This week, 13 activists stood across the southbound lanes of Interstate 95 in Downtown Richmond for a half-hour. They had a banner hung on the fence of the Chamberlayne Avenue overpass that said, “Black Lives Matter”.
Tonight, as a baker’s dozen protesters stopped traffic on I-95 just under the Chamberlayne Avenue overpass, my Puerto Rican neighbor and his African American friend were declaiming to one of the neighborhood teens that he needed a spark plug for his mower. The neighborhood teen has been trying to catch me at home with some extra cash so the teen could mow my lawn. He caught me at home and then the mower quit running. Doh.
The BLM crowd would have you believe that this teen is disaffected, a drop-out, suffering from a poor education, at-risk of becoming a pimp, a drug dealer, a something. Their answer is that this teen should be bought for $42,000.00, placed in public housing, given TANF, SNAP and SSDI, and accept his fate as a downtrodden wigger. The BLM crowd has their orthodoxy, their doctrine about this teen having never met him. This teen’s greatest ambition, according to them, is 5 minutes of fame as he is carried to the morgue on a stretcher after having assassinated a cop.
It is more important that those 13 signal their allegiance to the downtrodden than it is to spend the time it takes to learn that a young black man needs a spark plug to continue to do for himself. It is also important that the young black man play out his role as the downtrodden in this meta-dramatic farce and not do something disruptive like finish cutting my grass. The spark plug is supposed to come from Social Services after a solid week of part-time work filling out paperwork proving that he needs it. Pimp Daddy Uncle Sam has civil service workers who need a paycheck, you understand.
I live a couple of miles from that overpass. On Charity Street, less than a half-mile from the protesters is the Gilpin Court public housing complex. Area churches conduct programs to help the residents of Gilpin Court get out of the trap of public housing into self-sufficiency. There are volunteer opportunities aplenty for those who want to make a difference.
The BLM crowd, though, would rather signal their anger at the cops by facing stopped oncoming traffic on I-95 in downtown Richmond and chant “Black Lives Matter”, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”. Somehow, getting on TV for a couple of hours will do something for those po’ folk and everything will be great again.
Black Lives do matter. And it isn’t that all lives matter. The proof of that isn’t in the headlines. We don’t see it because the many who matter, who care and serve, are too numerous to fit into a nightly television news broadcast. Within an easy walk are at least three churches, Atlee Community Church at Northminster, Ebeneezer Baptist, and Third Baptist that have been hard at work serving their communities long before those ruddy-cheeked agitators stopped traffic. We are the majority and thus, not news. It is the petulant few upper-middle-class, college-educated, socially mobile who insist that the world bend to their whim who make good TV. It is these that get the air time.
It is a choice to market a brand, a message of resentment against a perceived other who must behave in some amenable way to satisfy these protesters. As I love to repeat, if your serenity relies on us, the malcontents, you have problems. The problem isn’t whether lives matter, black or otherwise, it is that we fail to listen to each other, fail to humble ourselves and seek to serve, and hunger for angst and trouble. As long as we choose to declaim to the world that it must care about us in the manner we approve of we’ll have no end to it. We are insisting on the wrong answer.
The right answer, though, is known, isn’t news, and doesn’t have the same impact as a few hours of notoriety gained by shutting down a major Interstate Highway. The right answer ain’t doing nothing, so says those petulant 13 who faced down the cops this week. They say that we don’t care, that for us, Black Lives Don’t Matter, because if they did, no young black man would ever get shot by a white cop.
Forgive me, but as a father, this feels like those tantrums we endure as parents. The ones where the child launches into a storm of tears and shouting, claiming that the two people who gave them life, who are the reason the child has what he or she has, doesn’t care, doesn’t love them, doesn’t understand anything, never did, never will, and by the way, we are ugly and stupid. You learn to weather the storm and wait for the ask for a hug.
Those 13 believe that if they make a big enough stink, the climate won’t change, that doe-eyed kid on TV (who has to be a grandparent by now) won’t starve, there will be no more war, all those first world “rights”–medical care, college, Internet access, smartphones, insulation from triggers and micro-aggression, all these will be embedded in the memory of the mountains and become inviolate, as sure as the sunrise. All this will happen because 13 wiggers stared down the state police for a couple of hours before getting arrested.
I started putting together this post a week ago. I didn’t know how to end it. The right answer and the answer of the 13 protesters is different in one key aspect. Standing on a freeway blocking traffic for a couple of hours has an emotional punch that standing on a serving line doesn’t. Nobody will know that you spend a couple of hours a week at a church social hall feeding the homeless. Not like shutting down a freeway. My buddy spent the night at my house last night. We had all the windows open and it was still nearly 100℉ inside the house. It is from him that I have the gerund “signaling”. Signaling is doing things to signal that you are doing something. It is optics, picking things to do that look as intended.
This is an old one for me. It bugged the crap out of me as a kid that our church would do missional tourism and congratulate themselves that they were serving Christ. Meanwhile, right outside the church Pitman, NJ, nice as it was, had the usual coterie of suburban problems. There was work to do for our neighbors. I don’t doubt that the people who hosted us on our annual missions trip benefited somewhat from our visits with them. But lasting change takes time and work, more than a two-week visit to a third world country. I didn’t like it when my Christian brothers signaled that they were down for the cause and had a heart for the peeepul but didn’t do anything substantial. I’m even less tolerant of left-wing activists who throw down a tantrum and expect it to motivate us to come correct.
The right answer is hard. It is nigh invisible because it starts with each of us and is small. It isn’t emotional. Its signal strength is weak. No salt&pepper haired, microphone wielding reporter is going to interview us for a 40-second story on tonight’s news. Your mamma told you as she was told by her mother and on back for generations. Take care of yourself. Examine your life and where you find it out of kilter, put it right. Keep a humble heart and seek ways to serve everyone, enemies, especially. Take care of your house and your kin. Do for others as you wish they would do for you. All that kitschy stuff on decorative signs you see in Walmart and the Dollar Store. The stuff you have heard from your preacher since you were too small to have a say in whether you wanted to go to church. None of it is sexy or new. Most of it you know. Knowledge or the lack thereof isn’t the issue. It’s the doing, the acting on what you know, that gives it life.