Your Lives Matter to Me

your lives matter

Last week I read a Facebook post by one of my favorite writers, Bunmi Laditan, the creator of Honest Toddler and author of Toddlers are A-holes.

She wrote:

“So many times today I’ve started writing a post and stopped. What do I say? How do I even say it? I couldn’t write. I felt like every time The words kept getting caught in my throat.

I envy some of you. You can go through today and not say anything because it doesn’t change your life. It doesn’t affect your people. It doesn’t affect your brothers, sons and fathers. You can talk about fashion, books, and make dinner plans like your entire world isn’t on fire. Like your heart isn’t crumbling and your chest isn’t exploding.

Yesterday, five police officers lives ended out of misplaced, murderous retaliation by a few individuals over the systematic abuse of power in the United States.

Families of police officers are afraid, even more so than usual, to send their loved ones to work. They feel like a target is on their backs. They feel like their lives are more at risk, not because of the person they are, but the badge they wear. When they say goodbye in the morning, they’re deathly afraid they’ll never see them again.

They feel like a black person.

Except for us, at the end of the day we don’t take off our skin like they do a uniform.

I find myself trying to process how much denial it must take to not comprehend that all black people want is for police, and the entire country, to treat them the same way they do whites.

We don’t hate police officers. We don’t want them to die.

We want the bad ones to stop killing our friends and family members. We want the ones who do to end up in jail and not with swollen GoFundMe accounts.

Can you really not wrap your mind around that? Is it so hard? Do you really think all of these deaths and videos show justified killings?Do you really believe that race is not a factor? Are you seriously telling yourself that these people would be dead if they were white?

Do you know how painful it is to see you do mental gymnastics to justify us getting murdered? Do you know how torturous it is to see the victims get re-victimized in the media? Do you know what that does to the psyche of a person of the same color?

Is it so hard to get that when people say “black lives matter” they’re not saying that they matter above white lives?

If women in a country were being systematically mistreated and they began saying “women matter,” would you really respond with “all genders matter”? Can you not get that they aren’t saying men don’t matter, but that they want to be treated correctly? Why is that so difficult? Why can’t you understand that?

Can you really not fathom that after only 152 years since the end of slavery when blacks could be owned as literal property (ie. not being considered a full person with full rights) that aftershocks of that still exist and are deeply entrenched in our society?

Do you really believe that the ending of black people being owned as things 152 years ago, THINGS like shoes or dogs, immediately elevated blacks to the same status as the whites who controlled the entire government, all commerce, and all law enforcement?

Can you not absorb that black people experience racism in their lives on a regular basis and that it can be deadly? Do you not understand that we live with that every day and operate on an entirely different set of rules?

Can you not accept that what we do not hate police officers but want bad police officers to be held accountable? Have you not seen acquittal after acquittal, whether it be Rodney King or a more recent blood-soaked incident? Can you admit that the system is not equal?

152 years ago black people could be bought and sold like food. They could be tortured. They could be raped. They were on the level of animals. Changing the law did not suddenly make things all better. Things are bad. They have always been bad. Not talking about it does not make it better. And they will stay like this, they will stay deadly, until you, YOU, admit it, not just to yourself but to your friends, to your family.

If you’ve been staying silent or safe by throwing around words like “all we need is love” or “stop the hate” when what you need to say it “This has gone on long enough. Black people are being mistreated. Get the bad cops out and keep the good cops safe” it will not end.

Aren’t you tired of this? Aren’t you sick of the same story happening again and again?

You are probably not a bad person but the bad people depend on you to operate successfully. They depend on you being too afraid to confront your friends and family. They depend on your desire to be comfortable and safe.

What you are unwilling to face will never change. If you’ve said nothing about this then you’ve said everything.

That is all. That’s all I wanted to say.”

(copied verbatim from

Her words shook me.

I’ve always seen myself in the role of “good white person.” I’ve patted myself on the back for acknowledging that systemic racism exists, for checking my privilege, for agreeing that #blacklivesmatter, for feeling genuine heartache every time a black man is killed by our police and genuine fury that there are people who continually try to justify why these killings are OK.

I’ve seen myself as an ally, as being on the right side of a clear divide.

But reading this raw, angry, pain-filled exposition on what life is like for black people in America, changed my perception of where I stand in this narrative.

As a white woman, I can feel compassion for a community of people who are so consistently faced with injustices perpetuated by people of my own race. Through the power of empathy, I can share a trace of their grief and their anger and their despair.

But what I feel is only a faint shadow of what they experience.

I can separate myself from my vicarious sadness and anger and frustration. I can walk away. The reality I lament is not my reality. It doesn’t define my existence. It hasn’t dogged me my entire life. I’m not branded by the inheritance of hundreds of years of oppression.

There is a privilege in compassion that I hadn’t, until now, understood. And I think we – the “good white people” – need to recognize this.

I also think we need to acknowledge that even though we see ourselves as allies, even though we strive to change an unjust system, even though we feel pain and anger on behalf of the black community, we aren’t the major players in this drama. If we really want to eradicate racism, we can’t be.

