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Another "and"

Posted by Rob McClellan on

Another “and”

Our young people have lead us in ways they should never have to, and yet thank God they have. 

I pray for the kind of courage the students of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida have displayed in grieving and in speaking out for justice.  Nobody would have blamed them had they simply grieved and moved on to try and pick up the pieces of their shattered high school lives.  Look what they have accomplished in the midst of such trauma – businesses changing their practices, lawmakers feeling the heat over positions that reveal corruption more than they do legitimate ideological positions or researched policy, people rising up inspired about an issue that has been as depressingly intractable as any. 

Whenever guns come up for public discussion, there is a predictable “and” that gets added to the conversation almost as quickly as “thoughts and prayers” are offered, including by many who seem to forget prayer is about listening too.  If we were listening to God, to the God I know in Christ, I can’t imagine we would hear: “Offer prayers, but don’t change anything.”

The predictable “and” is mental illness.  Like many, mental illness affects those I love dearly.  I am all for better access to mental health care for anyone and everyone.  I am convinced, however, this is an attempt at diversion, not an earnest offer to help, for often the same people who cry “mental illness” are the ones who seem to think health care is a privilege for the few, not a basic human right and matter of simple decency for a society that could afford to make it universal.

But there’s another “and” that has only sparsely gotten attention and it deserves more.  The “and” is race.  This is about guns and race, justice and race, legitimacy in the public sphere and race, the value of life and race. 

A powerful quote has been circulating in light of the tragic and preventable shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School.  It is from Marjory Stoneman Douglas herself, the women’s suffragist and environmental activist for whom Stoneman Douglas High School is named.  This is what she said, as if speaking to the youth of today:

Speak up. Learn to talk clearly and forcefully in public. Speak simply and not too long at a time, without over-emotion, always from sound preparation and knowledge. Be a nuisance where it counts, but don’t be a bore at any time… Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action….

Be depressed, discouraged and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics — but never give up.[1]

Speak up clearly and forcefully in public the students of Stoneman Douglas have, and they deserve not only our admiration, but our participation, and our equal commitment.  But, they are not the only young people who have spoken up over senseless violence and the seeming societal indifference to the loss of human lives.

In response to the type of celebrity support the Parkland students have received as they organize the “March for Lives,” celebrities including the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Charlene Carruthers, national director at Black Project 100, tweeted both supportive amazement as well as pain.  “I have to be honest and say that I’m a bit taken aback (and a bit hurt) that those of us who were in the streets for the past five years for Black lives didn’t receive this type of reception or public support.”[2]

She is right.  Those who don’t understand the Black Lives Matter movement often respond, “all lives matter,” which of course misses the very point of the movement, namely that society functions as if white lives matter and black ones do not.

A radio show/podcast I listen to regularly which deals with sports and pop culture routinely plays a sounder in which a voice excerpted from a movie chimes in, “Now imagine she’s white.”  The clip is from the film A Time to Kill, and it’s meant to point out how white victims are considered more valuable than black ones.  In the show it’s used at key moments to show, often playfully, how whites and blacks are differently perceived, treated, and punished (or excused from punishment). 

Now imagine if Stoneman Douglas were a predominately black school.  Would we be listening in the same way?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m glad we’re listening.  The last thing we need are for justice movements to turn on one another and it happens all too often – the devil works through division – but…No and the only justice is justice for all.  For all.  Let us stand behind and with the students from Parkland and also from Oakland, with people from Newton and from Flint, from Houston and from Puerto Rico.

Let us not forget the other “and.”

Rob McClellan

 [1] As quoted in Mary Joy Brenton’s Women Pioneers For the Environment

[2] https://www.teenvogue.com/story/black-teens-have-been-fighting-for-gun-reform-for-years

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