Voices: All Lives Matter, But Stop Saying It

PORTLAND, OR (December 11, 2014) – Pastor Adam Phillips is developing Christ Church, a new Covenant congregation in Portland, Oregon. This article was first published on the Sojourners website. 

By Adam Phillips

There’s this microaggression happening online, offline, and all around that has a nice sentiment, but really needs to stop. Can we call for a week-long moratorium on decrying “ALL LIVES MATTER?”

This is a request specifically for my white brothers and sisters, especially those in the church.

I, of course, as a white heterosexual married middle-class highly educated American male, believe that all lives matter. It’s something I’ve been fighting for my entire adult life. Whether it is the mother infected with HIV by her wayward husband in western Africa, whether it is the undocumented immigrant father who may be separated from his American-born children, whether it is the NRA card-carrying white uncle who does an honest job and is a good neighbor back in the Midwest, whether it is the homeless thirty-something woman coming off a bad meth addiction but needing shelter during a difficult winter, of course, by all means, every life matters.

Your life matters. My life matters. All lives matter.

This is a non-negotiable. This is true. This is what it means to be made in the image of God, as we’re told in the Book of Genesis—everyone, whether you’re white, black, brown, male, female, straight, gay, bisexual, transgender, Republican, Democrat, rich, poor, nice, kind of a jerk, young, old, middle-aged, we all matter.

But these past couple weeks—these past four months, five months, 22 months?—it is important that we stand with the ever-growing chorus and declare, yes, black lives matter. With the heartbreaking, soul-wrenching death of Michael Brown, the news (on December 3) of another non-indictment in the death Eric Garner, or the dark night when Trayvon Martin was shot down in Florida, a chorus of voices has risen to declare with one voice and hashtag that #BLACKLIVESMATTER.

And yet, I’ve noticed on my social network feeds that many of my white sisters and brothers reply ALL LIVES MATTER. Yes, yes they do. But do my white sisters and brothers realize that in this very moment these microaggressions are like another death by a thousand Facebook posts?

Back in 1970, Harvard professor Chester Pierce coined the term “microaggression” to describe every small, daily insult and dismissal made by non-black folks toward African Americans. Others have expanded microaggression theory to include insults made toward women, other ethnicities, gays and lesbians, and anyone seen by the majority culture as “other.” It’s the ugly partner of systemic racism—a racism that is indirect, cruel, and dismissive toward the daily suffering of sisters and brothers, neighbors, co-workers, colleagues, and friends that are, for lack of a better word, minorities.

Last December, a photographer at Fordham University asked students to “write down an instance of racial microaggression they have faced.” The stories shared by those students on Buzzfeed, however hurtful and prejudiced, are, unfortunately all too common:

Toward a biracial student: No, really, “what are you?”

Toward a black male: “You don’t act like a normal black person, ya’ know.”

Toward another student: “Courtney I never see you as a black girl.”

Toward another: ”You’re really pretty … for a dark skinned girl.”

And another: “When people think it’s weird I listen to Carrie Underwood.”

Microaggressions happen every day all over the country for our black sisters and brothers, colleagues, friends, neighbors, and family when ignorant white people say stupid stuff (often times accidentally) rooted in stereotypes. It happens all the time. I’ve done it, you’ve done it—almost every white person I know has done it.

I was with an African-American female friend once on a mission trip. Two of the white missionaries asked if she was my wife or girlfriend, because “we seemed so close.” She was my boss, brothers. We were talking about the fundraising email we needed to send out once we got back. #microaggressions.

We’re crying out, we’re Tweeting, we’re posting on Facebook, we’re marching with the refrain #BLACKLIVESMATTER because that notion is precarious these days. Every time a white person says ALL LIVES MATTER they’re not only missing the point of these voices rising up together, they’re inflicting further pain and anguish. (I will stand corrected if you have examples of African Americans, Latinos, Asians, or anyone else.)

The apostle Paul teaches us in the New Testament that when any one member of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer. Russell Moore, (president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention) said after the Garner decision: “We may not agree in this country on every particular case and situation, but it’s high time we start listening to our African American brothers and sisters in this country when they tell us they are experiencing a problem.”

This is one of those instances where, yes, members of the body of Christ, citizens of this nation, neighbors, and friends are suffering. And we need to listen.

And we need to knock off the passive aggressive response ALL LIVES MATTER. We all agree with that. Right now we need to declare with one voice, until things really change, that yes, indeed, #BLACKLIVESMATTER.

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6 Comments

  1. I totally get what you’re saying, and agree. However, now I’m seeing “Cops Lives Matter” showing up on my newsfeed. How do you approach friends who keep making this into an either-or thing? That’s why I was looking for an All Lives Matter type of thing. My brother is a cop. I think there is a big problem with racial profiling among police, even if my brother is a good guy. Any suggestions?

  2. Adam,

    Your writing is a good example of “The Unintended Consequences of Good Intentions” and you couldn’t be any more wrong. What you are trying to do to mollify the mobs is actually promoting separation and encouraging racism. To begin with:

    1. You refer to African Americans. If I was to talk to these folks and ask, you know Africa is a big continent, what country are you from. Most – if not all – could not tell me. If I then asked, “Well, being African, you probably know what tribe you are from or what language did your people speak?” I would get a lot of blank stares. So to begin with, these are not African Americans (even though their ancestors may have been); these are Americans who are black. Theodore Roosevelt warned us against the fact of hyphenating America, which is exactly what this term does and this divides us.

    2. A significant number of those protesting the grand jury decisions don’t really believe that #blacklivesmatter. If they did, they would show outrage when Black Men are not in their home to raise their children. When 70 percent of the births are out of wedlock, and of the 21,000 abortions that take place every week, 8,000 are Black Babies. When Black Men make bad decisions that wind them up in prison rather than contributing to society and being there to solve problems.

    I invite you to read Romans 13 which basically states that the government is a gift from God; we should obey the Government and if we are law abiding we have nothing to fear from the government.
    ALL LIVES MATTER!!!

    When it comes down to it there is only one race, the Human Race, with some different colors and characteristics because I guess God likes variety. The Unintended Consequences of Your Good Intentions is doing the exact opposite of what you think it’s doing. It’s dividing both church and country and helps promote racism.

    I’m a communication specialist. I speak for a living, and words matter. That’s why I will continue to say ALL LIVES MATTER, regardless of their color.

  3. Nicely expressed!

    We are all at fault but not just because of something specific that we say or do. We are all at fault because we have unconsciously bought into the (often unconscious) background assumptions that reinforce a message that black lives do not matter (as much). It is those assumptions that we draw on in a moment of quick decision-making, explaining why our microaggressions are, in a sense, just like the macroaggression that results in somebody’s death. The image of a Cleveland cop jumping from a moving car with gun blasting will remain in my mind forever.

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