‘Let’s talk’ after vandalism

‘Let’s talk’ after vandalism

By Marta Morris Flanagan

Posted Oct. 21, 2015 at 4:39 PM


Last weekend someone vandalized the Black Lives Matter banner in front of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington. They used white paint to cover the word “Black” and bent the metal posts that held the banner.

Why – some people ask – why do you need to say that black lives matter? Don’t all lives matter?

Unitarian Universalists have long believed that all lives matter. We affirm the worth and dignity of all people. Universalism historically refers to the idea of universal salvation – that God is so loving and forgiving that God would not condemn any person to hell.

Imagine, though, a street full of houses. One of the houses is on fire. The fire truck is spraying water on all the houses on the street, which allows the fire to continue unchecked.

When asked why they are spraying water on all the houses, the firefighters reply, “all houses matter.”

Yes, all houses matter, but their needs vary. And right now the house that is on fire needs our attention.

Many African Americans feel like their homes have been slowly burning for generations. Centuries of prejudice and discrimination, sometimes violent and sometimes subtle, have affected people both materially and spiritually. One in three African Americans has less than $1,000 in wealth. For whites, it’s one in nine. 37% of African American children live in poverty, compared to 12% of white children.

Perhaps even more importantly, many African Americans feel like our culture bombards them with the message that their lives don’t matter. Their hopes and aspirations, their values, their suffering, their deaths – none are considered as important as white people’s experiences.

This is not to say that white people don’t suffer. 12% of white children living in poverty is 12% too many. Many white people suffer material want or financial anxiety. All white people are vulnerable to illness, loneliness, and loss, and to the ultimate losses of death and grief.

And our country contains many people who are neither white nor black. Their lives matter too.

If, though, we put up a banner saying “Save the Coral Reefs!” no one would reply – What about the mountains? Don’t they matter? We all know that caring about coral reefs doesn’t preclude caring about other things. It just means that we think saving the coral reefs requires some special attention.

So let’s talk.

How do we create a town – and a society – in which everyone feels like their lives are valued and their perspectives matter?

What assumptions do you bring to this conversation? What experiences have shaped your thoughts, your heart, your spirit?