White Friends, Here’s How Much Black Lives Should Matter.

Black Lives Matter.

I’ve heard you say it and I’ve seen you tweet it, but I wonder what it means to you. 

Here’s what I hope it means:

I hope black lives matter enough for you to anger your white friends, 
enough for you to interrupt your uncle’s next racist diatribe,
enough for you to mess up your holiday gatherings,
enough for you to get blocked by your high school classmate, 
enough for you to confront your minister,
enough for you to turn over some tables in your white church,
enough for you lose people you love,
enough for you to brave the eye rolls of coworkers,
enough for you to share videos you know you’ll get pushback for,
enough for you not to get invited to the neighborhood Christmas party,
enough for you to step into the minefield family conversations you once avoided,
enough for you to risk being seen as “the angry one” by extended family,
enough for you to say something to the belligerent guy at the table next to you,
enough for you to be pushed to the ground by police,
enough for you to brave rubber bullets and tear gas,
enough for you to be threatened with violence by passersby,
enough for you to be cussed out by a stranger,
enough for you to speak when you used to stay silent,
enough for you to stay after the protests die down,
enough for your advocacy to outlast the news cycle,

enough to read books that make you uncomfortable,
enough to challenge your own assumptions,
enough to name your own prejudices,
enough for you to campaign for black candidates,
enough for you to vote differently,
enough for you to get off the fence of ambiguity and into the fray of clarity.

If black lives don’t matter that much too you—well, they don’t matter that much to you. They were merely a temporary emotional intoxicant that you injected for a few days to give you the momentary high of low-cost moral superiority and cheap compassion.

If black lives don’t merit your sustained attention and your relentless advocacy and a sacrificial solidarity that causes you pain or relationships or opportunities, you’re probably not that invested yet.

But if black lives are worth what you claim they’re worth, if they’re more than a slogan, they’ll be worth your inconvenience and discomfort, and a severing of some ties that need to be severed in order for you to speak unflinching truth in places it may be have been excluded from.

After the events of these days give way to the next urgent moment, the next Constitutional crisis, the next noble cause asking for your temporary bandwidth—black lives will still be here and systemic racism and police brutality and white silence, and everything you’re seeing right now will still be happening—unless you stay in the game and put some skin in it.

After you’ve posted a black square on your social media page and tweeted out a meme or attended an event or ordered a t-shirt, how much do black lives really matter to you?

They should matter enough that in standing with them, you lose something.

That’s how much black lives matter.

Drew Brees Isn’t A Racist. That’s Why His Words Were Revelatory.

(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

New Orlean Saints Drew Brees is by all accounts a really good guy: philanthropic, generous, and beloved around the NFL. He’s the kind of rugged, earnest, faithful team leader sports makes superheroes out of, and the all-American Brees has fit the bill perfectly for two decades—which makes his new comments on NFL players possibly kneeling in protest in the upcoming season so jarring, especially given the raw and turbulent moment he’s delivered them into and the place in which he’s made his home for so long.

In a recent interview with Yahoo Finance, Brees stated, “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.’

The quarterback elaborated: “Let me just tell you what I see or what I feel when the national anthem is played, and when I look at the flag of the United States. I envision my two grandfathers, who fought for this country during World War II, one in the Army and one in the Marine Corps. Both risking their lives to protect our country and to try to make our country and this world a better place.”

Brees’ statement on the surface might seem benign, until you remember where we’ve been and how close to this he is. From the very genesis of the movement started by Colin Kaepernick in September of 2016, NFL players told us why they were kneeling before games. They were explicit and consistent in describing the act as a silent, non-violent appeal for white Americans to be aware of the violence by police against people of color and to come alongside them in the effort to bring justice and equality to a nation still severely lacking in both. Unequivocally, they declared that this was never about anything else but that—until it became a MAGA talking point.

Enter President Donald Trump, bringing a false narrative designed to pull public support among fans away from the players, by framing the posture as an attack on the flag, the anthem, the Military—on America itself. It was a master stroke of leveraging the latent supremacy and nationalism always bubbling just below the surface in his largely white base, and millions of Americans took the bait, apparently including Drew Brees. (The ripples of Trump’s successful PR manipulation flowed all the way up to NFL owners who proceeded to squash protests and blackball Kaepernick.) Never mind what the players themselves were actually saying, which is the point here: privilege creates its own mythology where it justifies white subjugation of black voices—and in this case, it cost Kaepernick his career while Brees has enjoyed another four years as the Great White Hope of a city.

