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.non

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 cited that according to 2015 data from the National Center for Health Statistics, 77 percent of non-immigrant U.S. Black births were to unmarried 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.

Updated Jan. 29 with additional context on 2015 Black births to unmarried mothers.

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.

11 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.

  3. Dear Rodney,

    You’re a unique individual. You managed to rise above your home life and had the drive to seek a better life. But, unlike you, many other black people find themselves beaten down with no hope. Their drive for personal growth is replaced with survival.

    Despite what your [F]friends say or what you currently believe, we have been conditioned by systematic racism, which is rampant in our country. The blatant example happened on January 6 when fear-filled people, taken in by the myth that white people are superior to Black people, invaded the US Capital.

    It saddens me to hear a bright guy like you disparaging Black people with a narrow view that if “I did it, why can’t they,” or “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality when most innercity Black people don’t own boots.

    Black Americans did not emigrate to the US for a better life as European’s did. They were chained and shipped here as chattel for economic gain. And Black American’s oppression continued after the Emancipation Proclamation, through Jim Crow, and continues in subtler ways today.

    President Biden opened the topic of race equality and proposed some legislative changes, but the beat goes on. Racism’s immorality and injustice will continue until we, white people, open their hearts and stand up against the white, patriarchal, corporate-oriented rigged system that Black Americans are born into.

    Thanks.
    ray

    1. Ray,
      I didn’t get from Rodney’s article that he was disparaging Black people, except to say that Black communities need to acknowledge the issues of violence and drugs that exist within their communities. In that, I think that he is challenging them to be better. I might have the wrong take, but my understanding was that Rodney’s issue with BLM is the laser focus on police brutality. I think that many of us who support BLM realize that there are many issues that need to be addressed, but I think that the public face of it (to non-supporters) has been police brutality. Perhaps as a white Quaker, I need to examine ways that I can help to shed light on the deeply ingrained racism that exists in our society.
      Peace and light,
      Kerri

  4. I am an African American Quaker with deep ancestral roots in the struggle for racial justice who carries the struggle on in my own life. My great-great grandfather fought to free enslaved African Americans in the Civil War; my great grandfather was a revered member of the Black historical press, and my father was a successful Black home builder who provided affordable homes for Black purchasers in the midst of 1950s redlining. I have taught college courses on race/ism and I write books on Black culture and history. As a trained culture studies researcher, I understand the necessity of knowing the history and the social contexts of the people we write and speak about. I am anything but a victim!

    On the contrary, the author of the article at hand speaks solely from personal experience as a mixed-race, Black-white man. The little awareness shown outside his own experience is from present-day news reports! Nevertheless, I know he speaks the sentiments of many, Quakers included! However, this does not constitute an “informed” view on race/racism in America! Personal perspectives have their value and import however they do not amount to a well-constructed understanding of societal (Black) realities, even if written by someone who is Black. Where is the author’s awareness or understanding of the brutality of 250 years of slavery; of the Black Codes and its derivatives (vagrancy laws, voter suppressions, unjustified imprisonment); KKK style racial terrorism (until this day); redlining; mass incarceration and hundreds of years of erasure and denigration of Black culture? I know that an honest assessment of those of us who know this history, Quaker or not, would reveal that we are not victims and we give back in many and diverse ways.

  5. I am processing this with my husband because I need some grounding. I really want to know if a white person had written this would it have been so fully embraced and publicized? Where was the discernment on the part of Friends Journal? I understand wanting to provide a platform for diverse voices from people of color, but some of these sentences are straight out of Breitbart and white supremacist media. There’s a saying amongst people of color, “All skin folk ain’t kin folk.” As a person of color, I’ve been fighting for our voices to be heard and keep thinking things will change a little and then I keep getting slapped in the face, by my own faith community. Yet I keep trying and don’t give up. I refuse to give up because our elders went through worse to get us to where we are. I read this piece to be by someone who has been personally victimized by his parents and the midwestern environment of his upbringing and holds resentment towards the Black community. After all he claims to be new to the term “Black American “, but knows about “snitching” and other slang. That says a lot. He has no historical context, nor does he make a distinction between individual incidents of person to person violence, and state to person violence. There is a reason why people fear violence perpetrated by a state agent acting under the protection of the government. ie: The state’s monopoly on violence is more feared for a reason, he does not acknowledge this. He has no understanding why people in the middle of Europe, with minimal contact with Black people, used the BLM protest to call for reform of their own state perpetrated violence. In other words, just like most privileged Americans, he needs more World history, American history, Black American history and personal historical discernment. I am disappointed by the editorial staff, who made no effort to educate and communicate the Quakers discernment method to this young man. His failure to recognize his own white supremacist thinking in judging the Black community, is personal and singular. The failure of Friends Journal to recognize this, is institutional and multiplicious. It’s so frustrating coming from an organization that has a structure in place that is supposed to guard against such an editorial failure. Discernment is core to our faith. I believe this to be a teachable moment for all involved, but recognize there are a great majority of “good” white people who will fully embrace and celebrate this because it makes them feel like they are not racist for believing these tropes. Of course he’s given a platform because he “overcame” his circumstances through school and the salvation of “good” religious people. He has standing because he has been given the stamp of approval. He’s one of the lucky few. He knows it, but he lives by the “hard work and personal responsibility“
    myth. Even though he literally earns a living by being part of the support system for people who can’t make it out by themselves. Cognitive dissonance. Singular aberrations do not equal the reality of our wider society. If hard work truly paid off, all descendants of slavery would be reaping the benefits of centuries of their free labor building the richest nation on earth. The punching down that too many do when they achieve a modicum of success is one of the deep sins and atrocities of our society and it is intentional. The use of people of color as weapons of violence towards the black community is a reality that continues to undermine all of us. The misogyny of looking down at single mothers as failures is particularly concerning and in and of itself another form of violence and othering that we have all become much to accustomed to. The disdain for the wording of victim is heartless and not loving. What is old and tired is white people embracing this and being comfortable to openly dismiss the existence of white supremacy and it’s methods of abuse.

