A number of Christians, including leading gospel ministers, have been actively involved in the Black Lives Matter protests around the United States. I am not one of them and here’s why:
For one, the slogan ‘Black Lives Matter’ is unethical to me because I believe ALL lives matter in the eyes of God. Secondly, some of the protesters are ill-intentioned, which is why we have witnessed the destruction of property and violation of people’s rights. When protesters go to the extent of setting a church building on fire as happened in Washington DC last month, it clearly demonstrates that some of them harbour an evil agenda.
It appears the death of George Floyd was a trigger to the rage and discontent that have been simmering among black communities for decades due to racial inequity that American governments – past and current – have failed to address to their satisfaction.
When emotions take centre stage, the outcome is compromised. There are many protesting blacks who are motivated by hate or personal issues that have nothing to do with seeking justice for Floyd. Yes, I condemn the way he died at the hands of police officers who ignored his “I can’t breathe” pleas. It was an unfortunate and painful case. But how do the protests that followed in utter disregard of Covid-19 containment measures address the injustice he suffered? And why should the actions of one white police officer result in all whites being seen as racists?
I thank God that since I moved to Alabama from Kenya in April 2015, I have never experienced any kind of discrimination because of my skin colour or pedigree even though I know racial biases have long existed in this country.
For example, African-Americans in Alabama began fighting for basic civil and human rights as soon as slavery ended in 1865. The modern civil rights movement in this state burst into public consciousness with a single act of civil disobedience by Rosa Parks, an African-American seamstress, in Montgomery on December 1, 1955.
She had boarded a city bus in downtown Montgomery and sat one row behind the whites-only section. As the bus filled with passengers, the white driver ordered Ms Parks to surrender her seat to a white man. She refused, prompting the driver to summon the police, who arrested her for violating the city’s segregation ordinance. That was followed by widespread protests, including bus boycotts.
Although blacks have, over time, adjusted their tactics to go with the times, their goals have not changed. They have fought consistently for social autonomy, high quality education, political power and an acceptable standard of living.
Many African-Americans live with the pain and wounds borne by their ancestors who were captured as slaves and forcibly brought to the US centuries ago. Recently, my co-worker, a black woman, shared the regret she felt for being American and wished her forefathers had remained in Africa. She is one of the many who carry pain, bitterness and anger issues that need to be resolved.
Some might disagree but as one now living among white people, I can confidently say not all of them are racist. As much as blacks have suffered, no one should use that as a weapon against whites lest we also be accused of racism. Indeed, there are blacks who have killed whites yet they have never been referred to as racist. Conversely, there are many whites who have condemned Floyd’s killing and who embrace blacks and see them as fellow human beings.
I have good friends who are white and who have contributed positively to my life. Some of my children’s best friends are also white. For three years, I was privileged to work in an institution with over 5,000 staff where I was one of the few blacks. I was treated with dignity and respect, and embraced as one of their own. Indeed, it was difficult for them to accept my resignation when the time came.
There is a need for introspection before we point fingers. Let us first remove the logs in our own eyes before we attempt to remove the specks in other people’s eyes. Today in America, all races live together in the same neighbourhoods as opposed to the way things were years back. Both white and black children go to the same schools, colleges and universities. Places of worship are full of people from different races. There has been a paradigm shift.
But just like in any other society, there still exist people hauling along the baggage of racism. In my native country of Kenya, a man from Nyeri County called for the burning down of the White House. His comments attracted global attention and dominated social media for many days. His words, “Burn White House now… we are not turning back,” were immoral to say the least. Such characters are perfect examples of what ails our society and that is why I root for honest dialogue across the nation that will result in healing – much like the reconciliation that continues to play out in Rwanda after the genocide.
I believe church leaders in America should lead such an initiative while the US government takes responsibility for incorporating solid anti-racism policies and upholding respect for human dignity, starting from the institutions of learning. The truth is everyone needs justice, race notwithstanding. All lives must matter because every single one belongs to God. That is why as a gospel minister, I believe that there are many meaningful and justifiable ways of seeking justice besides marching on the streets.
The writer is an associate pastor in Birmingham, Alabama, United States