A few nights ago my husband received a call from his sister, reporting that a young male cousin had been murdered. The next morning I pondered the deaths in the generation of young black males in his extended family: two nephews murdered, one nephew dead of an overdose; his son dead in prison of unknown causes. This list is far from unusual in black families.
Certainly all of these young men were involved in things that brought on trouble, let alone death, in their lives. However, the incarceration and the demise of young black males around America involves more than their criminal activities. We could discuss for hours the factors that are disregarded by white society ( poverty, unemployment, bad schools, etc.) that lead to those criminal activities. However, the young black males in our family (and thousands of others) also died because few people in the white majority care whether they live or die.
The root problem of this attitude seems very simple: we care more about ourselves and ours than others. We gaze from afar at the wasted potential in young black males with a haughty “that’s their problem” attitude.
We have precedent for that attitude. In the first few chapters of Genesis we read about blame games between Adam and Eve and about jealousy between brothers (Cain and Abel.) Throughout history in every mountain village, every valley, every city, every river bank, every farm community on our planet, people work hard to find someone who is not as good as they are.
This is happening blatantly today in Brazil, Mexico, India, China, Russia, Spain, Greece, everywhere in the Middle East, and, of course, in the United States. It is nearly impossible to find a place where one group doesn’t look down their superior noses at another group. If war or negotiation changes the balance of power, the system just puts different groups in different slots, and the game is played by the same rules, guided by the same philosophy with the same ferocity. Only the winners and losers are reversed.
It happens in our churches as well. I recently heard about a conversation between two women. One was complaining about the pastor of her church. “He’s always talking about serving people in the neighborhood and ministering to needy people outside the church. But what about us?” she complained. This modern elder son look-alike reminds us that we all draw lines between people. We withhold love and attention and justice and support from people on the other side of those lines, while demanding it for ourselves.
To me this truth about mankind means that in order to ameliorate or solve the racial problem in American cities and neighborhoods, white society has to first dig through the gunk in our hearts and family histories and believe that “black people matter.”