Tag Archives: black lives matter

No Justice, No Peace!

Today is the International Day of Peace.

Do we deserve peace without justice? Do we?

We have been trained to see black people in public as suspicious. As threats.

As runaway slaves.

The police used to catch runaway slaves.

We claim race doesn’t matter. We claim to “not see it”.

But if you have not put in the work–if you have not peeled back that layer in yourself that tenses up when you see a black person you don’t know walking down your street–if you are reading this and getting defensive that you are a “good person” who judges no one by outward appearance–

You could have been the white woman who shot the black man whose car broke down. I could have been her.

This is life or death for black people in America. The unexamined fears of white people like you and me have real consequences for black people.

So I ask us: do we deserve peace? Why do I deserve peace any more than a black person in this country?

We are addicted to racism. And the first step is accepting we have a problem. And then, we get to work, and AT BEST we will be recovering addicts.

This is never something that can be won. It is only something that can be made better.

And we MUST try.

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About “All Lives Matter”

Imagine a friend asking you, “My life matters to you, right?”

What would your response be? Would it be, “Well, yes, your life matters to me, my life matters to me, all lives matter to me.” How do you think this response would make your friend feel? Do you think it would make them feel like you cared about them?

Or would you respond, “Of course your life matters to me. Why do you ask?”

When I first read the slogan, “Black Lives Matter”, that was my response. My response wasn’t dismissive of the statement by saying “all lives matter”. It was acceptance: of course black lives matter. And then, I wondered why black people felt the need to make this statement?

  • When African American children are three times more likely to live in poverty than Caucasian children;
  • when unemployment rates for African Americans are typically double those of Caucasian Americans;
  • when African American men working full time earn 72 percent of the average earnings of comparable Caucasian men and 85 percent of the earnings of Caucasian women;
  • when 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police;
  • when Black Americans are 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for selling drugs and 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for possessing them;
  • when one in every three black males born today can expect to go to prison at some point in their life, compared with one in every six Latino males, and one in every 17 white males;
  • when African-Americans with college degrees are twice as likely to be unemployed as other graduates;
  • when the unemployment rate among blacks is about double that among whites;
  • and when whites with felony records fare as well in job interviews as African American men with clean records…

The message black people receive from American society is pretty clear: No, they don’t matter. The fact that the statement “black lives matter” even generates a response at all is an indication of how uncomfortable American society is with the idea that black lives might actually matter. Because if black lives truly mattered to us, we would care about mass incarceration. We would care about redlining. We would care about lack of education and job opportunities in primarily-black neighborhoods. We would care about the unarmed black men, women, and children who have been killed by police because they were deemed “a threat”. Black lives would matter to us. We would be forced to change our society, a society that has benefited many of us.

So, instead, we say “all lives matter”. Because if a friend came to you and asked you if their life mattered to you, you’d say “all friends matter to me”. And then you’d start talking about how much your other friends matter to you, to try to prove to this friend how much they do matter to you. This is what you’d do, right?

 Cute little black girl in pigtails. Text says: Yes, they do. *The only acceptable response to Black Lives Matter*. 


Sources to the statistics listed can be found in a previous post, We Can Do Better.

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I’m Not Okay.

I’ve been trying to stay silent about what’s been happening in Missouri.

Because I wasn’t there. Because I don’t know the facts. Because there seem to be no unbiased, perfect perspectives. Because the 18 year old who was shot and killed by police may have had a gun. May not have been totally innocent. 

But you know what? I’m not okay with this. I’m not okay with the idea that a black person has to be totally innocent for people to care they died. I’m not okay with police occupying a neighborhood. I’m not okay with a tank going down an American street.

I’m not okay with crime. I’m not okay with neighborhoods all but abandoned economically, educationally. 

I’m not okay with black people being killed by police who, more often than not, face little to no judicial or employment consequences for the death of a person. I’m not okay with cops fearing for their lives, and I’m not okay with the crimes that makes their jobs necessary. 

I’m not okay with poverty used as a means of controlling groups of people. I’m not okay with redlining, with segregated neighborhoods and schools, with communities who close schools and then open more prisons.

I’m not okay with for-profit prisons. 

I’m not okay with transgender people being murdered and the defense that “they tricked me” is still considered a legal excuse. I’m not okay with trans and LGBQ kids being kicked out of their homes, told they’re going to hell and will be damned, forced into conversion therapy, and rejected by the people whose love matters the most to them–their parents.

