Social Holiness Concerns: Dissecting the meaning of “Black Lives Matter”
January 22, 2018 / By Evelyn A. Woodring
“Black Lives Matter.” We have all heard that chanted, shouted, and have even seen the words carried on posters and banners. And, we have our individual responses when hearing them.
Before we settle on our response to this, perhaps a bit of learning is called for. February is Black History Month, so let’s look for a moment at the “matter” of black lives. When the Founding Fathers were inventing an entirely new form of government, one of the sticking points they faced was the issue of how to allot representatives. The problem was solved by creating a bicameral legislature – that is, a government in two parts, the Senate (in which each state, regardless of size, had two voices) and the House of Representatives (in which voices were allotted based on population). It was the question of how to determine “population” that caused problems. How do you count people? Who counts? When do you count?
The question was solved by determining that, every 10 years, a census would be held. But, now a new problem arose. Those states that relied heavily on the presence and labor of chattel, slaves, had unreasonably high populations in relation to their citizenship. Ultimately, the decision was made that each slave would count as 3/5 of a person. That’s right, a slave is 60% human!
This solution held through the time of the Civil War. But, with emancipation, a new challenge faced the governments of the states. How to assure the legitimacy of voter registration when the “new” citizens strove to register? Many states adopted “literacy tests” to assure that only properly schooled and educated (and white) persons would vote in elections at any level. Further, laws were passed restricting the definition of African descent. If even one of an individual’s great-grandparents was Negro, that person was not white, but Negro!
This is the sad history of the meaning of “black lives.”. From being “not really human” to being “of inferior stock”, the lives of African Americans have been regarded as of lesser value. The reality is that, even in today’s America, persons of color face burdens that the white majority cannot even imagine.
As we enter the 21st century, we still find the fight for true equality of opportunity, respect, and protection of legal rights is being waged in our cities, towns, colleges, and wherever people of color interact with white America. Persons of color learn, from their earliest days, that they will confront challenges unimagined by the white majority.
Until the lives of our Sisters and Brothers of color are regarded with the same respect and deference as our own, no lives will truly matter! It is only when the lives of the least regarded, the most overlooked, the invisible ones matter that we can claim the truth that all lives matter. Not 60%, not one in eight, but every life is precious to the Source of all Life. All lives matter to God. They should all truly matter to God’s people, the people of the Upper New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church!