Black Lives Matter.
That was the message boldly emblazoned on the flag I was waving at a rally a few nights ago. I was joining other citizens in our community in the northwest Chicago suburbs, standing along side of a busy intersection during rush hour, waving flags and holding signs to promote justice, equality, and science. I’m usually the tallest in the crowd, waving a large flag that simply states “Black Lives Matter”.
As you may expect, many cars either honk their horns in approval, or ignore our rally and continue quietly on their way. Of course there are some vocal objectors, who feel the need to shout “Trump 2020” from their vehicles, or wave “the bird” in our direction.
Every once in a while someone feels the need to pull over, roll down their window, and spew their racist venom. Tuesday night was an example, as a white 30-something male decided to pull up next to me in traffic, roll down his window, and call out…
“Do you even know anyone who is black”?
I was taken aback by this question. We live in a metro area with a population nearing 10 million people, and nearly 1.4 million of those people are black. Even though we are in a white suburb where blacks comprise less than 2 percent of the population, most suburban residents enjoy enough mobility to live, work, socialize and interact beyond these suburban boundaries. A better question for me to ask him would have been…
“Don’t YOU know anyone who is black?”
I could have told him about the first black friends I had as a kid when my south-side neighborhood experienced white flight in the late 1970’s. I could have shared about Randy, a bright, strong, courageous student that befriended me in grade school. Or the grace of Ruth. Or the dignity of Sonja.
I could have told him about Debbie, a high school sweetheart with a killer smile, unforgettable beauty and a heart of gold. Or resplendent souls like Kenny, Yolanda, Demetria or the hundreds of students of color that befriended me at Morgan Park High School.
I would have been able to tell him about audacity of Daryl, my college roommate or the jubilant aura of his brother Larry, who was not only my roommate but also the best man at my wedding. I could have mentioned the spirituality of Vince, a friend of mine for the past 20 years, or Marilyn a vivacious and fierce family friend who had a tremendous impact on my daughters when they were younger.
Or Julia or Joann, two friends who’ve shown radiant courage and compassion throughout this turbulent summer, while voices in our nation have tried to tell them that their lives don’t matter.
Or countless other friends of color. But my immediate answer to his inquiry about whether I even knew anyone of color was simple.
She is black. And white. And mixed. And strong, resilient, and beautiful. She is my heart and my world. And I will stand on any street corner proudly waving a “Black Lives Matter” flag for her. Or Randy. Or Debbie. Or Larry.
Because, yes, I know black people. Many of them. And resoundingly I can attest that their lives matter.
But even if you have somehow lived a sheltered life among such a great sea of humanity, do you really need to know a person of a specific race in order to fight for justice on their behalf? Is justice or equality only important if it pertains to you or “your kind”?
Unless you have deliberately segregated yourself.
If you have intentionally drawn the boundary lines of your life to only include people who look, speak, and think like you, then you might be perplexed why others take up the cause of racial equality. In the small existence you’ve created, you might indeed conclude that only you and your near mirror-images matter. You might be so willfully ignorant to believe that you can toss out the “N-word” waving your middle finger as you drive away, as this man chose to do.
You’ll go through life missing out on the beautiful lessons learned when we step beyond our narrow boundaries of race, politics or religion. There is an abundance of life to be experienced beyond the narrow circles we were born into. You can build bridges of invitation that lead into that world, or walls of exclusion that bar you from it.
What you build, whether bridges or walls, determines your perspective. What you build determines who you know. What you wave, whether a flag or a finger, displays the message of your character.
Black Lives Matter.