I’m not okay with any of this. 

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“I Can’t Go Back”

(Trigger warning: trans- and homophobia.)

Since that first Sunday after the Charleston Emanuel AME attack, I have attended my local AME church three times. (You can read about my leading to attend here.) My second visit was even more powerful than my first; I visited alone and felt more free to participate in worship. I loved the overwhelming sense of God I felt there and the consistent message from the pulpit to love yourself, but be and do better.

I, quite frankly, began to love that church. I loved the worship. I loved the music. I loved the freedom to give yourself up to God without fear or embarrassment. I loved that there was dancing–in church! I loved the fellowship I felt with people who are quite literally my neighbors. I loved that the services inspired me to rekindle my relationship with Jesus and reminded me of what I found appealing in him in the first place. I loved the energy and the sense of constant praise and wonder at God. I found myself looking forward to the next time I could attend church.

Yesterday was my third time visiting. I felt comfortable with the service now. I could sing along with most of the call-and-response songs. I stood up and swayed to the music. I waved my hands. I was there, and God was there, too. It was a divine celebration of all life had to offer and all we had to be grateful for. When the time came for visitors to stand and introduce themselves, I stood for a second time. The Sister who oversees services saw me standing and said, “Hey, you a regular now.” I felt honored to be so welcomed. But I introduced myself anyway and said, “I know, this is my third time, but I was so nervous the first time I attended I forgot to say my name. It’s [name] and I live over on [street a mile away]. I’m a Quaker, but my Meeting is in Easton, and you all know how beach traffic can be on a Sunday…” Everyone laughed. “So, my hope is to be here when I can’t be there, because I love being here with you all.” Everyone smiled at me, and I felt welcomed. I felt open. I felt safe.

Later in the service, a guest preacher rose to give the sermon. She–and I was so happy to see a female Reverend!–was the sister-in-law of the reverend. The theme of the service so far had been transformation–the title of this post is from one of the songs we sung, “I Can’t Go Back”; and during that song, I was thinking about how I can’t go back to closing my eyes about the truth of racial inequality. I thought about writing a blog post about Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, and replacing their names with Jesus’s. I thought about how happy I was to be Woke and how much joy it has brought me (pain as well, but the joy had been a surprise, and a lot of that joy came from my attending this church).

And then the guest preacher said (obviously this is not verbatim, as I am relying on my memory here), “God made you who you are, and you have to accept that.”

I nodded, but began to feel on edge. Where was she going with this?

“God made you who you are, and there’s no changing that.”

I felt myself tense.

“Do I need to spell it out for ya? God made man and he made woman, and what he made you, there’s no changing that. You can’t lie with another man as you would a woman. You can’t lie with another woman as you would a man. Accept who you are.”

And I felt my soul turn cold. I felt like God had left the building. I was shocked. I looked around me, hoping to see other parishioners with the same shocked expression on their face. But everyone was applauding or voicing their approval of her words.

I wanted to flee. I wanted out of there. But there was a woman sitting next to me, and I couldn’t leave without causing a scene.

I tried to let go of the painful words and focus on the rest of her sermon. She spoke about “dropping your baggage”. She spoke about “loving who you are, accepting who you are” and “not judging other people because you don’t like the way they dress or look”. She spoke about how we can all be ministers, that there’s nothing special about her that makes her more able to be a minister than the rest of us. She spoke about how none of us is perfect and we all make mistakes. She spoke about the danger of gossip. But most of her sermon was about loving and accepting who God made you to be.

The thing is, God made me bisexual. God made me agender. And neither of those is an affliction I need to be saved from. They are part of who I am. They are part of who God has made and called me to be.


I was trapped in that church for an hour more before I could sneak out and leave. I tried to find the joy I had felt just moments ago, but it was not there. God wasn’t there anymore for me. When the parishioners were called to the altar to proclaim their faith, I stayed in my pew and began to cry.

The truth is, I loved this church. I loved worshiping with them so much. But now I know that I can’t go back.

On the short ride home, my husband immediately noticed something was wrong. Normally, I am exuberant after these church services; I’m excited to tell him how it affected me. This time, I was silent for a few moments; and when I began to speak, I started to sob.

I wouldn’t stop sobbing for more than an hour. I could not–and still cannot–understand how someone can preach a message of loving and accepting who you are and at the same time, tell me that part of who I am is an affliction that needs to be healed by God.

