Before My Life Matters to You, Let It Matter to Me

© Annette Witteman/Unsplash

I’m Black to some and White to others. I’m really biracial, but I look Black to most. My father is a Black American, and my mother is a mix of nationalities but known to most as White. This term “Black American” is new to me: something I learned about online from other Black people who acknowledge that many Black Americans were here as slaves before other immigrants arrived.

I’m a Christian and a Quaker. I’ve probably always been a Quaker but didn’t know it. I’ve long lived by the Quaker SPICES testimonies (simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship). Go to any poor, Black neighborhood, and you’ll notice these are both welcomed and avoided at the same time. The culture I and many others grew up in taught us to be ostentatious, to fight and boast, to be on the lookout, and to watch out for yourself.

I grew up with drug-addicted parents, missed 100 days of school in the eighth grade, and know more people who sold drugs than chose to attend college. Much of my upbringing was almost anti-Quaker. I was raised Baptist (well, about as Baptist as most Christmas and Easter Baptists can be). Around the age of 13, I was saved at a megachurch in Cleveland, Ohio. I didn’t know it was a megachurch at the time. It was only years later that I learned many megachurches are also prosperity gospel churches. The prosperity gospel is the health and wealth gospel; it’s the kind of church where the pastor tells you that God wants you to be rich, happy, and healthy without acknowledging that many in the church are none of those things.

I remained a Christian over the years despite despising the constant sermons on finances and the growth mentality of various megachurches. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I asked to meet the pastor of a megachurch near Canton, Ohio, and his staff denied me this request, indicating that he only met with members on a “large scale.” This came after the daughter of the pastor from the Cleveland church was on the MTV show My Super Sweet 16, and I learned about the private plane that took him from the east side to the west locations in his church so he could avoid traffic.

The aim of a megachurch is to be culturally relevant. It’s a fashion show with concert-like music and culturally relevant topics. One is expected to buy into the popular culture. I’m probably a bit less into “the culture” than most: I have never had social media, and I don’t follow the trends of the day. While many might tease about that, I’ve learned to think for myself. This is why given the current cultural climate, I’m afraid to speak up about the issues I have with the current racial climate.

I know Quakers have a long history of supporting social justice causes, which is part of the reason I love our community. But as a group of middle-class people, we may be doing more harm than good.

I do not agree with the victimhood mentality that has been expected from people like me. When I say that publicly, I’m often told that I just don’t get it—as if somehow, I didn’t endure all of the things that everyone else did growing up poor, with drug addict parents, and working to fight my way out of the “the hood.” My debates on this always tend to become political and I’m not quite sure why. I’m not a Republican, and there’s not a conservative bone in my body. 

I don’t support the current cultural agenda of promoting Black Lives Matter, and again, I’m told I’m wrong. If I weren’t Black, I’d be worried that I’d be branded a racist. If I can be proud to be Black, why can’t a White person be proud to be White? Why is it that we say Black Lives Matter when a Black man is murdered by police but not when we lose many more Black men at the hands of our own community?

According to the Chicago Tribune, by June 2020 in Chicago, 1,290 people had been shot. That is 227 more shootings than in the same period in 2019. A National Review article references that from 1976 to 2005, 94 percent of Black victims were killed by other Black people (this is true for White people as well). We all know that more Black people are killed by police than White people, but we refuse to acknowledge that Black people have far more interactions with police, accounting for half of all homicides and almost 60 percent of robberies. (I am aware that if the data counts convictions then Black people are almost always going to be overrepresented because they are more likely to be targeted and less likely to have good representation.) 

The Washington Examiner cites that 77 percent of Black children are born to single mothers. The Minority Business Development Agency reports that only 15 percent of businesses are minority-owned. The ills facing the Black community stretch far and wide. Why aren’t we looting about these things? Why aren’t we willing to protest and demand change about these issues, many of which we do have control over? We shout “Black Lives Matter” for the people who died at the hands of the police. I wonder how often these same protesters talked about discrimination before this news cycle. Have they considered that some incidents may be due to a lack of training and are not racially motivated?

I know Quakers have a long history of supporting social justice causes, which is part of the reason I love our community. But as a group of middle-class people,  we may be doing more harm than good.

We shout “Black Lives Matter” but ignore the fact that Black people are killing each other every day. We don’t acknowledge that too many Black children are born to single mothers. We don’t protest that too many young Black children grow up without their fathers. Why aren’t we shouting in the streets that Black businesses are underrepresented in the U.S. economy?

It is not uncommon in the Black community for crimes such as selling drugs, falsely claiming children on taxes, and Medicaid fraud to be outright overlooked and even encouraged. We ignore that our community accounts for so much crime, often permitting it with an ever-pervasive “stop snitching” attitude.

Before you write me off as someone who doesn’t get it or assume that I somehow miss the point, consider that I—more than others—understand the cost of pointless death. We all should be outraged. Cops should be prosecuted for murder if they’re guilty. If we’re going to be upset about Black people dying and being discriminated against, we should do it every day with a broken heart.

We don’t need Quakers to perpetuate the victimhood mentality in the Black community. If a White Friend wants to get involved, they should be outraged that there are so many problems going on within the Black community. We shouldn’t mask these issues by focusing on things that aren’t helping the Black community advance on its own.

Rodney Long

Rodney Long is married to a great woman and has a job he enjoys. He has enjoyed the writings of Quaker pastor Philip Gulley for many years and began attending Kent (Ohio) Meeting prior to the U.S. onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

4 thoughts on “Before My Life Matters to You, Let It Matter to Me

  1. I really enjoyed this article. The agenda of Black Lives Matter addresses many of the concerns raised by the writer of this article. BLM is more concerned than just with police brutality towards blacks. It is also concerned with many forms of racial injustice.

  2. I grew up in a majority black city, and went to a majority black grammar school. We moved there when I was quite young from whitest white Iowa, and my Quaker mother decided we could do more good in Paterson, so that’s where we bought a house. It was only through that experience that I realized the world was completely different for me as a white kid than for my black friends. I could cross the river. They couldn’t. The police were there to stop them if they did. I could go into a store with my white friends and not be bothered. But with my black friends, no way. We were followed everywhere. I knew I would eventually leave that town, that I would become a scientist, and most of them did not have a clue what that even meant. I’m still, after 30 years, unraveling the ways my experiences and expectations are subconsciously different from theirs. At the same time, some of the most alive and beautiful people I’ve ever met were African American. Most whites have no understanding of the deep an abiding resilience of African Americans and we rob ourselves by not making space for them. When I was child in the 70s, Gallup found that ~70% of americans were against interracial marriage. That was in my lifetime.

    Black lives matter more than they used to, but they don’t matter as much as mine right now, and they should. That’s the simple message of BLM. We’ve all been trained to believe that lie without knowing it – black and white. I see Black Lives Matter as a movement to change the perspective, the expectations of black people, and the expectations of white people, and maybe to start lowering that racial divide to the point where we can have equal contributions to society. I see it as a movement to build pride in the Black community that finally pushes back against 150 years of broken promises, from Reconstructions through Jim Crow, through redlining, and mass incarceration. I think, only then will the social diseases – both white on black, black on black, and white on white – have a chance of being erased.

    It will be hard.

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