At breakfast this morning, one of the waitstaff wore a black and white summer dress, a black and white bandana on her short hair, and a button on her chest that read Black Lives Matter.
Two African-American police officers sat at the counter beside an elderly white couple. The woman of the couple wore a T-shirt from the Salty Dog Cafe. To the left of the police officers sat a mocha-skinned man with long dreadlocks and a sword-cross tattoo behind his right ear.
My son was excited to notice the police officers. “Look! The lady cop has two sets of handcuffs,” he said.
To our left sat a mother with her three children. They were African-American, the little girl in a purple shirt and bright smile, the two tween-age boys with perfect manners and kindness in their eyes.
All I could think when they walked in, as I looked at the mother with her three children, was, her worries and my worries are similar, but they’re not. She has an extra layer of concern just because of her skin color. And I looked again at her lovely boys and my heart ached for what they might encounter not for who they are but for how they look.
We were at Rose’s Fine Food on East Jefferson in Detroit, a glimpse of the Detroit River in the distance. The food was fresh, local and original. The table at which we sat was a hard wood with an obvious grain, smooth to the touch but evoking that feel of authentic, rustic. It’s a restaurant where they pay a living wage and give a 15% discount to patrons who live within a mile’s distance.
As we left, a white man walked in, wearing a white T-shirt with the words Black Lives Matter in black.
Of course Black Lives Matter. I hate that we have to say it.
I hate that we live in a time when we have to assert such an obvious truth.
My breakfast experience today was a microcosm of my city in all its daylight, peaceful splendor, but I was all too aware, after the happenings of the last few days, and the last few years, and the last few centuries, and really, all of history, that when darkness falls, or when a car is speeding down a city street, or when something happens that you didn’t see coming, the outcome for some of us would be one thing and for others of us an entirely different, scarier thing altogether.
When I was a naive freshman at the University of Michigan, and an eager member of the Michigan Daily staff, I asked if I could be the minority issues reporter. I was turned down because I am white.
“But I’m Jewish,” I protested to the editor. “That’s a minority. I understand what oppression is.”
“Yeah, but, the members of the Black Student Caucus won’t feel comfortable speaking to you because you don’t look like a minority,” he said. And he had a point.
In a way, I get what it feels like to be excluded because of who you are. But at the same time, who I am is an ethereal thing, not something you can see when you meet me. It’s conceptual, philosophical, spiritual.
And though I know of all the centuries of persecution my people have faced, including as recently as my father’s generation in this city where we still live, I haven’t really experienced it.
Well, that’s not true. When I was in college and dating John, my Catholic boyfriend from New Jersey, his father, a Wall Street executive, got drunk at lunch one day on the Jersey shore and started talking about the waitstaff “Jewing” him.
His words slurred and his head bobbed. My skinny little boyfriend shh’ed his father and pulled him off to the side. I sat there, stunned, on the deck of the restaurant, lobster claws in a red plastic basket in front of me.
I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right. He couldn’t possibly have said that. I mean, it was like something out of a cartoon or a stereotypical essay.
As we left the restaurant, John pulled me aside. “I told him not to say that in front of you,” he said, clearly proud of the way he’d navigated the awkward anti-semitic situation.
“He shouldn’t say it at all,” I replied. “Whether I’m there or not.”
John looked confused, his brow bent, his eyes questioning. He didn’t get it. Which meant he didn’t get me.
That relationship ended and I went on to live my privileged life with a modicum of understanding about what it means to be persecuted in theory. I was there when my brother’s car window was smashed in a cold December night in downtown Detroit and the radio stolen out. But it was just a car, not a person being persecuted.
We have lived such a protected life. So when I see and hear stories of unbelievable acts like happened this past week, and I realize that people I know and admire have to say things like Black Lives Matter, I shake my head in disbelief.
Why do we still have to assert such things?
Doesn’t every single life matter as much as every other life? Doesn’t every person deserve respect, dignity and kindness?
Aren’t we all created in the image of the Divine, which means we have to see God in every person?
Perhaps I haven’t evolved much from that naive college freshman because I believe that these truths are not debatable. I believe this is just understood, or should be.
What needs to happen for everyone to get it?
I feel like I’ve written this before in other ways. Look into the eyes of another human – we are all the same. Blood runs through our veins, our hearts beat, we have hopes and dreams and passions and sadnesses.
I am no longer sure what the answer is to cross this great divide in understanding because the moment we don’t see equality in another person, even if they come from a different race, religion, socioeconomic advantage or other dividing line, that’s when our own humanity begins to die.
Black Lives Matter. Of course they do. Let’s pray for the day when we don’t have to assert such things and just accept them as truth.