“Hate the sin, love the sinner” makes no sense when you become aware that being LGBTQ isn’t an activity one participates in, but a part of who a person IS. A person isn’t gay only when they’re in a same-sex relationship; they are gay if they’re attracted to members of the same sex (and not attracted to members of the opposite sex). And attraction is not a choice. (When did you choose to be straight? is a question no one can honestly answer.)

What people who are LGBTQ hear when you say “hate the sin, love the sinner” is that your love and acceptance of them is conditional and depends on them denying an essential part of who they are… Which isn’t love at all.

And so, as much as I loved worshiping with this church community, as much as I want to go back, I know that “I won’t go back, can’t go back, to the way it used to be”.

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Until ALL Love Wins

I spent most of yesterday morning and early afternoon celebrating the SCOTUS decision… And then sat down to watch the Reverend Pinckney’s funeral. I still have an hour and a half left to watch, which I hope to finish today. 

And this morning in Charleston, a brave black woman removed the Confederate flag from its place of “honor”. And was promptly arrested. And the flag was raised again for the 11am white supremacist rally.

And last time I checked, 4 black churches had burned since the Charleston terrorist attack. 

So until LGBTQIAA POC can fully celebrate yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling, my joy at that ruling is bittersweet. Until black lives matter no longer needs to be said, until phrases that end in “while black” (walking while black… sleeping while black…) are a distant remnant of the past, I will stay woke and dream of the day when ALL love wins.

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State Senator Clementa Pinckney Funeral Service

Those who are interested can watch the funeral service by clicking here. I encourage you to watch the whole service and not just President Obama’s eulogy. 

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Fellowship

I remember watching in horror as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina unfolded. As adults and children were trapped inside that Superdome for days. People waving from the rooftops for help. Which did not come. I watched. I could do nothing else.

I watched as Trayvon Martin’s killer was deemed “not guilty”. I began to speak on facebook and with friends and family. I began to see the hard work of racial justice, as some friends reacted negatively to my posts and took to George Zimmerman’s defense. I began to read books like “The New Jim Crow” to educate myself on modern institutional racism, and I helped organize a discussion about “The New Jim Crow” at my Meeting. But mostly, I just watched.

I watched Eric Garner die on camera. “I can’t breathe”. I shared the video of his death and was immediately met with backlash from friends. “We don’t know the facts.” “Why are you so anti-cop?” I ended up deleting the video. I wasn’t ready yet. I was only ready to watch.

I watched as the story of Michael Brown’s final moments emerged. He had his hands up. He was unarmed. But no, he had a record! The cops said he was charging them! 

I watched as Black Lives Matter rose to prominence. And I began, slowly, to speak. To speak not in spite of those who disagreed with my posts, but because of them. I joined several facebook anti-racism groups and found the support I needed to keep speaking.

But I did not do anything but speak, read, and watch. I did not attend any rallies, though I wanted to. I had good reason to stay home: I’m disabled and have a weakened immune system, making being around large crowds potentially dangerous to my health… and, last fall, I was also recovering from ankle replacement surgery

I watched as Freddie Gray died from a “rough ride”. I watched as Baltimore, the city I go to for my joint surgeries, protested.  But I stayed home.

Then, last Thursday morning, I woke. I lay in bed reading the news about the Charleston white terrorist attack on the Emanuel AME church. The 9 people who were slaughtered after spending an hour with the killer talking about the Bible. The 5 year old girl who survived by playing dead. I couldn’t stop crying.

Watching was no longer enough. When I pulled myself out of bed and left my house that day, I drove past 4 black people and saw each of them: 2 teenage boys riding their bikes down my street, 1 black man riding his bike and looking at his phone at the same time a couple of miles from my house, and 1 older black man staring at his phone in shock, standing at the side of the road. Seeing them made me tear up again, and I struggled to stay calm enough to drive safely. I wanted to let them know that I saw them and was so sorry about what had happened. But while driving is not the time to reach out to people.

