Lesson 13: Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter

I think I have been resisting this lesson. Being very active in the civil rights movement most of my life and raising a Haitian son, I was afraid I was too emotionally involved to trust my understanding of what is happening. Yet the only way I could ex[plain the great conflicts in our society was to place them in the context of our racial history.

Now I think I am ready to admit that is the bottom line. Every time I went off in another direction, I returned to race. Whenever I deconstructed what people were shouting, I heard confidence or fear based on the ability of colored people to control elections. I feel my own anxiety about losing white privilege.

The change in the civil rights movement is a good indication of what is going on. In the old days back in the 60s, we were targeting segregation, a way of life pretty much confined to particular practices in specific places. Our program focused on actions that would change laws. For instance, if people wanted to help integrate a school system, they could participate in a nonviolent civil disobedience challenging a particular law. If they wanted to stop prejudicial renting practices, they could expose unlawful activity.

Today, the focus is on changing attitudes rather than actions. This emerged with the Black Lives Matter movement that boils down to a slogan championing the dignity of African Americans. Some actions have been advocated such as defunding the police, but they soon petered out as they offered little concrete actions that supporters could take.

It became evident that we are talking about overcoming the systematic racism that pervades our society. Although this is a pretty abstract academic term that almost invites the charge of elitism, it does describe the goal.

Promoting Critical Race Theory soon became the means to reach that goal. Focusing on the big role education plays in changing hearts and minds, it advocates simply acknowledging how much slavery has affected American history. That really came home to me when our Monday night discussion group read short stories written by African Americans. After a few weeks, one of the group observed how surprised he was that authors way back in the 19h century were already addressing issues he thought were recent concerns.

When you recognize that white dominance is coming to an end, it makes sense that people respond emotionally, not rationally. Angry resentment is evident when they insist “I am not racist!” or “All lives matter.” They accuse us of playing the race card implicitly acknowledging it trumps their arguments. Because that emotion expresses deep fears, there is always the threat of violence.

The situation calls for new actors. In the past, we relied on lawyers and politicians as our goal was to change laws. Today we are out to change minds and hearts and that depends on educators, artists, and theologians. They have the tools that allow us to ponder the issues without anger. They are able help us cast out our fears.

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4 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Kerry says:

    Thanks for this, Fritz. I think you’re absolutely right: the goal now focuses on attitude more than actions, and that this requires a different approach and different actors. This difference never occurred to me before. So really: thanks!

  2. Susan Koon says:

    I found “White Fragility”, by Robin DiAngelo, to be very helpful in advancing my own thinking. This is going to be harder than marching and targeting specific laws.

  3. Lupe ANdrade says:

    I think it’s absolutely necessary to fight racism, in any way, shape or form. I personally was shocked by seeing a Visa Application form for ent United States, just a few years ago that asked the applicant to fill a “Race” box. In all the years I lived in the US, and all the years I traveled there, I was never asked about my race. When I saw I was befuddled at that question, because I have no idea of my own race. Am I White? Certainly I am not blonde, or blue-eyed, but neither am I deep brown. My ancestry includes Spanish, French, Basque and some Sephardic indications, as well as likely Aymara Indians somewhere, but none of them ever defined themselves by race, so what am I? However, the US seems to be more and more obsessed with race, even while it claims to be fighting racism. And racism is ot black and white, is it? How about yellows, reds, and browns? Are Mexicans another race, as well as another nationality? Are Okinawa and other Northern Japanese white (their complexions are lily-white) by their skin? Or Asian because of their slanted eyes, or by nationality? Are Caribbeans all mixed-race, and if so, what is it? How about billionaire Arabs? What race are they? The moneyed race, or a slightly brown race, or what?

    This is all so complicated and subjective that it seems to boil down to the attitude of the observer, or the classifier, or whoever belongs to the group in question. I think race should be eliminated from discussions and from choices, be they academic or personal. But then, who am I to say, in the end? Befuddled Lupe

  4. Rita Yeastead says:

    I grew up with attitudes towards Blacks that I never accepted until far into my adulthood. I simply never knew any or spoke to any. None went to my school (Catholic) or Church. I began to realize that there were a few families in my hometown, but they lived, “literally,”across the tracks.” In shacks. I remember seeing them, but selcom as the main street in my town that was built on a large hill was 7th Ave., and 6th Ave. below it was next to railroad tracks. Between those tracks and the Allegheny River, there were a few shacks. This was the only place that Black families could live.Nobody would have rented or sold a home to a Black family. As years passed a few lived on 6th, and by the time I was in the convent a few more lived closer to 7th. We lived on 12th, and there was only 13th Ave. I went to high school in Natrona, where it was on the books that no Blacks could be sold or rented to .I entered the convent at 20, but our college was “on site,” with credits being granted by Mt. Mercy College (now Carlow). . Again, no real contact. We read almost no African American authors nor talked about systemic racism.

    But this was the 60s, and my consciousness was raised (as was yours) in those tumultuous decades of the 60s and 70s. I wore a full habit and vividly remember walking in a civil rights march from the Civic Arena through downtown Pittsburgh. I was spit on from the sidewalk by bystanders. One does not forget that… My dad, a steelworker whom I adored, broughy a basket of fruit from our yard one evening right after that, and he brought up having seen this march on TV, and there were nuns marching. When I said quietly that I was one of them, he was shocked, lowered his eyes, and said nothing. Once again, I never forgot how disappointed he was in me, his favorite child…

    Sixty years later, I have now taught African American literature and music for almost 20 years. It is one of my favorite courses because I try to teach not only history but emphasize the amazing artistic achievements of a people treated so badly. They learn that jazz is America’s classical music, and that we still sing many of their “first literature” in our churches, the spirituals that kept their hopes alive.I love the stories and poetry I teach, and I know that I help my students, Black and white, come to new ideas about race.

    And yet… I still am uncomfortable when it is dusk and I am walking alone on a city street and I see a hooded Black man or teen coming towards me. I am not cured of racism and prejudice, but I know I have the disease… Thank you for reminding me. Love, Rita


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