First of all, for those who don’t know who I am it is important that I point out that I am a white, American male. However, I am one that was born and raised on the mission field of Peru, South America, and no doubt that affects my perspectives. Secondly, I have an African, unofficially adopted son. Thirdly, my extended family is very mixed with seemingly all races, and I myself performed the wedding ceremony for two, white nieces who married black males. Lastly, I am one that champions a message of social reform, and I am always looking past the obvious and looking for root causes.
Black Lives Matter
This organization and movement has showed up and made themselves pretty much impossible to ignore. Here I want to address 4 aspects about them. #1 their message, #2 their messengers, #3 their tactics, and #4 the need for expanding the message.
#1. The Message
I don’t know how anyone can fault the message of Black Lives Matter. It doesn’t say Black Lives Are Most Important, nor does it say any other lives don’t matter. It is a message that comes out of the very real experiences of black Americans. The reason their isn’t a White Lives Matter movement with any traction is because this is not felt as an injustice in the white community. For others to complain about a Black Lives Matter movement, because it doesn’t address ALL other things that matter, is ridiculous.
Imagine, if those wanting to draw attention to the plight of those trapped in Human Trafficking had to constantly explain to those fighting Extreme Poverty, or Obesity, or Crime, or the Sex Trade, or AIDS, or Cancer, or Lack of Education, etc. that theirs is still a worthy cause. Blue (police) Lives matter - but not at a Black Lives Matter event. Same with ALL Lives Matter. It is rude and insensitive for these to be brought up at an event highlighting Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter is justified because a high percentage of black America is experientially feeling just the opposite of that based on their interaction with Law Enforcement and the overall Criminal Justice System.
One can argue back and forth on certain nationally spotlighted killings of black men who in fact were to blame- but the reason the black community tends to disbelieve in the “official” reports from the Police Departments is that almost every black household and family knows of a situation where someone was unjustly targeted and then unjustly handled. The injustice has been so systemic that it becomes easier to believe even the straightforward criminal than the police. This is just the reality and out of it comes great passion for a Black Lives Matter movement.
#2. The Messengers
Though I am not exhaustively familiar with all the BLM voices and faces, from what I have seen these are not just“thugs” or “losers." They seem to be very well spoken, educated, professionals- very often those who have managed to move beyond “life in the hood." The quality of the messengers has given the movement significant credibility, and it is probably the key to it remaining a viable movement.
#3. The Tactics
Having approved of the general message and the messengers themselves, I suppose that which is much more controversial are the tactics themselves. Rudely interrupting candidates, speakers, meetings, as well as stopping traffic flows, are among the most reported incidents attributed to this movement. This inevitably engenders controversy and even distaste even among those who might agree with the message and the messengers.
Honestly, I understand the dilemma for the BLM movement. If all methods of their messaging fall within the parameters of politeness and good taste, then the downside is that it has been too bland to draw public attention and to be newsworthy. The media is not so good on reporting on something or someone who just has a good message. If that message is not interruptive in some way, it doesn’t usually get covered sufficiently to gain any attention. The whole point for BLM is that it garners enough attention that something be done about conditions that have not changed in decades. All that to say, I can’t totally agree with all the tactics they have implemented, but I do understand a lot of why it seems it has to be so. A lot of wisdom has to be exercised here by BLM as “going too far” could set a national backlash against them that ultimately blows up the movement.
#4. Expanding the Message
If there is one area where I feel the BLM movement is in need of growing is in fully comprehending and communicating the bigger picture of root causes and root solutions. Being a social reformer, this is where I look to speak into.
BLM is primarily framing the debate around how law enforcement officials interact with the black community. I do not believe this to be a root cause of the problem but a result of other root causes that I will bring up. Even if the entire police force were absolute gentlemen without a racist bone in them, the black inner-city turmoils would continue. Yes, we do need Police Departments rid of hidden racists, and yes we need better procedures and policies for who and how one gets stopped - but this in itself would not heal or restore inner-city America. The root causes do not start when a cop stops a black man, but much before then.
When you hear the term “systemic racism” this is what it is referring to. Many to most whites I know get a knee jerk reaction of anger when it is suggested that there is “systemic racism." First of all, it makes them feel like they are racists, and most would like to believe that they are not. This is consciously the truth for most, but many don’t recognize subconscious bias or racism that they carry. I won’t take the time to go after that matter, because ultimately it is a heart issue, and heart issues can’t be amended by imposition. However, what we can change is systemic racism, or if the term is easier to handle, “systemic injustices.” I want to give 6 specific, systemic injustices that have all conspired to devastate the black community:
Systemic Injustice #1: Unjust Sentencing
The numbers are argued and debated, but what is clear is that blacks and particularly black males are unjustly targeted. Five times as many whites are using drugs as opposed to blacks, but blacks are sent to prison at ten times the rate of whites. A lot of this has to do with being deprived a high-level, legal representation, which is an injustice built within an injustice. I have multiple more statistics and examples of the unjust sentencing, but suffice it to say that this is an area where systemic racial bias is taking place both in the targeting of those using and trading drugs and in the sentencing of the same. I wish BLM would present this information to the American people with the same excellence of messaging as they do the other.