I live in a town that is 70% white and 20% black and still mostly segregated, the way most American communities are. When my husband and I were looking to purchase our first house 10 years ago, I made a point of finding a street that was not all-white, and that was harder than it should have been. My neighborhood is probably about half black; and one of my neighbors is a widowed black woman, who is surrounded on all other sides by houses owned by family members. I felt a great need to reach out to the black people who live in my town. And I also felt a great need to worship this Sunday, instead of staying home and resting; but I knew that if I attended my Quaker Meeting, my thoughts would be with Charleston’s Emanuel AME church. I wondered if there was an AME church near my home, and a quick Google search revealed one not 2 miles from my house. 

I gave myself up to discernment, trying to find what I was led to do. I did not want to intrude upon a community in their time of mourning. I did not want to make the parishioners feel fear in their house of worship. 

But the leading did not go away. So, Sunday morning, I left home to attend worship at my local AME church, accompanied by my husband. My intention in going was to show solidarity with them and to worship with them.

We arrived early, and the front doors of the church were locked. A black woman arrived and asked us if we were there for the service. She was warm, friendly, and inviting. We said we were, and she showed us the side door that was unlocked and explained that there was praise before the service started and that the youth group was leading this service.

We walked into the small church, two white people left alone in their sanctuary. We did not want to make a spectacle of ourselves by sitting in the front pews, but we were also aware that we didn’t want to appear we were hiding in the back, either. So we sat in the center pews, visible and vulnerable. The church was small and sparsely-decorated, but not bare like Quaker Meetinghouses tend to be or overly-lavish like the Catholic churches I attended growing up. Nearly empty, I felt like the church was waiting for its people to fill it and give it purpose.

We were alone for a good 20 minutes before the congregation began to filter in. Now I owe you readers an apology, because there is no way for me to accurately describe the worship we participated in.

There were several aspects of the service that surprised me. First, it was women-led. The Reverend was a black man, but his primary participation in the service was to deliver the sermon… which occurred more than 2 hours into the service. Three black women seemed to lead the service, and I truly appreciated the ministry they gave, both in their words and in their actions. One of the three was the woman who had greeted us so warmly when we were searching for a way inside the church earlier. Second, the music was… all-encompassing, yet not a distraction from worship, but a manifestation of it.

The longer the service went on, the more comfortable I felt. After the first of three hours, I began to feel a fellowship with the other worshipers and the kind of deep centering I’ve only felt before at Meeting for Worship. Like Meeting for Worship, the service felt Spirit-led: it was fluid and unpredictable, and there was space for the congregation to participate as they felt led.

There was some grief, but mostly joy. The sermon was about the first 10 verses of the 2nd chapter of Job, which I’ve read more than once, but the sermon the Reverend gave made me consider it in a whole new way. I was raised Catholic, and the overwhelming lesson I learned from Mass and CCD was that God and Jesus loved you, and that made them worthy of worship and praise because you were a sinner and not worthy of their love. This sermon instead asked us to take the place of Job, who is described as perfect and upright. It was about keeping faith, no matter what happened. It was about the pride, joy, and determination involved in doing so. It was about gratitude to God for waking up this morning, for being able to attend this service. It was about not knowing what could happen, who could walk in the church doors, but worshiping God all the same.

I am really not doing this service justice at all. It was communion—with God and with each other. It was authentic and seemed to allow each person there to be both true to and proud of themselves while at the same time encouraging them to be better than they were.

At some point during the service, I realized that fellowship with these people—true fellowship—could not happen during just one service. I need to return, if the congregation is comfortable with me doing so. I felt blessed to be there and grateful they welcomed me in.

It has been two days now since my attendance at the local AME church, and I am still… encompassed by it. I am still thinking about it. I am, surprisingly, missing it. I am eager to go back. While I have no intention of joining their church, I am hoping to become a regular visitor.

And next Sunday, I hope to attend Meeting for Worship and bask in that same “infinite ocean of light and love” through silence and vocal ministry instead of through the music and sound of last Sunday.

[EDIT: This post has also been published on Friends Journal.org and in the September 2015 print edition of Friends Journal.]

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No Justice, No Peace: The Armenian Genocide and Black Lives Matter

Does anybody hear us pray?
For Michael Brown or Freddie Gray
Peace is more than the absence of war …
If there ain’t no justice
Then there ain’t no peace.

Over 100 years ago now began what has been called the “first modern genocide”. It was the genocide for which the term was coined. It was the genocide that inspired Hitler.

And we whose ancestors suffered that genocide still wait for justice. We still wait for acknowledgment that it was a genocide.