  6. Dear Rodney,

    We learn about the subject and ourselves simultaneously when we write. Sometimes, what we say unintentionally offends some people. Your story got various reactions. It made us think and feel.

    We’ve all benefited from your story, whether we agree or not.

    Please, don’t let these opinions discourage you from expressing yourself in the future — how you see the world.
    Keep the courage, stay vulnerable, and let your voice be heard.
    Thank you.
    ray

  7. Rodney Long’s decision willingness to wrestle publicly with this knotty issue takes courage and vulnerability. I’m grateful that he opened space for a more nuanced conversation.

    He asks, “If I can be proud to be Black, why can’t a White person be proud to be White?” I, too, have always had difficulty with taking pride in something over which I had no control. Regardless of one’s race or ethnicity, it has been difficult to be American for many people since the country’s inception, but the challenges to each group have been radically dissimilar because of race. While race is a fiction in biological terms, it has had tragically real consequences in a nation with laws and policies shaped by the ideology of White Supremacy. It is this ideology that is at the heart of our dissimilar experiences. In the brief space of a comment, I want to acknowledge that the expression of gratitude for (or pride in) the forbearance of one’s ancestors is honorable. At the same time, statements like, “I am proud to be (fill in the blank)” usually have power, meaning and resonance because they refer to an aspect of identity that has been denigrated, vilified and excluded. The US has a long history of denigration, vilification, and systematic exclusion when it comes to Black people (as well as Native, Asian, and Latinx people). Given US history in which Whiteness has been defined by the ideology of White Supremacy, saying that one is “proud to be White” takes on a different meaning than “proud of my forbears.” It signals either a celebration of racism or a feeling of being vilified and excluded. This current moment is one in which *both* things are happening and that makes our analysis extremely important. It also demands that we face and confront its complexity.

    Rodney Long also discusses the “Black community” as if it might–as a monolithic and integrated actor–be responsible for all of the difficult things that happen within it. His reference to black-on-black crime implies that he may consider this to be an aspect of black *culture.* Our histories are intertwined with each other in positive, negative and complex ways. Each group has navigated, and continues to navigate, the enduring and shape-shifting scheme of white supremacy. What happens in one group is tied to what happens in others. The boundaries of each of our groups are increasingly porous, as Rodney Long’s own story illustrates. Our communities within communities are not violent, distracted, or poverty-stricken outside of their relationships to the violence perpetrated, labor stolen, and educational, financial, and political investments withheld from them. Individuals within different groups tend to self-medicate with and distract themselves by different means, but the extent of violence, self-loathing, and distraction throughout society certainly signals how unhappy many of us are.

    We all inhabit complex and interwoven cultures that together are in need of a re-set with regard to the ideologies and priorities that govern us. Silent worship in community is just one way I attempt to re-set my own intentions, priorities and values each week. Until we can come to terms with the implications that our fates really are intertwined, it is likely that many people will continue to misinterpret courageous collective statements like “Black Lives Matter” when they have never been exclusive to Black people.

  8. I want to respect that BIPOC people have different experiences and different opinions. The question for me is: what is the impact on other BIPOC people when those opinions are given a public forum, especially when those opinions are hurtful and harmful to other BIPOC people?

    I take objection to Friends Journal choosing Rodney Long’s article as a way to a provide different opinions. I also question that the editors of a Quaker journal did not question their decision to project a disparaging view of the Black Lives Matter movement in an issue dedicated to the topic of Race and Anti-Racism. The very historic moment which called on Friends Journal to dedicate an issue to race and anti-racism, called on its editors to think more deeply about feeding, in any way, into the current targeting of BLM by white nationalists, and reinforcing white supremacists ideas among Quakers.

    We need to set a higher bar for our Quaker community and the Quaker media that reaches out to and reflects the Quaker community, not only here in the U.S., but around the world. It is a greater shame that all those who receive a paper copy of Friends Journal will not benefit from the replies to this article that have been posted online. I hope that Friends Journal will find a way to reprint these replies in the upcoming paper version of the journal so that all readers can benefit from the perspectives that have been offered in response to the article .

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