About a week ago, Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation joined Unitarian Universalist congregations around the country in displaying a Black Lives Matter banner on our campus. Our banner symbolizes our support for the Black Lives Matter movement. It is a small part of our congregation’s burgeoning work on race and ethnicity.
We are ramping up our efforts in light of the deaths of so many African Americans at the hands of police, the disproportionate rate of imprisonment of young African American men, and, more generally, the racism that persists in the American system. Dozens of our members signed the banner, including many of our children, as a symbol of their individual support.
Two days later, the word ‘Black’ was papered over with ‘All,’ and several signs reading “All Lives Matter,” made with paper and permanent marker, were taped up around our campus. When the signs were removed, the word ‘All’ was spray-painted over the word ‘Black’ on our banner. You can see the latest vandalism in the photo.
This crime reminds us that work for justice is often unpopular. It leads me to the following few thoughts:
1) Vandalism of a banner pales in comparison to the the theft and destruction of black bodies in the United States. The Washington Post reported that an unarmed black man is killed by police every 9 days. Some argue the Post under-reported the numbers. Forty percent of people incarcerated in the US are black Americans, and about 50 percent of the women incarcerated are black, while only 13 percent of the US population is black according to the latest Census data. According to Unlock America and the NAACP, if Hispanics and Blacks were jailed at the same rate as whites, the US prison population would decrease by 50 percent. We will not confuse our very minor incidents with the real issues.
2) All Lives Matter? Yes… and No. Some say ‘Black Lives Matter’ singles out blacks in a way that devalues other lives. Not so. Truly we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every single person. VUU has done work around immigration, homelessness, and LGBT rights, to name but a few issues. But black lives have been singled out for abuse in our country. They were separated from their families and marched across the south to be sold as farm implements, denied the right to vote, killed and beaten bloody during the civil rights era, and are still oppressed today, as the above statistics show. Maybe we will know that all lives matter when we can proclaim that black lives matter without controversy.
3) We must keep the goal in mind. As stated in the Black Lives Matter guiding principles: “We are committed to collectively, lovingly and courageously working vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension, all people. As we forge our path, we intentionally build and nurture a beloved community that is bonded together through a beautiful struggle that is restorative, not depleting.” The goal is love and justice, but the work is anything but easy. It wasn’t easy in the days of the underground railroad, it wasn’t easy in the civil rights era, and it isn’t easy now. But we are called by Unitarian Universalist values to continue, and over time to deepen, our witness for justice.
Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi wrote earlier this year in Huffington Post, “Many thought that the abolition of slavery, the end of Jim Crow and the legislative progress of the Civil Rights Era, among other watershed moments, would have fundamentally done away with the racist structures that have long oppressed Black people. However, we know that has been far from the case. There’s been persistent and concerted effort to erode the gains of the Black liberation struggles throughout the years, hindering Black progress.” Replacing these structures (like the justice and prison structures) with systems which truly value black lives is the work before us. We look to people of color for leadership. It will not be easy. It will not be quick. But let us have courage and keep to the path.