In the last two weeks of August I went on a self-constructed two week language immersion experience in Copenhagen. While there I wore a small "Black Lives Matter" button. It led to some fascinating conversations. Huge numbers of people from the Middle East, Syria especially, are pushing their way towards Europe. The Continent finds itself with the biggest wave of displaced people and its biggest humanitarian crisis since World War 2.
Denmark has a new right wing coalition government. And there, as here, politicians on the right compete with each other over how far they are willing to go in getting tough on immigrants. The new immigration minister, Inger Støjberg, has a special gift from dramatic anti-immigrant gestures which make great hooks for news stories. One of her moves was try to remove the special permission to immigrate that the former left wing government had given to 2,500. Another was to put an ad in a Lebanese newspaper telling people that Denmark was a bad place to come to (and calculating the cost of this advertisement as equal to the cost of supporting one immigrant for one year) -- or sending more police to the border.
There are honest questions in Denmark as there are in the US, about how many immigrants to accept and how generous to be to them. But the thing that was troubling to many Danes I met ,was how it seemed to be an easy game for their politicians to compete with each other regarding how tough they were willing to be on outsiders. And this is what incited the conversations about my "Black Lives Matter" pin. One man observed to me: "Every society has those who it is easiest to dismiss or disvalue. For you in America it is young black men. For us in Denmark it is Muslims."
I think of the verse from the Christian scripture: “And the King will say, ‘truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40). The point is not just that “the least of these” have the greatest need for care. The point is that “the least of these” are the ones to whom it is easiest not to show care. They are the ones it is easy not to show care. The real moral test of us is therefore what we are willing to do for those whom it is easiest to dismiss.
This is why the specificity of saying “Black Lives Matter” is important to me. Right now and here in the US black lives, and especially young black male lives, are especially easy to diminish, whether this be in big ways like police misconduct or small ways like letting pass a racist comment. Of course, all lives matter. And in the longer view we need to understand that the standard of judgment is our willingness to value those whom it is easiest to dismiss.