All Lives Matter? Black Lives Matter?

Lately my husband and I have been attending an Episcopal church in Cincinnati. One of the appeals is that it’s a racially mixed congregation–white, African American, Latino (mostly Guatemalan immigrants). There’s a strong progressive social consciousness: they host a transgender support group; they help immigrants navigate the legal system; a couple Ash Wednesdays ago, the priest led a service calling corporations to repentance; etc.

So it was not surprising when we arrived at church this past Sunday to see a “Black Lives Matter” banner (bilingual, English-Spanish) hanging outside the building. What was surprising to me was the way that the church seemed to feel the need to explain, in a little leaflet tucked inside the program of worship, why they had chosen “Black Lives Matter,” rather than “All Lives Matter.” The reasoning was what you’d expect: Of course all lives matter, but at this particular moment there’s a need to affirm the value of black lives in particular.

What surprised me was the impression the leaflet gave that there were people in the congregation (more specifically, I would assume, in the lay leadership, i.e., the folks who would be deciding to hang the banner) who had voiced reservations about “Black Lives Matter” and had favored “All Lives Matter.” If that is the case, it drives home to me the range of political diversity that exists in this on-balance progressive congregation. That is to say, there would appear to be people in the congregation who favor a color-blind discourse and don’t subscribe to the kind of hermeneutic that sees that discourse as obscuring racial privilege. We’re not all consciousness-raised Berkeley progressives here. And that’s probably healthy. Though I’m glad that “Black Lives Matter” prevailed.

A couple relevant links:

#BlackLivesMatter: Why We Need to Stop Replying ALL LIVES MATTER (Adam Philips) – A blogger with Sojourners critiques the “All Lives Matter” meme.

Black and White; All Lives Matter (Ashley Pratte) – A Christian Post commentator exemplifies what Philips objects to: using the meme to critique and redirect the discourse away from the anti-racism protests. (For her, “All Lives Matter” becomes a plea for empathy for Darren Wilson, a condemnation of black rioters–and an opening to condemn abortion.)

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