I was just at a church-related monthly meeting. Seven of us had gathered on the patio of one of our members, socially distanced, to help the eighth person discern whether or not to go forward with becoming an Episcopal priest or deacon. In the Episcopal Church nationally, this is a required process at the parish level for an individual to determine whether their call to ministry is solid enough to proceed.
With birdsong galore, bottled water, and delicious home-made scones, we did what seems de rigueur at all meetings, sacred or secular, these days. We checked in about how we were each doing in this extraordinary time of pandemic and protest. As the discussion turned to the latter, I offered that, from the perspective of racism and prejudice, non-white lives don’t seem to matter. One of the other members begged to differ. His cousin who had become mentally unstable in high school and who was given to sudden fits of uncontrollable anger in both public and private spaces was killed by police exactly seven years ago after having had such a fit at his gym and a follow-on one after gym officials expelled him to the street. My colleague proposed that, from the perspective of prejudice, no marginalized people matter. “I stand corrected,” I said. “You’re right.” As opposed to the enlightened philosophy of “Vive la différence!” (“Long live difference!”), the idea here is “Down with Difference!,” “Do away with Difference!,” “Wall out the Different!,” “Send the Different back to a ghetto, an institution, an s—hole country!” “Put ‘em in jail and throw away the key!” If necessary (!), “Kill them!”
Popular or folk sayings can have deep meaning. In the context of this essay, the two that come to mind for me, both from the wisdom treasury of African-Americans, are “God don’t make no junk!” and “All God’s chillen got wings!” If we could truly live according to these sayings, the world would be a better, more harmonious, and more peaceful place. An Anglo-American saying makes the point this way: We either hang together, or we’ll all hang separately. Some 70% of Americans in a recent poll agreed that black lives really do matter, up from forty-some percent a few years ago. As the Civil Rights-era song put it, “Which side are you on?” Come. Let’s all remember our Sunday-school lesson that God made everything and everyone, and it was all very good. God, the Master-builder, clearly don’t make no junk!