A friend invited me to talk with her Bible Study group. This group of white women wanted to unpack concepts humility and meekness in the light of recent racial tension. One participant asked, “Why not ‘All Lives Matter’ instead of Black Lives Matter?” As she asked her question, I recalled that reconciliation between people is not head-work but heart-work. Facts and figures may answer a question but they don’t help us discover empathy and understanding. 

I said, “I bet that there are others with that same question.” She thought so. I asked, “Do you think your question reflects the idea that we all want to matter?” She nodded. I said, “The Black Lives Matter movement can make us wonder if ‘others’ might become more important than us.” She said, “Yeah, that’s it.” Then it occurred to me then to write three words on the white board:

Assimilation    Celebration   Integration 

I pointed out that these words are a way to visualize a developmental trajectory of our society. I explained that after World War II and until the 1960’s, our culture was based on Assimilation. Individuals and groups adopted the ways of the larger or dominant culture. After the Civil Rights Movement, our society began to recognize or Celebrate the contributions of minority cultures. And since the tragedies of Ferguson and the like, we are headed toward an integrated multi-cultural society. In an Integrated society, all types of people work together as a unit, sharing resources and power. 

In light of those definitions, I suggested she consider the history of American-born African Americans whose families have been here for generations, how they were brought to the U.S. and have been treated for the past 400 years. I said, “Perhaps Black Lives Matter is about a people who just want to matter, really for the first time in American history. We don’t necessarily have to agree with what the Movement is doing, but can we empathize with the desire to matter? Can our hearts be broken open enough that we can see such a tragic history and the pain it has caused?” She wondered aloud, “Perhaps they just want to matter as much as the rest of us?” Then she changed the subject and I knew it was resolved in her mind… for now. -ASN