold to some form of naiveté believing that they could never be the perpetrators of evil, forgetting that Nazi guards were also fathers at home, that psychotic cop killers were once someone’s child. Evil is so prevalent in our world that we are, at any given point, just moments away from performing any given evil. The men who put people in gas chambers were not monsters, but men like you and I. The soldiers who perform war crimes are not subhuman, but quite human with hopes, dreams, and even good qualities outside of their acts of evil.

In a way, the humanity of those who perform monstrous acts makes them all the worse. Were they monsters then we could expect their evil as a part of their nature. It is why there is no conflict in fables when the hero goes off to fight a monster; monsters are, by their nature, evil beings. But what if the hero goes off to kill the dark knight, only to discover that while the knight did burn a village, he’s also a father to two children and a husband to a loving wife? He is a man, who by his nature is good, neglected his nature and turned to evil. Evil seems all the worse when we realize that partaking in it is the abandonment of our nature as humans.

Contrary to popular belief, humans are not evil by nature. Were we evil by nature then God would be a liar, calling his creation “very good.” Christ would have had to been evil by nature, that or have not taken on a human nature. Rather, Christ took on a human nature, showing that it was not the human nature which was evil and fallen, but the human will that fell. Thus, our engagement and enjoyment in evil does not stem from some natural inclination towards evil, but against our very nature; we must choose to engage in evil, we must choose to enjoy it. The Nazi guard did not do what came natural to him, but rather had to rationalize his actions and justify his actions, because deep down he knew them to be wrong. Such is the cry of all tyrants throughout history; “I was only following orders,” “It was my duty,” “I did it to protect my nation,” and so on. But acts of kindness, acts of love, never need such justifications. No man says, “I gave to the poor because I was told to,” or “I helped the orphans to help my nation.” No man who performs an act of love, an act of goodness, must ever justify his actions, for his actions speak for themselves. Only acts of evil need justification, and while the perpetrator might rationalize his actions, he will never justify them.

Through our rationalization of evil – of recent, rationalizing torture, isolation, subjugation, killing of the innocent in the name of authority, killing of the innocent in the name of revenge – we must admit that our world is a very dark place. Indeed, evil seems commonplace in the world and impossible to overcome. Somewhere in the world a child is starving because a warlord decided to horde the food for himself and his minions. Somewhere a woman cries out to apathetic ears while being violated by tormenters. Elsewhere a child sells himself to rich men for their acts of debauchery so that his family might eat. A man is killed for some arbitrary reason and to satisfy the evil urgings of another. A wife discovers her husband has cheated on her and seeks to cheat as well in order to exact revenge. Children sit in the same home as their parents, but are technological orphans, finding more connection with their cell phones than with the flesh and blood that brought them into this world. A man yells at the person with a foreign accent, hating someone for the mere fact of being different. Another hates people for a different shade of skin. The list of evils continue, all occurring within seconds of each other, overlapping each other, covering the globe, displaying the ubiquitous nature of evil.  Continue reading