Black Lives Matter.
It is a message that cannot be stressed enough, particularly in a time when indifference and tribalism persist. Now is not the time to burrow into your narrow perceptions of the reality playing out around you, but rather a grand opportunity to open up and grow.
The goal of this piece is not to shame those who disagree and this is certainly not a piece that demands that you pick a “side” as if this issue is as simple as a two sided coin. This is a thought exercise in challenging your perceptions and encouraging you to tap into our shared Jesuit values. This issue strikes the core of our Jesuit identity. We must strive to be open to growth and committed to doing justice. Our Jesuit values further call to seek the magis. This philosophy urges us to do more for Christ which in turns does more for others. If we want to call ourselves unconditionally supportive of life and be true and faithful Christians, we must adopt a goal of becoming anti-racist. We do not expect perfection; we expect accountability.
The Black Lives Matter movement stems from chronic issues of racism and police brutality that have not been adequately addressed. Movements are made of people; therefore, it is key that we listen and extend a hand of humility and compassion. We must come to realize that we have much more in common than we think. Struggle is a universal human condition. Yes, the degree to which people suffer differs, but we should learn to be empathetic to the suffering of others and seek to mitigate it, especially if it is preventable and solutions are feasible. We can let the media and political pundits hijack our reasoning, or we can transcend these distractions and seek a more meaningful and robust understanding of this complex dynamic of what it means to be Black and Brown in America.
It is possible to both support Black Lives Matter and still call out performative activism and violence at protests. We do not have to ignore the $2 billion in damage that was caused over the summer by rioters (many of whom had no connection to the 93 percent of peaceful protests that occurred) to justify our cause. What we must do however is detach the violence the media portrayed with the real actions of the movement. The movement is centered on justice and peace and we must not let a perceived narrative hijack the values and actions of the movement. Supporting groups like Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate demonstrate targeted action to directly aid specified causes. They are not exclusive clubs meant to put communities of color up at the expense of everyone else. The goal is to mitigate and eventually eliminate discrepancies in police treatment of Black and African Americans versus other people.
Think of it this way. If someone has a gunshot wound and the other a paper cut, who would you help first? Well, common sense tells us to help the person with the gunshot wound first. That is the premise of the movement, to help those who suffer disproportionately.
We want to address the potential hesitation posed by those concerned about the ramifications of supporting the movement. If you have the ability to look the other way on social justice issues, that demonstrates privilege, and that privilege should be used to enhance the voices of vulnerable and marginalized people and used to build up our communities, not pick them apart. Getting caught up in the ideological significance of BLM can limit its full potential as a community building coalition seeking justice for people who have traditionally been ignored, silenced, overpoliced, and treated unjustly by the most visible arm of state power. That said, it is okay to have reasoned skepticism and concern about the unfamiliar or uncomfortable, but to be dismissive about it is damaging to our values as a Jesuit institution seeking to form young minds ready to address the needs of all people, not simply appease the white moderate to which Dr. King called out over a half century ago.
For too long social justice movements have been criticized for not being perfect, yet what right do we have to hold them to perfection if we ourselves cannot be perfect? Even though our country is flawed, we don’t dismiss the totality of it. So if we do not dismiss our country as a vile and truly horrible place, then why reserve that sentiment for a movement striving to help those facing unfair and unjust treatment at the hands of those sworn to protect us? There are no absolutes, so we cannot treat the Black Lives Matter movement as the exception to this rule. Rather, we must embrace its imperfections and work together to mitigate its shortcomings in order to promote a stronger, more cohesive movement.
Actions speak louder than words. We care more about your actions than your ideology, so act like a good human being and that will speak for itself. You will be surprised to see how much you have in common with the movement once you open yourself up to its virtues and strive to live them out. Speaking of actions, let us appreciate the value in the different actions one can take to be a good ally, advocate, and citizen. Generally speaking, there are two types of support you can give to the movement, passive and active. Both have their respective benefits. An active approach involves direct action within the organization, whether it be helping organize protests or helping fund movement donations to Black and Brown causes. A more passive approach can simply look like a model citizen, someone who is well informed, thoughtful and uses their sphere of influence to be an advocate and ally for those who have historically been ignored or cast aside or told to wait. Investing your time rebutting tenets of Black Lives Matter is a waste. Instead, try focusing your time reflecting introspectively on how you can become more tolerant to things that may seem foreign or detached from your lived experience and learn to empathize with the movement. Feeding into polarizing tribalism and sectarianism will not help given the current political or social climate we are in. Let us seek the high road and appreciate the movement for its successes and progress while too recognizing its limitations as it is by nature a human endeavor bound to make mistakes along the way.
You can still support Black lives while having robust, thoughtful conversations surrounding reparations and economic policy and their effects on different demographic groups. Supporting Black lives does not mean you need to cave on your principles nor support the entire platform of the movement. As a matter of fact, let us put the movement into a global and historical context. Consider the IRA, the South African Independence Movement against apartheid, and the Civil Rights Movement. All three occurred in the 20th century and stemmed from a basic understanding that justice was not being upheld and that a systemic overhaul had to be done in order to create a more just society. We may not all agree that each group’s methods were 100% pure, but they made significant progress towards a more equitable society. This lens allows us to look at the Black Lives Matter Movement in context as opposed to in a vacuum.
Given the pandemic, it is easy to sidestep the fundamental issue at hand, which is community. We live in a society and therefore are thrust into this dynamic community with many moving parts. We are each but one of these parts. Just like a car engine, pistons need to be firing efficiently and effectively in order to let the car run smoothly. It is key that we too carry ourselves with compassion, conscience, and competence as our school’s mission calls us to do in order to better serve our communities’ ever changing and ever-intensifying needs.
Black Lives Matter.