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: women, many ethnic minorities, gays, lesbians and the transgendered, the disabled, the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill. As a result, “All Lives Matter” chanted in response to the “Black Lives Matter” feels like a not so subtle attempt to veil the historical legacy of racism found in these United States where the All men are created equal ideal neglected to specify that it, in essence, only referred to 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 young black men in full retaliation for recent events shooting innocent unsuspecting police officers. Sadly, they 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 call the moment and it happens, mercilessly, in the hearts of children. Something happens and suddenly they know they are different and 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, maybe 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. Today, this moment is galvanized by the talk African American parents must have with their children about how to behave around white authority.
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, with time, together, can set us all free. But, this is not a path for the faint hearted. 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 for where we have been blind but now are willing to see. We must ask ourselves, What can I do to assure the ‘moment’ never happens to another innocent child – any child – of any color – again? For, in this heart of God, all lives really do matter the same. And, if we can each do this, perhaps the day will come when none of us, black or white, will feel the need to ask…
If I lied to U about yr trueself, would U still love me?