I am going to do my best to write about this topic with sensitivity, but also with honesty. I am aware that as a white woman, there are many things I could not possibly understand when it comes to racial issues. However, there is absolutely nothing that infuriates me more than racism, & I feel that it needs to be discussed. I apologize if I do not use the politically correct terms, or if I say something that offends someone. Please feel free to discuss any issues with me. I am just speaking from my heart.
Most people are probably aware that today, we celebrate the life & accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr. Many acknowledge that he was a great man. Most know that he was a Civil Rights leader. But a lot of people think that Civil Rights are an issue of Mr. King's day - a thing of the past.
In his "Letter to a Birmingham Jail," Mr. King responded to preachers who had written to him, asking him to end the non-violent protests taking place in Birmingham. These preachers called the protests "extreme," & said it wasn't the right time for action. Mr. King wrote, "You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations."
Mr. King was fighting for Civil Rights. As it was pointed out in the Liturgists: Black & White Podcast, I believe, this was not equal rights - simply civil, basic rights. I think about the Black Lives Matter movement that is currently active in our culture. While I am not here to argue for the merits or beliefs of the movement, I do want to point out that the movement chose to state one simple fact: "Black Lives Matter." Although segments of the group do not promote that message wisely, it is sad to me that the message needs to be promoted at all. I can't imagine anyone ever needing to hold up a sign that says, "White Lives Matter."
Racism is a common thing that occurs daily, & it is not a police issue or an issue of the past. I have witnessed it frequently in my own life. I dated an African American boy in high school, & I had a friend who wouldn't hang out with me because of it. When we broke up, that friend said to another, "Well, we still better wait to hang out with her, because it'll take a while to get the black off of her." My little cousins, who lived with my family for years, are bi-racial. One of my cousins was told by a Hispanic classmate that it was okay for the white kids to treat them badly because of their skin color. They were in first grade at the time. At the elementary school I work at, I overheard one kid say to another, "I like so-&-so, even though he's black." These are just a few recent examples, & I could go on. These all involve kids. These kids are most likely hearing this stuff at home. This is being taught. This is being learned. This is being passed down.
This needs to stop.
Minorities don't have the choice to NOT think about race. Things can become racial issues, even if they weren't intended to be, simply because of such longstanding systems or unintentional biases. An experience I draw from as an example is my experience of being a minority as someone with a physical disability. Although this is not a direct comparison, as many of my physical disabilities can be hidden, & race is something obvious (& in no way a disability), I believe comparisons can still be drawn. For example, having a disability affects every decision in my life. I have to consider my physical limitations before making school, work, & social decisions. When people realize I am sick, they look at me differently, & it is embarrassing. When I am having an episode in public, it causes shame & discomfort. Physical disability is not something I chose, but people treat me as if I am different, & sometimes less, because of it.
In the same way, people in minority racial groups are often treated differently. Race can impact decision-making for school, work, & social situations - sometimes not by the choice of the person in the minority. There is no option to ignore it, because it affects every aspect of life. There are stereotypes & bias that often go along with race, & not all of these are positive.
"Humiliating" is a word used often in Mr. King's letter because of such treatment. John Perkins, an African-American author & activist, wrote about his time fighting for Civil Rights in Letters to a Birmingham Jail: A Response to the Words & Dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He discusses feeling the need for recognition of his personhood, & knowing that God loves ALL people. Perkins writes that God "put all people on an even plane, regardless of color." None of us should have to feel ashamed or embarrassed because of who we are, how we were born, or any other factor. No one should ever make us feel that way. The God of the Universe created each person, loves each person, & sacrificed His Son for each person. That anyone could love someone less because of something as trivial as skin color blows my mind.
