Select Page

How much is a Black Life worth to White America?

White friend, how much is your father worth to you? Your son? Your sister? Your spouse? Your mother?

Would they be worth stopping traffic if they were suffocated in the street?

Would they be worth a riot, if they were executed with their faces pressed into the pavement while pleading for breath that was denied until there was no breath left?

Would they be worth a spontaneous street corner bonfire if every person in power turned their heads away from your mourning?

Would they be worth a sustained, full-throated demand for justice if that justice was perpetually denied? Would they be worth a smashed window or a burned out storefront if that was the only option left to wake the world up to your grieving?

I know mine would be.

I know that if I watched my brother or father or sister or son assassinated by the people charged with protecting them, there would be no limit to what I’d do to demand they receive in death what they did not receive in life: decency—to be seen and treated as fully human.

I know that if the people who love me and give this life meaning were chased down and murdered while jogging or choked to death in the street or gunned down in their cars during a traffic stop—and if the people around me rationalized away their deaths and made excuses for their murderers and assassinated their character after ending their lives — I would move heaven and earth and storefronts and cars to make sure they were not forgotten, to insist they did not die in vain, to make sure no other loved ones left the world violently and prematurely.

I do not know what the monetary damage of the protests in Minneapolis will be, but I know that we should value George Floyd’s life more than that, which is the point. We should be more twisted in our insides by the malicious termination of beautiful human beings than by the destruction of shopping centers.

We should be moved to sickness by white knees of police officers driven into the necks of black men—not by the knees of black men on football fields, asking white officers to show black men humanity.

That we are not, declares who we are.

That we are clutching our pearls and rending our garments and saying, “This violence doesn’t solve anything!” shows that we are still not yet having our hearts sufficiently broken by the deaths of people who don’t look like us.

Because this isn’t about a cause, it is about human beings.

George Floyd was a brother, a father, a son. Breonna Taylor was a sister, a best friend, a mother. Ahmaud Arbery was a son, a cousin, a favorite uncle.

They are your brothers and fathers and sisters and sons and best friends, and if they’e not, then you’re still not paying attention.

Until white Americans are willing to have our hearts as broken for the killing of black people as we are the people we love — we will keep perpetuating injustice and trafficking in whataboutisms and rationalizing away murderous police officers and voting for presidents who call protestors thugs — and threaten to gun them down because he values white property more than black lives.

Strangely, in a nation that once put actual prices on black human beings, that assigned monetary value to sons and mothers and brothers—we’re not willing to see the worth of black human beings. In a country that once treated people as property, we’re now putting more value in property than in those people.

Our brothers and mothers and sons and fathers and daughters and best friends are being murdered.

They are worth our outrage.

John Pavlovitz

Lee Matz

The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com

John Pavlovitz launched an online ministry to help connect people who want community, encouragement, and to grow spiritually. Individuals who want to support his work can sponsor his mission on Patreon, and help the very real pastoral missionary expand its impact in the world.

About The Author

John Pavlovitz

John Pavlovitz is a 20-year ministry veteran trying to figure out how to love people well and to live-out the red letters of Jesus, both online in this global community.