You may have seen a comic by Chainsaw Suit called All Things Considered. It’s three panels. The first one shows a guy saying, “Well, I think that ALL lives matter.” The second shows a man holding a firehose and saying, “We should care exactly equally at all times about everything.” The third panel shows the man with the fire hose dousing his own, not burning house with water while the house next to it burns to the ground. The caption says, “All houses matter.”
When I first saw this comic I felt a sense of instant agreement. Yes! This is exactly what people who say “All lives matter” or who use the #alllivesmatter (or worse, the #bluelivesmatter) hashtag are doing. They are putting water on a house that isn’t burning while the house next door is aflame.
But over the last few days I’ve watched some conversations become especially ugly. These are conversations between black people and allies and between an assortment of allies of differing viewpoints.
Note here that I am using the term “ally” broadly here. Some people would only consider a person who does exactly what the oppressed person wants and who silences themselves at all other times to be an ally. This is a brand new definition of the word, and I believe that it is both unrealistic damaging to any cause that has an in group of oppressed people and an outer group of allies.
My breaking point was the moment when I watched a black woman that I respect get upset with a white woman for calling #blacklivesmatter “your cause” in one comment, telling her that this was all of our cause if we believe in justice, and then a few comments below that same woman got mad at the white woman for using the term “We” because she couldn’t know anything, being as how she isn’t white.
Up until that moment in the conversation I was reading, watching, listening, trying to understand all the nuances of some of the tactics of this protest community that were difficult for me. There are certain levels of civil disobedience that I can’t begin to imagine engaging in; some of them because they make me uncomfortable, others because I believe that they are bad for long term strategy. But this is not my fight, in the sense that I am not black and I am not the one with the burning house, so I’m trying to understand why these tactics that put me on edge might be good and why I should support them if I am to be a good ally.
Last night, as I sat out on the porch, staring at the stars and thinking about all this, my mind went over a conversation that I’d had with another friend who was upset that a BlackLivesMatter activist had stood up at a wedding reception during the round of toasts and preached at everyone about how this one issue should be the only issue that anyone cares about, that everyone should spend al their waking hours working on this one thing. It seemed like such a cruel thing to do, to break into the joy of a wedding and tell your friends that even their love has no value in comparison to the BlackLivesMatter cause.
And then, of all things, my mind went to Cecil the Lion. When he was killed, the Internet exploded with rage for a few days, and then the wave of rage rolled back on itself, “Why do you care about this one lion when there are so many hunted every day?” and “Why do you care about the lions when all of these even more endangered species are being hunted every day?” followed by “Why do you care about all the endangered species? Don’t you know that people of color are being gunned down on the streets of America every day?”
Oh, yes. We come back around to the second panel in that comic. So many issues. So much of a fight for our attention. Is one of them more important than the others? Are all of them equally important? How can we know? And how can we choose where to put our attention? And what of the work of being an “ally”?
Tomorrow… a parable.