Perkins goes on to say, "that's not the end of the story. The other side of that truth was that I had to wrap the image of the Southern racist in that same reality. The white racist also bore God's image & I had to allow God to love him through me. In the face of lynchings, beatings, murders, & all manner of inhumane treatment, this was not a man-sized challenge." This is the part that gets me. It is much harder for me to be loving & accepting of someone who is NOT loving & accepting. Thinking about people who are blatantly racist gets my blood boiling. Thinking about what people have fought through, just to get CLOSER to equal rights - not to even get there - breaks my heart. Loving the people who put them through that is a struggle. That is something I have to work harder at, & am honestly still working on. As Perkins says, it is not a "man-sized challenge," but something I can only do with God's grace.
Mr. King wrote, "it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily," & said, "I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was 'well timed' in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation." There is no good time to fight for justice, because there is no good time to fight. But when someone is hurting, there is an obligation to do something. If you are the one who is privileged, especially if you are a Christian, that obligation is to help ease the pain & burden.
After Obama's election, I thought we had made a great step towards equality as a nation. I am not trying to make a point about his politics or policies (He leaves office in 4 days, so please spare me your opinions about him), but it seemed that finally electing a president who wasn't white could potentially mean we were making changes in the way people thought about leadership (& it necessitating white-ness) in this country. To me,
that change was a good thing.
However, the election of Trump proves there has not been as much change as I thought. Again, I don't care who you voted for, or what your politics are, but please - If you are a Christian, or any kind of non-racist, be aware that what Trump says, matters. When he makes fun of Asians, or kicks African-Americans out of his rallies, or says he wants to build a wall to block out Mexicans, or tries to kick out immigrants & Muslims & refugees... Know that sets a dangerous precedent. Know that people are making fun of minorities & women & other groups, & doing so in his name. Know that bad examples are still followed, & "Republican" does not necessarily mean "Christian." Remember your morals. Remember what you believe. Remember that God loves ALL people, & show that love to all people. Set your own example.
John Perkins wrote, as a response to Mr. King, "We cannot expect America to abide by the principles of love & justice of our Creator. America is not a Christian nation. But you were right, Martin, to voice strong disappointment in the church." America is failing to show an equal love & respect to all people. Our new leader seems to be continuing in that example. But America does not know God. The church does, & the church is also continuing in that example. That is the great disappointment. Mr. King wrote, "There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love." I love the church. I love my church. But I see so many members of the church failing to love those around them, because of skin color or religion or social status. & I fail in that myself sometimes, too. As Mr. King said, "Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished & scarred that body through social neglect & through fear of being nonconformists." My prayer is that we no longer fear what others think of us, but fear what happens if we don't think of others.
Bryan Lorritts, in Letters to a Birmingham Jail, writes about the "enemy of indifference." I think this is the greatest enemy many of us face. Two who said it more eloquently than I could are Donald Miller & Laker's grandpa. Miller writes in Blue Like Jazz, "I believe the greatest trick of the devil is not to get us into some sort of evil but rather have us wasting time." & Laker's grandpa, Richard, once told me, "When you have a good idea, Satan won't tell you it's bad. He'll just tell you to wait a while before you do it."
It has been nearly 50 years since Mr. King, like many others, was killed, fighting for what he believed in, & we are still not at a point where justice has been reached. Take action now, in whatever ways you can, big or small. As Mr. King quotes in his letter, "Justice too long delayed is justice denied." Keep fighting for justice. Don't let it be denied.
- Letter from Birmingham Jail (quoted throughout)
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Biography from Nobel Prize Website
- Link to Liturgists Black & White: Racism in America Podcast (Disclaimer: This podcast has lots of good information, but is pretty liberal, & I do not agree with 100% of what they say in it. It definitely made me think, & even question some of my beliefs, especially about the origins of the "black church" & about bias. However, please be aware that I am not promoting everything in it as pure truth.)
- Link to Huffington Post article: Why It's So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism (Disclaimer: Again, I am not promoting everything in this as truth. There are lots of things in this that I don't believe, but there were several sections that made me think, & some statements in particular that I found valuable.)
- MLK's I Have a Dream Speech (below)