Wednesday, March 02, 2016

There Needs to be a Fire

This past Friday I wrote about how I was touched by the lyrics of a Bob Marley song, especially the way it is interpreted by the international musicians who came together under the auspices of the Playing for Change project.  I noted how Marley's song, "War" caused me to reflect on the idea, the ideal of "colorblindness."  Today I'm talking about how the Peter Gabriel song "Biko" feeds into my understanding of the Black Lives Matter / All Lives Matter discussion.

The song is about Steven Biko, the South African anti-apartheid activist about whom Nelson Mandela said, "they had to kill him to prolong the life of apartheid."  There's a stanza in the song that has always struck me powerfully:
When I try to sleep at night, I can only dream in red;
the outside world is black and white, with only one color dead.
When I hear people who say that we should come together not under the banner "#BlackLivesMatter" but, rather, "All Lives Matter," these words often come to mind.  As a person who sees himself as white, and who is seen by others as white, I am part of a group that has a very limited view of what life in the United States is like.  The problem -- a problem -- is that we assume that what we see as the way things are is the way things are for everybody.  Because of this, we often think that anybody for whom things aren't like this is doing something wrong -- they're not working hard enough, or they're sitting around waiting for handouts, or their anger over things past is getting in their way today, or that they get something out of their "victim" status and don't want that to change.

The reality, though, is that the way we folks who are seen to be white is decidedly not the way it is for people of color generally.  And people of color are soon going to be the majority of people in our country.  We nonetheless should not lose sight of the fact that apartheid was the law of the land in South Africa in spite of the fact that Blacks made up the vast majority of people in the country.  It's not the numbers, it's the access to power.  (But I digress.)

While it is certainly not true that African Americans (and other people of color) are the only ones who suffer, or are the only ones arrested for crimes or killed by the police, it is absolutely true that the preponderance of people who do are not people who others would see as white.  This is a fact that has been, and is still, virtually invisible to the "mainstream" view of life in United States.  And many, many people in that "mainstream" see the stories on the news giving major crime a black face and think that there's something wrong in the African American community.  The reality is that there's a systemic problem in our country's core that has intentionally (and quite successfully, I might add) created conditions within communities of color that are just right for the growth of this "problem."

So while I go to sleep at night and dream in technicolor, I fully believe that there are people of color who "can only dream in red," and who wake up to a world when more often than not it's people who look like them who are ending up dead.

But I see some hope.  I'm a preacher, so hope is something of an occupational hazard.  (Or gift.)  What I see is that for whatever reason(s) conditions are such that more and more of us who understand ourselves as white are having our eyes opened to this "other" reality that has long gone unseen among us.  More and more folks are seeing this "other" truth about our society and are coming to the conclusion that things absolutely have to change.

So there's this other stanza in "Biko" that speaks to me:
You can blow out a candle, but you can't put out a fire.
Once the flames begin to catch, the wind will blow it higher.
May it be so, and may that fire be a cleansing fire that burns all that must be destroyed if the world so many of us dream of has any hope of growing.

Pax tecum,


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