Love Makes a Bridge: Into Our Shadowy Places

Yesterday’s post of reasons why Black Lives Matter received very high readership among those who read this blog.  I want to continue for the next few days reflecting on some of those points and how love can make bridges for us.  Let’s consider the first three items on that list again:

Black lives matter (and not “All lives matter”):

  • Because no one in a position of power in this country’s history has ever systematically questioned whether white lives matter.
  • Because the statement “All lives matter” is so innocuous as to be meaningless and distracts us from the urgent need to confront the specific and especially lethal brand of injustice that is being visited upon our African American brothers and sisters.
  • Because white racism towards African Americans is the seminal fatal flaw of our country, continues to the current day, and has never been fully acknowledged and addressed.

For me as a white person, each of these represent an opportunity to journey into what I am calling some shadowy places.  They are shadowy places because we, as white people don’t talk about racism toward black people openly.  We hold these issues as if in the shadows. Having grown up in the Deep South, I was aware of our own historic role in slavery and the ensuing suffering that the aftermath of slavery forced on African Americans.  I also believed that in places north of the Deep South, there was no racial tension or racism. What I’ve discovered over the years of travelling, of course, is that racism may be worse in other places outside the Deep South in large part because we don’t talk about it, and the South is scapegoated for the whole problem.  Martin Luther King, Jr. himself noted that racism was more deeply ingrained in places in the north than in the south.  The point is not who is more to blame.  The point is:  we don’t talk about it, so how in the world can we ever learn and grow together beyond this thing that shall not be named?

The first two bulleted items move me to consider analogous situations.  Why don’t we have a movement concerned about men’s right to vote or their prospects for success in the market place? Without question it is because men are well represented in the market place and arguably have an advantage over women to this day.  We don’t need to advocate for men’s equity in the marketplace.  There is still much work to be done in our country around women’s rights especially their participation and equitable treatment in the economy, and we seem more capable of recognizing that than we do the equitable treatment of African Americans in all levels of the country.  Black lives matter.

We live in the best nation in the world.  Anyone who works hard can be successful.  All lives matter.  These are generic platitudes that at first glance, sound good–but they set up roadblocks to the shadowy places of the heart that remain unvisited, uninvestigated.

Here’s a way that white folks might begin building the bridges that we need into our own shadowy places.  Take the words “black lives matter” as a mantra for today.  Say it to yourself often today.  Let it guide your eyes, ears and heart as you go through your day in your world.  Keep saying it to yourself.  Be open to where it might lead you, to how it might make you shrink back, to what it might help you hear, to how you might object on the inside at first, to what it stands to show you that you might not have received otherwise.

The fact is, when we travel into our shadowy places, our very presence there sheds a new light on them, and the shadows that seemed so scary dissipate.  We then begin to see what’s really there.

Fair warning, though:  once we see what is in our shadowy places, we become responsible. I am suspicious that this has been the problem all along.  On some level, we already know that, and we are afraid.  On some level, we are morally still children, afraid of the shadows in the closet.  Time to turn the lights on and to grow up, because black lives matter.

Bob Patrick

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