White people have defined the narrative for too long. Even our compassion is a sign of the ascendancy of our role. We need to step back, to embrace humility. We need to listen, with open hearts, to the story that isn’t ours.


What’s in a Flag?

I first started writing this post on June 20, shortly after the Charleston church shooting. At the time, I was feeling baffled and sad and, honestly, angry, even though I really had no right to be angry. It wasn’t my community that was targeted; my perspective is comes from the other side.

But I was angry, and my anger clouded my thoughts so much that expressing them would have led me to saying things I would later regret — mainly because my anger was for people with whom I identify, those who make up the social circle in which I live. My anger was for people who, like me, have had the privilege of living in skin that is accepted, respected, and protected but who cannot (or will not) accept that we do not live in a post-racist society.

Back in May, when the Freddie Gray story was all over the media, I was confused how, after so many deaths of young African American men at the hands of police and vigilantes, there could still be people in our country refusing to acknowledge even the possibility that racism exists in our country.

I asked myself then what it would take for the racism deniers to see what is staring them in the face — the fact that racism is a fact in our society, not a theory or a possibility or a shadow of the past.  And I thought to myself — these people aren’t going to see what is right in front of them until something horrific happens, like a lynching or the burning of a black church. You know, the kinds of things that used to happen back in the days before the civil rights movement, when racism was law.

And then, on Wednesday, June 17, a white man wearing emblems of white supremacy proudly on his clothing, entered a historic southern black church with a gun and killed nine black people.


After it happened, I found myself thinking that now we would have no more excuses.  Now there is nothing else we can use to cover the abscess that is racism in our country. A white man  killed nine black people in a church that is a sacred symbol of the civil rights movement in the south. The denial must end here.

Except that it didn’t end there. People continued to struggle to find an excuse, any excuse at all to explain the motivation behind this hate crime, as long as it wasn’t racism.

And when I say people, I don’t mean the gormless trolls who lurk in the bowels of comment sections. I mean political leaders. Governors and congressmen and presidential candidates — people we rightly view as representatives of a significant percentage of our society.

When I started writing this, in that context, I was baffled beyond the point of frustration and into the territory of fury.

* * *

In the weeks since the murders of Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa C. Pinckney , Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson, the conversation has, finally, begun to change. Many of those who hesitated to label the killings as a hate crime against black Americans have backpedaled. Some have admitted they were wrong.  The most vehement deniers haven’t stopped denying, but their voices have, at least, been drowned out by a louder call for equality.

The amount of change necessary to answer this call for equality is staggering — it always has been, which is why, after each instance of brutality against black people that gains national attention, the demand for change becomes diluted simply by how immense the problem is.

But after these killings in Charleston, our call for change seems instead to have become distilled into a demand for the removal of the Confederate flag from our public spaces.


It’s a start. Certainly a flag that was raised in treasonous rebellion against the United States in order to defend and promote an economic system that forced one group of men to call anther group their masters has no place in any authentically American institution. It does not belong on the flagpole of a State House building. It doesn’t belong in a state flag, or as a representation of any level of American government.

The validity of this argument was finally recognized by a majority of lawmakers in South Carolina, the heart of the confederate flag debate, and at last the flag was removed from a space it had no business occupying. And it is coming down in dozens of other places across the country.

Again, it’s a start. It is good to see that the reasonableness of the argument against having a literally treasonous flag flying over a state capitol has been recognized by many who once denied it. And it is a reasonable argument. It’s not a radical, fringe idea to suggest that a flag used in battle against the American Government does not belong in our public spaces.  And it isn’t a radical idea to suggest that a flag which represented an army rebelling at least partly in defense of an economic system based on the enslavement of black people is racist.

No hate here.


Yet we still don’t seem to have reached the point where, to believe otherwise —  that is, to believe that the confederate flag does have a legitimate place as a symbol of who we are in a pluralistic democracy based on the principle of the equality of all men – is also not a radical, fringe idea. We only have to look at the way our (black) president was greeted when he drove into Oklahoma City earlier this week. Welcoming him with the waving of confederate flags, people were quick to defend their actions as “not racist” but as a “celebration of their heritage.” (Arguments which are hard to believe when groups like the KKK, who openly identify as racist, rally under the mantle of that very same flag.) But beyond that, there is no separating the heritage of the South from the heritage of racism. The glory of the old South had its foundation in an economic system dependent upon the enslavement of black people. The history of our nation is imbued with the bloody stain of racism: we cannot bleach it out. But far too many of us continue to try.

NO HATE HERE... (Members of the Fraternal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan at Nathan Bedford Forrest Birthday march July 11, 2009, Pulaski, Tenn.   SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES)

No hate here… (Members of the Fraternal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan at Nathan Bedford Forrest Birthday march July 11, 2009, Pulaski, Tenn. SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES)

The confederate flag does have a place in America —  it belongs in museums, where we honor the history that has made us who we are today. The Civil War was by no means a war of pure good versus pure evil. There were heroes and virtue, villains and vice, and racism on both sides of the divide. The best way for us to understand the nuances of war is through our study of history — not through the veneration of a flag that represents to so many the greatest sin we have ever committed as a nation.


