Would U still love me?
If I would hurt U
call U names
curse yr women
enslave yr children’s minds,
lie to U about yr trueself
Would U still love me?
W.E.B. Du Bois, 1903
In 1971, I ended a paper for a Black Studies course at the University of Southern Mississippi with this poem. Last summer, cleaning out the basement, I found the paper and remembered this poignant passage. It caused me to reflect on what has changed since then and on the events unfolding today with the “Black Lives Matter” and the responsive “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” movements. The line that resonated most then and still today is lie to U about yr trueself.
Of course all lives matter! Yet, many disenfranchised groups have had to fight to matter, for inclusion in our founding All men are created equal ideal: African Americans, Native Americans, many other ethnic groups, women, the LGBTQ community, the disabled, the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill. Yes, it would wonderful if we could stand side by side with all our disenfranchised brothers and sisters and, together, sound a resounding, “All Lives Matter!” However, when we witness horrific injustice, even murder, of a fellow American as we all just did in the recent killing of George Floyd, as well as those before him, such a cry rings flat and feels like a not so subtle attempt to veil the historical legacy of discrimination and racism found in these United States where the All men are created equal ideal neglected to specify that it, in essence, only referred to land–owning white males.
Truth is black lives have not and, in lingering degree, still do not matter the same as white lives. Why? Because, historically, we have collectively lied to them about their true self and now we are living in the fallout of this horrific injustice. Today, we see the face of full retaliation, particularly against law enforcement, seeking justice long overdue. Underneath this aggression, I believe, lies an abyss of long held, festering hurt and anger–the kind that starts early and never goes away. Still, sadly, many are abandoning Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s charge to resist retaliation even in the face of horrific injustice. As a result, the cycle of hate and violence continues to be perpetuated because, just like black lives, blue lives matter too.
I wish we didn’t need a “Black Lives Matter” movement. But, I’ve seen too much. Felt too much. Known to much to deny my part, yes, my part. I remember “White Only” drinking fountains and bathrooms and not just in the deep south. I remember shacks clustered on back dusty roads and hearing of colored towns hidden deep in the woods. In the city, I could see at the edge of town those segregated neighborhoods, especially at night when the oil lamps glowed, where white folks just didn’t go, ‘cause, you know, colored people live there. I am old enough to remember that, of course, I must be somehow better ‘cause yous is white. Sheltered in my privileged status, I could easily look away, get busy, deny, rationalize, anything but recognize and acknowledge my sister’s, my brother’s disenfranchised isolation. Like so many of my status, by not giving voice to the truth, I helped to perpetuate the lie.
And such complacency, however innocent or unintended, continues to allow for the seed of racism to take hold, generation after generation. This seed begins with what I’ve imagined to be the moment and it happens, mercilessly, in the hearts of children. Something happens and suddenly they know they are different and that that difference isn’t good. Sadly, in that moment, they start to believe the lie being told to them about their trueself. For our African American brothers and sisters, I can imagine it happening one Christmas sitting on Santa’s lap. Why does Santa look different? Or, perhaps in church. Why does Jesus? Maybe the moment happens on a playground when being bullied and taunted makes them cry or lash out. In not so many years past, perhaps it happened when they asked, Why can’t we go in there? I’m hungry or Why do we have to sleep in the car? Or, maybe it was when they drank from one of those “White Only” drinking fountains only to be yanked away by a horrified bystander. Or, perhaps, there was not one specific event but just, one day, that sour, sinking, it aint ever goin’ away feeling that black made them different, less than, and worst of all, it couldn’t be changed or gotten rid of.
When we allow any group of people to believe the lie about their trueselves, something dies within them and, as a result, within us as well. This is actually a great blessing because this painful acknowledgement can only arise from an undeniable knowing that we are all one family in this heart of God so what we do to the other we do to ourselves. The good news is we can choose to reject the lie and follow the truth that we are all truly equal in the eyes of our creator. This means that, perhaps, we of privilege must also give up the lie we’ve knowingly or unknowingly told ourselves: that our lives matter more than others.
Acknowledging our part in the creation of discrimination in the collective consciousness is not for the fainthearted. If we are to avoid postures of either moral superiority on the one hand or over–played humility on the other, we must be willing, again, to follow the advice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and first look within ourselves. Yes, within. We must search our own hearts, indeed conduct a fierce inventory, of where we have been blind but are now daring to see. Then we will be closer to an authentic heart space when we ask our African American brothers and sisters, What can I do to assure the ‘moment’ never happens to another innocent child? and be willing to hear the answers.
Yes, if more of us would be willing to cultivate that authentic heart space, perhaps we’d come a bit closer to a day when we could all stand together and sing, Free at last, Free at last. Thank God almighty we are free at last and Dr. King’s dream would come just a little more into focus–revealing a time when no one will need to ask…
If I lied to U about yr trueself, would U still love me?