Systemic Injustice #2: Unjust Prison Experiences
Prison experience is supposed to be not just punishment. The way a nation treats its prisoners is ultimately an indicator of the quality of the basic human rights of that nation. They are called “rehabilitation centers” because that is what they are supposed to be. Rehabilitation Centers that don’t rehabilitate are unjust and must be reformed. Reportedly 80% of black inmates are functionally illiterate, and yet literacy is not an integral part of anyone’s prison experience. Neither is job or skills training. How can someone be sent back into society without being able to read and with no job or skills training? Instead we find that inmates are thrown into the most dangerous atmosphere imaginable with prison violence, rape, and obligation to be in a gang as expected realities. These “realities” can make a relatively innocent human being with a minor drug conviction turn into a wounded and fractured human being not only not rehabilitated, but totally denigrated and degraded. As Mike Tyson famously said, “Prison doesn’t rehabilitate anyone, I came out of it 5 years angrier and 5 years meaner.” This is an injustice that the state must own up to and reform. Our prisons need wholesale overhaul. Because blacks are systemically targeted and sentenced many times more than the rate of whites, we find the reality that inner city black communities have been degraded by the backwash of the cesspools that our prisons are. Cause and effect cannot be stated strongly enough. Prison reform would of course benefit all races who find themselves in prison, but clearly the most affected are the black community. This is a systemic injustice of great magnitude.
Systemic Injustice #3: Unjust Joblessness
True unemployment for men in black, inner-city America is above 50%. Much of that has to do with the fact that a young, black male is the object of the most prejudicial perceptions of any demographic in society. Before he has ever done anything he is often perceived as the most prone to crime. This severely and unjustly limits his options. The unemployment rate for young black males is about three times higher than the average rate. If it was hard to get a job before he had a criminal record it becomes doubly hard to get a job once he has a felony on his record, which can come unbelievably easy when you have no proper legal representation and when you are virtually forced into the hoods alternative economy of drug trade. When you are a black baby born into a community where there are limited jobs, the odds are that your only viable economic option is going to be something illegal, black market, or the drug trade. That reality is an injustice. It is not the fault of the overall black community, nor the fault of the whole white community per se and not even the fault of the government, as far as intentionality goes. Nobody in any of these places actually hopes black communities rot and degrade. However, it still is a real injustice that jointly we must address and must bring reform to. There are practical solutions available, but they can’t begin if we all keep passing the buck of the burden to someone else. Somehow blacks, whites, all races, government, churches, and media must unite- and first of all accurately recognize root issues and causes, and then make the collective effort to eliminate this great systemic injustice.
Systemic Injustice #4: Unjust Education Options
I have already mentioned that an enormously high percentage of black inmates are functionally illiterate. This of course conspires against any kind of meaningful future. Often the culprits are very substandard schools or school systems. Crowded classrooms, run down schools, less excellent teachers (not all of course), etc. are often part of the reality. Because these communities don’t often have a high tax base, that which is applied to education is often woefully lacking and ultimately unjust to a child of any race born in the United States of America. In many states and cities we have schools that should be an embarrassment to us as a nation. Of course, these kids who do not receive proper, early education have almost no chance at ever having a higher education, or the possibility of finding better jobs. This is another example of a systemic injustice within a systemic injustice. No actual racist face may be forcing it to happen this way. It ultimately keeps happening, because without the majority, white population demanding systemic change nothing significant happens. Systemic racism is more so caused by majority apathy than by overt racist manipulation. However, when you are on the minority side of the equation you often ask yourself if it is, in fact, overt racist manipulation- because it feels that way.
Systemic Injustice #5: Unjust Lending Practices
This is something not generally noted by white America, but there have been discovered various overt, racist measures in banking policies. It is often disguised enough to not be easily discovered, but ultimately the qualification steps for a loan preclude almost all blacks in that community from being eligible to receive a loan. It is another systemic injustice, and this one more often than not, has intentional racial bias underlining it. These need to be exposed and amended. Furthermore, the government needs to create incentives for businesses and banks to invest in inner-city communities. Every topic here is deserving of several pages of details, but this is just to start a proper discussion, rather than be an end-all discussion.
Systemic Injustice #6: Unjust Welfare Distribution
There is a legitimate time and place for the welfare system to kick in and provide a temporary safety net. Unfortunately, though this system has gone through some reform, it is need of more. One of the great, unintended consequences of improper and unjust distribution has been the devastation of the nuclear, black family. By unjustly rewarding mothers who have children out of wedlock it has in essence economically punished two-parent homes. Where the government could have been financially incentivizing two-parent homes, it instead has socially engineered a proliferation of single-parent homes. This is a systemic injustice that is not often classified in the systemic, injustice category.
The 6 areas above are not an exhaustive list of where systemic injustice prejudices black America, but they are clear and specific examples of where reform needs to come in and correct racist policies. I always insist that racism of the heart can only be dealt with by God and personal conscience, and it is up to the individual- however systemic racism is something that must be recognized and intentionally reformed. It is as bad as forcing blacks to drink from another fountain, and as bad as not allowing them to vote (black women were only allowed to vote in 1964). To permit laws and ordinances that discriminate along racial lines without raising our voice and vote in opposition, is “racism,” whether we feel racist or not. Again I believe the mark of modern-day racism is the anger or the apathy towards the voices that point it out.
So in my wish-list for BLM, I would love to see them expand their present-day message and momentum by upgrading their narrative to better cover-root issues and root causes. They have done the difficult and praiseworthy thing of gaining national and international attention, and now they could really be bringing to the table underlying matters that make life in America so difficult, both for blacks and for the police that are sworn to serve and protect them. Yes, we need racist cops on power trips to be discovered and removed, but what we really need is comprehension and reform of the deeper systemic injustices.
I find that there has never been more multiracial goodwill out there, willing to unite towards real solutions for systemic biases. Particularly the next generation seems to be uniquely wired to work towards unity and resolution, and this makes this an ideal time for us collectively to finally make some racial breakthrough we have never done before.