When a people are denied justice, they are denied peace. They are denied humanity. They come to understand implicitly that their lives don’t matter to the world. They can’t move on. They are stuck in the trauma.

On April 24, 1915 began the deportation of Armenian intellectuals in Ottoman Turkey that would begin the Armenian Genocide. Over the course of the next few years, more than one million Armenian men, women, and children would die.

The genocide was carried out during and after World War I and implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labour, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian desert. Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre.
from wikipedia

The official Turkish stance was that it was “civil war”.

“A lot of women, variously estimated from 60 to 160 in number, were shut up in a church, and the soldiers were ‘let loose’ among them. Many were outraged [raped] to death, and the remainder dispatched with sword and bayonet. Children were placed in a row, one behind another, and a bullet fired down the line, apparently to see how many could be dispatched with one bullet. Infants and small children were piled one on the other and their heads struck off… Aurora… told Apfel… how her pregnant aunt, who was trying to protect her two-year-old son, was killed. ‘The Turks, they took a knife and cut open her abdomen. They said, this is how we are going to end all you people. They pulled out a fetus from her. Put it on a stone. They took the end of the gun that they had, which was heavy, and started to pound and pound and pound her baby.'”
from Peter Balakian’s “The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response”

That is not civil war. That is slaughter.

Not all of the deaths were so violent, granted. Likely most of the deaths from the Armenian Genocide occurred during the forced marches, where entire Armenian communities were exiled from their villages and forced to walk to their “new homes” in Syria. They were provided no food, no water. When they fell from exhaustion or starvation, they were killed or left to die.

And now, in the USA, in the country I’ve lived in my whole life, in the country who worships freedom:

  • One black man died one week later from injuries sustained during a half-hour ride in a police van.
  • One black man died after being strangled to death on a sidewalk in NYC.
  • One 12 year old black boy was shot while holding a BB gun, only seconds after the officer saw him.
  • One 7 year old black girl was shot while sleeping during a botched raid.

This is not a complete list. (More names can be found on this website.)

The families of these victims still wait for justice (though some trials are still pending).

As an American with white privilege, I have a choice. I can ignore the pain, suffering, and fear of black Americans. I can assume that these deaths were justified, that the police never kill black men, women, or children “unnecessarily” or “without due cause”. I can assume that black Americans are exaggerating their fear of the police, that it’s without cause. I can choose to believe that everyone in the US is treated equally, despite the evidence I discussed a few months ago.

But as an Armenian, I cannot. I cannot ignore their suffering, because I know what the lack of justice does to a community.

So, to black Americans, I say loud and clear: your lives matter. YOUR LIVES MATTER. Full stop. And I will keep saying that until there is justice. And I will open my eyes to your suffering until true peace exists in our country.

And to the Turkish government, and to governments which allow Turkey to continue denying the genocide by refusing to acknowledge it for fear of alienating a strategic ally—I’m looking at you, American government, and you, President Obama—we will not stay silent. We will not forget. We will not call it a “massacre” or a “civil war”. We will not pretend our ancestors deserved to be butchered.

Because without justice, there is no peace.

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We Can Do Better.

Let’s take this as a given, that the color of someone’s skin does not determine the content of their character. In other words, that the premise of racism is inherently false, and people cannot be accurately judged by their race.

Now consider the following facts:

These facts point to systemic racism in American institutions. If you deny that racism is still a problem in America, I challenge you to offer another explanation for these statistics.

In the aftermath of the recent Michael Brown shooting, I want to share the following thoughts. First, the protests happening now are not only about the death of Michael Brown. They’re about the statistics listed above, that people are tired of losing family members to violence simply because they happen to have the wrong skin color. Second, the comment that “Well, at least things are better now than they used to be.” White Americans, surely we can do better than slavery, segregation, Jim Crow? Surely we can do better than that!

So let’s do better. Let’s call out racism when we see it, in our personal interactions with people and in institutions. Let’s stop standing by and watching when African Americans get shafted. Let’s LISTEN when black people try to talk to us about their experiences with race in America and not express disbelief that maybe they don’t really know what their own experiences are.

Let’s educate ourselves. Let’s live with our eyes open, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us. Because our discomfort is not comparable to the suffering our willful ignorance allows to occur.

So… let’s talk. Let’s listen to each other. Let’s be brave in our interactions, but not cruel. Most of all, let’s be willing to learn.

Let’s do better. Let’s be better.

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