As I look back at this month of anger and hurt and social upheaval, I am still not at peace with the example being set by people who share my skin color and my privilege. In my continued frustration and disappointment, all I want to say is that these people do not represent me. Not me.  But perhaps what I should really be saying is, “I’m sorry.” Because I know that racism is alive and thriving. I know that the whiteness of my skin puts me at an automatic advantage. And I don’t know how to change it. And I am sorry.

Yes, It Is About Race

If you are on social media and you live in a Baltimore suburb, you have been reading about the protests in our fair city.

You have also been reading the comments, because you just can’t resist. Actually – you can’t escape them. There are comments (and judgments) in every other status update coming up on your feed.

And somewhere among the jumble of opinions, someone has made the argument that this “isn’t about race.” More accurately, that the thousands of black people protesting on the streets are protesting something irrelevant. That this latest killing of a young man by police has nothing to do with the color of his skin. That institutional racism ended a long time ago.

The reasons why “this isn’t about race” will vary. Someone will share a CNN screenshot with raw numbers of people killed in police custody, “proving” that, technically, more whites than blacks are killed by police.

Someone else will bring up the fact that the Baltimore police department is way more diverse than that of Ferguson, so clearly it can’t be influenced by the race of the people it serves.

Black-on-black crime will come up, because it always does. And, of course, someone will bring in the trump card of Affirmative Action, whether it makes sense or not.


Ultimately, the insinuation will be that the pain, anger, and frustration protesters are saying they feel is invalid or, at best, misdirected. The fact that largely black communities are statistically more likely to have high rates of cyclical poverty and crime is attributed to something inherently wrong in those communities – absentee fathers, welfare-addicted mothers, drugs, gangs – denying even the possibility that the system treats blacks differently than it treats whites.

That, my friends, is racism.

When you have a minority population begging to be heard and a majority population refusing to hear them, you have systemic injustice.

The people protesting on the streets of Baltimore this week aren’t asking us for much.  They aren’t looking for a reason to break laws or injure police. (The few do not define the many.) They aren’t asking for special privileges or for a free ride through life.

They are asking us to listen to them. They are asking us to acknowledge that they have experienced pain and injustice because of the color of their skin. They are asking us to believe them when they say that the injustices they have faced aren’t isolated experiences but a fundamental part of their daily lives. They are asking us to imagine what it would be like not to have the benefit of the doubt, to be mistrusted and judged the moment people look at you.

They are asking us to see them as people with a right to define the narrative of our society.

CORRECTION Suspect Dies Baltimore

The One Thing I Can Say

If you are currently alive with at least a moderate amount of functioning brain cells and you have access to media of any kind, you are aware that there is a lot of injustice in our world.

There is injustice in Syria and in Iraq and in the Holy Land. There is injustice in every community where people live without food or shelter and in every city where violence rules the streets. There is injustice in our work places and in our schools an in our homes. There is injustice in our justice system.

There is injustice everywhere, all the time. But I think we go through cycles when the injustice is quiet, there but unobtrusive, demanding our attention only periodically. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that we go through phases of contentment with our world, when we are able to believe that, on balance, there is more justice than injustice. To be honest, I don’t think we could survive any other way.

But then something, some instance of injustice impossible to explain away, bursts through our complacency, and the injustice that is always there suddenly dominates the landscape.

That’s where we are right now. Or at least, that is where I am right now. Because I can’t seem to stop thinking about how unjust our society is.

I’ve been reading a lot of articles and blog posts about what is happening in our own country, on a street in Missouri, on a sidewalk in New York, in a park in Ohio – in every part of our country where people’s rights seem to be determined more by the color of their skin than by their inherent humanity. I have been reading about racism and about poverty and crime. I’ve read facts and opinions, transcripts and OpEds. And I’ve read the comments. (I should never read the comments.)

Every time I read something I get angry and upset. In fact, I get overwhelmed. And I feel like I need to write about what I am thinking, because there are so many thoughts racing through my mind and writing has always helped me to make sense of things that seem incomprehensible.

But when I try to write my thoughts out, I can’t. There just isn’t enough of me left at the end of the day to deal with the magnitude of what is happening in our country and everywhere else in the world. I feel so small, so inadequate in the face of our problems. So I walk away from my computer in frustration, with nothing to say.

But I need to write something. I can’t stay silent. If the magnitude of injustice is so great that it leaves me feeling like I don’t have the words to talk about it, then it is far too great for me to bury in the silence of my heart.

* * *

So I will say one thing, the only thing I feel like I can say: that we, individually and as a society, need to find our compassion.

We need to remind ourselves that there is dignity inherent to all human life. And we need to remember that our own dignity — and the dignity of those who are like us — never trumps the dignity of anyone else. Not ever.

Above all, we need to care. The intrinsic worth of people who are different from us has to matter.

A wise man once asked his followers to love strangers as well as their neighbors, and to love their neighbors as well as they loved themselves. In America today, this advice is worth taking.

* * *