Black Lives Matter and the Preferential Option for the Poor

Many people continue to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement with the claim that all lives matter.

I thought of that response this morning when I read an excerpt from Robert McAfee Brown’s Saying Yes and Saying No.  Brown, a Protestant theologian who died in 2001, writes

To speak of a ‘preferential option for the poor’ is not to speak of an ‘exclusive’ option for the poor, as though God loved only the poor and did not love anybody else, especially the rich…. In responding to the concern that God has for all people, we start toward the fulfillment of that long-range concern by an immediate and initial concern for the poor, working with them and for them. To the degree that the cries of the poor are given priority over the complaints of the rich, there can be movement toward a society that is more, rather than less, just.

The claim for a preferential option for the poor has never been a claim that no one else matters.  Rather it is claim that (in the words of Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum) that”when there is  question of defending the rights of individuals, the poor and badly off have a  claim to especial consideration. The richer class have many ways of shielding  themselves, and stand less in need of help.”

The claim of Black Lives Matter is no different.  No one says only Black Lives Matter.  But equally, no one can deny that black lives have not mattered as much as white lives in our country.

To give an example from where I currently live, the Twin Cities is touted as one of the best places to live, with high employment, income and college graduation rates.  Yet it is largely segregated, with black people doing far less well in health, employment rates, income and educational outcomes than whites.  In addition, blacks account for a disproportionate share of low level arrests by the Minneapolis Police Department compared to their percentage of the population.

Anyone who understands the preferential option for the poor ought to be able to understand the claim of Black Lives Matter.  We need to focus on those who stand in the greatest need of protection and help.

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