Opinion: On the matter of black lives

By Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis
Senior Minister, Middle Collegiate Church

A man’s body is slammed against a car, he is wrestled to the ground, face smashed into pavement. My head hurts, watching, feeling the rub of the asphalt. I have been here before. The familiar sense of suffocation. Hard to breathe with your face in the concrete. Subdued, they are sitting on him, on me. He is tased. I am tased. I am shot. In the chest. I can’t breathe. I’m shot in the back, it is on fire. I am lying there, I use my hand to reach up to touch the bleeding space. I am dying. I am dead.

He is dead. We are dead. Reciting from our graves the names of the all-too-many killed at the hands of the state or by those who know the state will exonerate them.

A little girl sits in the back seat, her mother is praying over and over again, “Please Jesus, don’t let them have killed my boyfriend.” He is bleeding, slumped over, a pulpy mess where his arm should be. She watches, she listens, and we see what she sees, hear what she hears. There is a policeman holding a gun in the window, pointing at him, who is moaning. Mommy is talking into the phone, making a video. She has to get Mommy’s purse. Now we are in the police car. Mommy is crying, she is losing it. I am afraid, but I think she is more. I tell Mommy, “I am right here with you.”

The man is dead, they killed her childhood.

They killed our childhood, they killed us all, and we and our children are screaming, and afraid, and traumatized.

We know this hatred is not inherent; we know that we are not born to hate. We are taught to hate.

It starts with President Jefferson’s suspicion, that the so-called Negro is inferior, fueling pseudo-science to support the hatred. Even religion has fueled the hatred. There is a story in the Bible in which Cain kills his brother Abel, and God is angry. Cain is marked or cursed with dark skin or black skin.

This hatred of black flesh so deeply imbedded in our culture. It must be addressed for the sickness and sin it is.

What must we do?

1. We must acknowledge that to be silent is to agree, to be complicit. That we have not done enough, must be whispered in confession booths, must be prayed from pulpits, must be preached in sermons.

2. We must create a revolution, a love revolution, that acknowledges that each body is awesomely and wonderfully made in the image of God, who delights in all flesh, in black flesh. We cannot be conceptual revolutionaries, we must not be closet prophets.

3. We must revise the narrative. The story of white supremacy is a lie that must be disrupted on the level of culture, society, and legislation. Our outrage must create a revised narrative, a new story. A story in which all of God’s children are seen and cherished as wonderful, gorgeous, beloved, valued, fabulous, awesome mirrors of the image of God.

4. We must resist; black folk must resist. We have to resist this narrative in every way we can imagine. Resist in conversations, resist in interactions. Resist at work, at home, at church. Teach our children to resist. We must also resist the temptation to retaliatory violence. Black lives matter, and every single life is precious.

5. You who have privilege must own it. And though this work is for all of us, I would be remiss if I did not say that white people have a significant role to play in resisting the narrative and changing this story. There is no more time for denial. You who have privilege must teach your children that they have privilege and with it comes responsibility. To open doors for others. To share power, to step back from power.

Fear of the other can lead to hatred. Hatred is an equal opportunity killer. It is coming for immigrants, for Muslims, for Jews, for Sikhs. It is coming for gays, lesbians, for bisexual and transgender people. Hatred is coming for anyone who is “other,” and it is coming for black bodies, for black men, women and children.

And so we who believe in freedom must come to understand that when a black body is killed, we have been murdered. When a black child is hungry, our nation’s stomach must growl. When a black grandmother goes to the polls and can’t vote, our rights are being dismantled. When it is done to the least of us, to the marginalized ones of us, it is done to us. To you and to me.

We still have a race problem in America. In the matter of black lives, congregational leaders, our institutions and all people of faith have work to do.

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