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Understanding It’s Not About Me (A Post About Race)

April 5, 2018

I’m conflicted. It’s probably no surprise to any of my readers that I’m a middle aged, conservative white guy. (You can see everything but the “conservative” part in the picture with my byline.)

I’m not the target audience for the Black Lives Matter organization. I’m not black, of course. But, the organization is also typically considered liberal. So, how did I find myself not only attending a BLM meeting last month, but actually requesting to associate with their organization? I’ll tell you, it’s like going to church. But, not to your own church. It’s like attending someone else’s church.

First let me dispel a few misconceptions. These are misconceptions I had before I attended a meeting. You might have them too. I attended the Ogden,UT chapter for BLM. First surprise was that the group isn’t exclusively black. Let’s face it, black people are not particularly numerous in Utah. In fact, just 1.1% of our population is African American according to a survey conducted by the Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah. Ogden has one of the highest percentages in the state at 1.7%. By comparison, Ogden is 65% white. Hispanic is the second largest demographic at 29%.

Here in my town of Pleasant Grove we have an 88% white population. Eight percent are Hispanic. Just 0.5% of Pleasant Grove residents are black.

I didn’t know what to expect when I attended. The meeting was held in the basement of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden. I found it telling that an advocacy group for minorities in Utah was meeting in a church that was in a way, also a minority. It’s obviously not part of the dominate LDS religion.

The meeting was very educational for me. There were no political speeches. There was really no politics at all. The meeting I attended focused on establishing annual planning committees, discussion of a protest in support of a black teenager who’d been unfairly targeted at his school and creating a couple hundred comfort bags to distribute to the homeless. It was a meeting that made me feel good about my fellow Utahans. It made me proud that I had the opportunity to go and help do some good work for those less fortunate.

In fact, it made me feel so good, I decided to become more associated with the Black Lives Matter organization by requesting membership on their private facebook page.

I can hear some of you now. You are seriously questioning my judgement. You saw a news report of someone with a Black Lives Matter shirt on who was saying something that you didn’t agree with. Or, you cannot understand why I would disrespect police officers (Blue Lives Matter) or even other white people (All Lives Matter.) I’m not going to change your mind. But, I will tell you how I, a conservative white guy, can associate with an organization that is not conservative and is not aimed at white guys.

It’s like going to someone else’s church. Imagine you are a Mormon, living in Utah. (Well, or any other religion, living literally anywhere else. But, Mormon works for me, soI”m going with it.) I want you to imagine you go on vacation to Louisville, Kentucky. Now, there are LDS chapels in Louisville. I have attended a couple of them during business travel. They are not that different than chapels, wards and people here in a Utah community. But, suppose while in Louisville, you meet up with a friend from college. His choir is performing at his Southern Baptist church on Sunday and he invites you to attend.

Of course, you accept. He’s your friend and you want to be supportive.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a Baptist church, but it should be no surprise that they have a different theology than the Mormons. My birth father is a pastor in the Baptist church. Trust me, they are very different in several fundamental beliefs.

What are you going to do? Are you going to sit in a Baptist Sunday school class and explain the Mormon theology? Are you going to correct the pastor when he preaches doctrine that is contrary to your beliefs?

I hope not. It would be terribly rude. I’m guessing you will go and you will enjoy supporting your friend. You will politely listen to the sermon and the Sunday School lesson and if you speak at all, it will be to comment on a point with which you agree. But, mostly, you’ll probably sit quietly and try to be a gracious guest.

That is how a white person can be associated with a black activist organization. In the facebook BLM forum, I do a lot of listening. My comments are very few. But, what about when someone says something really controversial? Suppose someone were to say the reason the new Wrinkle In Time movie didn’t do well is because of racism? (That’s an actual statement the director has made.)

It’s not true. The movie didn’t do well because the director made a movie that never had a central theme. In addition it deviated so dramatically from the source material that fans of the book are giving the movie a solid “F” rating.

What’s the harm of suggesting that? It’s true, right?

It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. You are not a member of the Baptist church. You are a guest. As a guest, you honestly don’t get to have an opinion on the workings of the church. Might someone ask you your opinion about some racial issue? They might, but ask yourself if a member of the Baptist church showed up at your church on Sunday, would you ask them to go into detail on the Baptists’ understanding of the role Grace plays in salvation?

No, you wouldn’t. It’s not rude to suggest that during Mormon Sunday School class you are not really interested in hearing how the Baptists think the Mormons are wrong.

Right. The same is true in a minority activist group. I have opinions, sure. (I’m a columnist, it’s kind of a prerequisite.) But, in a BLM forum, my voice literally doesn’t count. I have to remind myself of that fact often as I scroll through impassioned discussions on race relations in our country. It’s not rude to accept that the members do not want to hear my opinion.

I have black children and black grandchildren. I care deeply about race issues. My kids and grandkids are the reason I went to the meeting in the first place. And they are the reason I literally cannot have a voice in the Black Lives Matter organization. Because, it literally is not about me.

However, from attending their meetings and associating with their members I know that they are good people who want positive things for black people in Utah and the country. That’s the same thing I want.

So, I’ll go to church. Sit in the pews. Support my friends, children and grandchildren and remember that it’s not about me.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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