Drew Brees is a good reminder that perpetuating racism isn’t just about bad people saying and doing openly racist things. It isn’t just about egregious acts of violence or vile words spewed at strangers by openly ignorant bigots with Confederate flags hanging off their front porches. It’s about the buffers and barriers to suffering afforded by our privilege as white people that allow us (as good and compassionate and open as we might try to be) to live with blindspots that show up when inequity is revealed and when our assumptions are challenged. In those moments, our response is often to rationalize away the truth in front of us when that truth might reveal those blindspots, illustrate the ways we’ve benefitted from a broken system, and shatter the false story of equity that we told ourselves existed.

When you’ve lived in a privileged story (as all white people have to some degree), that story feels normal and it often doesn’t occur to us that there is a fundamentally different experience of America, of liberty, or law enforcement. When you’ve benefitted the most from a system, it’s easy to embrace a narrative that protects that system—which is why Drew Brees, as integral a part of this league as he’s been, and as closely as he’s lived and worked alongside men of color for two decades, and as connected with a city that has endured unspeakable racial trauma as he is—can still possess a story where marginalized communities asking for equality can be interpreted as attacking the flag or disrespecting the Military (again, despite the voices of those people). That is a much more palatable option than admitting that your whiteness has protected you from a harm many people experience as their default setting and is calling you to face the injuries sustained as a result.

Brees likely had no idea his words would be received as poorly as they have been or be as damaging as they are—precisely because he is a really good guy, because he doesn’t see himself as racist, because he doesn’t do and say the things racists do. That’s also why his remarks, as unsettling as they are, are helpful. They can be instructive to white America as we navigate the fractured nation we’re living in: they can help us understand that racism is a system as much as it is a behavior and that privilege makes seeing and confronting that system a daily exercise in chipping away the false story we’ve told ourselves.

The only way to even begin to do that is to get better stories; to continually talk to people with different experiences of America and law enforcement and liberty—and then, to reflect on our own road retrospectively and look for the ways we’ve been afforded opportunity, or spared struggle, or had a clearer path than our brothers and sisters of color; to ask ourselves the question: How has my road been easier because of my pigmentation?

The more we do that, the better we’ll be able to see through the false narratives that seek to silence marginalized voices that disrupt the story we tell ourselves of an equitable nation: a story that makes us the hero and people who have lived without justice demanding justice, the villains.

When that happens, we’ll be able to accurately see America as being forged in the crucible of privilege—and burdened to remake it into something more beautiful.

As we do this, let’s center on the voices of people of color and on the issue at hand, which is the killing of black people by police and a culture that has normalized this kind of dehumanization for two hundred years.

UPDATE: Drew Brees apologized for his remarks and publicly corrected Donald Trump when the president tweeted an attempt to once again make the protests about the flag.

To White Police, From Black Jesus

And Jesus walked into the 3rd Precinct, sat down and began to teach them, saying:

“You have heard it said, ‘Whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.’

I’ve heard you repeat that in your churches and in your Bible studies. I’ve seen it on your social media profiles.

I need you to understand what that means:

It means that I am a black life.

When you slowly suffocate a man to death in the street while he pleads for breath, you’re slowly suffocating me.
When you drive your knee into his neck until it closes, you’re driving your knee into my neck.
When you stand close by and watch him expire without helping him, you’re ignoring my murder.
When you execute young men at traffic stops for doing nothing other than having darker skin than yours, you’re executing me, because mine is darker than yours.
When you knock an old person down in the street, you’re knocking me down.
When you lob tear gas into crowds whose faces you cannot see, you’re lobbing it into my eyes and down my throat and choking me.
When you fire rubber bullets into the heads of women bringing water to marchers, you’re firing them into my head.
When you strike the face of an unarmed teenager, you strike mine. That is my blood on your baton.
When you indiscriminately run peaceful people over with your patrol car, you’re running me over. Your tires crush my bones and tear my tendons.
When you mock the termination of a black life with your friends, you’re the laughing soldiers who stood around my cross making a mockery of me.
When you spit on people of color, you’re spitting on me.
When you deny the value of black life, you’re denying my worth.

This has always been true.

I made my home in the gutters with the people of the street; with the outcasts and the marginalized, with the maligned and the disrespected. I was always where the powerless pushed back against the powerful.

I was always where the least were asking to be treated with humanity.

