Black Lives Matter and religion have love as common theme
It has been almost a year since the historic Black Lives Matter Bermuda march took place on June 7, 2020.
It was a significant event for Bermuda – a crowd of approximately 7,000 people, from varying religious and spiritual beliefs and affiliations, all standing in solidarity with the global movement.
Three radical African American organisers – Alicai Garza, Patrisse Cullor and Opal Tometi – started the movement in 2013 after George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an African American teenager.
Today the project is a global network with over 40 chapters all working towards the common objective of challenging systemic oppression against Black people. It is a liberal, not religious, movement that promotes radical inclusion and advocates for the LGBTQ+ community, pro-choice activism and several other topics that raise controversy in religious spaces.
Traditionally civil rights movements, especially in the United States, have been led by religious leaders. Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan and Jessie Jackson are a few civil rights activists whose religious beliefs and affiliations have been intertwined in their activism and inspired thousands into action.
The Black Lives Matter phenomena is different. There are no religious leaders at the forefront of its messaging and, in many instances, their call-to-action conflicts with religious beliefs and ideology.
While the foundation and impetus behind this movement is not religious, the principles of equality and justice are interconnected with faith and community and researchers who have studied the movement say its racial justice campaign does indeed have spiritual roots.
However, these roots are complicated. Historically religion, colonial Christianity in particular, has been an agent of racial discrimination and injustice. The role Christianity played in slavery and segregation reflects a position of white supremacy and a historic vilification of indigenous and African spiritual beliefs. As such, alternative positions on spirituality that do not align with Christianity are often demonised.
Keeping this religious history in perspective, it is no wonder people assume that this movement is not spiritual in nature because it does not align with traditional beliefs and practices. The movement has been accused of being “Godless”, however, the notion that it is void of spirituality is entirely untrue.
This movement has inspired many faith-based people and organisations to take an honest look at themselves and the structures of White privilege they perpetuate. It has encouraged the world to look at racism differently. Instead of it being viewed singularly as a sin that individuals need forgiveness for, Black Lives Matter shed light on the systemic aspects of racism and the need to tackle it structurally instead of individually.
This has been evidenced locally within the Anglican Church of Bermuda and the formation of its Racial Justice Committee in the aftermath of the local Black Lives Matter march. The discussion on how to actively dismantle this system of oppression and promote healing is now being given the long overdue attention it deserves.
In addition to the political and social reform the movement has called for, Black Lives Matter organisers have expressed a deep need for spiritual healing within the Black community and have based their racial justice efforts on spiritual principles.
Many activists of African descent are inspired by their ancestors’ spirituality. Affiliated organisations utilise spiritual tools such a meditation, reiki and other African rituals to connect with each other and care for those who are impacted by racial discrimination, particularly violence against Black people.
It’s not uncommon for Black Lives Matter meetings to begin with the pouring of libations and mediations invoking the presence of their ancestors for wisdom and direction. Faith-based activists like Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King are often among the names called.
Unfortunately, these expressions of spirituality are not mainstream – they do not align with the major world religions. However, they are no less valid and meaningful. Efforts to demonise these spiritual connections are reminiscent of the efforts to erase African beliefs during the era of slavery and colonialism.
The dismissal of African spirituality highlights yet another part of human life that reflects a deep sense of white privilege and reveals a profound need to advocate for the rights and freedoms of Black people. It is another area of society that needs to be reminded that Black lives do indeed matter and Black beliefs matter too.
The movement is creating awareness of the many ways Black people are disenfranchised, not just because of the colour of our skin but often because of our beliefs and ways of life. Part of the solution is to create safe spaces for Black people to exist as we are, including within faith-based communities.
At the heart of it, Black Lives Matter and religion have one very important theme in common: loving your neighbour. It is this love – a Godly love – that should inspire all people but specifically people of faith, to confront injustice and oppression at every opportunity.