I am here now, with these exhausted, desperate human beings pleading for decency and I am kneeling across from you in these protests. I am waiting for you to stop defending Caesar and to be the agents of peace you’re supposed to be. I am looking for you to protect and serve me in my pigmentation.

I am your black neighbor, giving you the chance to love me as you love yourself, to value my life as much as your own.

I was here before you were born. Before America was something white people took from people they slaughtered. Before it was something built with the hands of other people they stole.

Before your flags and your anthems and before your nationalism ever had a nation, I was demanding the release of the slave and emancipation of the imprisoned and liberation of the oppressed and hope for the hopeless.

Two thousand years ago I was here living with the street rabble and healing the wounds of Empire and turning over tables and screaming at religious hypocrisy—and I was warning people not to become so corrupt with power and so enamored with money that they forfeited their souls.

I was here speaking against people like this president and I was murdered by people like him and the more you embrace him, the more contempt you will have for me, the more harm you will be willing to do to me, the less my life will matter to you.

I am the slave, the prisoner, the college student you pull over, the man lying in the street, the woman carrying water.

I am the kneeling, silent black man waiting for justice that you can help give me.

I am the least of these.

My life matters.”

When Jesus finished speaking, many were upset by his teachings and grew agitated. Some screamed at him, some tried to justify themselves.

Others walked away, overtaken by guilt.

Jesus knelt down.

 

 

You’re Damn Right I’m Angry

“You’re so angry.”

Yes, I am.

I need you to know why.

I’m angry that you willingly voted for a vile, predatory ignoramus who said the most despicable things about women just two weeks before the election.

I’m angry that you voted for him after he encouraged his followers to rough up rally protestors and said he could shoot someone in the street and not lose supporters.

I’m angry that you voted for him after he was endorsed by the KKK and courted the most extreme fringes of the white supremacist movements in America.

I’m angry that you ignored Hillary Clinton’s experience, intelligence, and character, to give away the nation’s leadership to a guy who filed bankruptcy numerous times and left an endless trail of unpaid vendors and broken promises.

I’m angry that you were going to vote for him no matter how repugnant he showed himself to be or how ignorant he was of the most fundamental aspects of the Constitution or how incapable of complex thought he obviously was—simply because he was Republican.

I’m angry that ever since voting for him, you’ve excused a million lies, incendiary tweets, abuses of power, denials of science, and race-baiting tweets that have endangered hundreds of millions of people.

I’m angry that you’ve turned your head or shrugged your shoulders at children in cages, “both sides” false equivalencies, sh*thole country contempt, assaults on natural resources, and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

I’m angry that you excused away, rationalized, or even ignored a willing recklessness in the face of a public health emergency, that has left 103,000 Americans dead, with no plan to help us prepare for the even more difficult season ahead because he is unwilling and unable to lead.

I’m angry that right now while cities are burning and our infected racial wounds are fully exposed, he’s inciting violence and encouraging civil war and weaponizing his power—and that you’re wagging your finger at protestors and putting up pictures of your beach trips and family gatherings because you’re ignoring it all and hoping it never affects you.

I’m angry that I attended church with you and know the prayers you pray and the songs you sing and the Jesus you claim to follow—and realize you were lying or you’re that far gone.

I’m angry at your phony “all lives matter,” “thoughts and prayers” platitudes that allow you to feign empathy and impersonate grief, while doing nothing to engage those bringing violence to vulnerable communities, because you voted for them.

I’m angry that you’ve repeatedly watched black people being executed in the street, and you’ve responded with the same character assassination and irresponsible stereotypes and dehumanization that he has.

I’m angry that my children are growing up with this malevolent ugliness as their president, and that every day I have to try and make sense for them, something that makes no sense—except that a good portion of this nation is as racist and hateful as he is, and that we’re in one of the saddest chapters of our nation’s story.

And I’m angry because I realize that despite all of these things, despite how horribly he has conducted himself and how little regard he’s shown for diverse human life and how injurious he’s been and how aware you are of his grievous sins—you’re still going to vote for him in November.

Yes, I’m angry but I’m not angry at Trump. He’s been as advertised.

I’m angry at you because I thought you knew better.

I’m angry at myself because I thought I knew you better.

I was wrong on both counts, and yeah that pisses me off.

I’m angry because racism is going viral and hatred is having a renaissance and compassion is facing extinction.

I’m angry because decent people don’t feel safe here and because they aren’t safe here.

I’m angry because our republic is broken.

I’m angry because the world pities America.

I’m angry because they’re right to pity us.

And most of all I’m angry because you’re not angry about any of it.