What MLK Jr. says here in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is beyond applicable to we as white folks today:
“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…”
As Howard Zinn said, “There’s no neutrality on a moving train.” We may not be racist; least by what we can tell, however, we all have (myself included) racial stereotypes and bias we aren’t aware of, haven’t explored or, due to fear and white fragility, won’t explore, but many of us are indeed passive. We do this when we lump all BLM folks into one violent hate group, when we don’t use our faith and/or values to speak out for the weak, marginalized, and oppressed in our country, when we refuse to recognize the inherent injustice in the police and judicial system and act against it, when we refuse to believe there’s systemic racism still in this country, when we speak out about black-on-black crime and fail to see our own contribution to what causes such violence via our ignorance of the systemic racism, poverty in black communities, the income gap between black families and white families, political policies, when we fail to ask what causes the violence or why it exists, and when we seek to place all the problems the black community faces solely on themselves without desiring to help them.
Yes, I think we all are absolutely in denial, to some degree, at times, to the seriousness of modern racism and thus passively contribute to it because we have the privilege of living lives free of racism. We, as people of faith (if you are one), and values built on justice, equality, and peace have an obligation to listen to our black brothers and sisters, empathize, and act alongside them against the system of oppression and racism!
It isn’t enough to do all the things I said above while being silent in the face of injustices that exist. If we ignore them or the reality of the problem or run from it because it makes us as white folks uncomfortable then we are perpetrating injustice just as much as the system is and are just as guilty. Our silence is condoning, our ignorance is permission, our fragility is complacent, our “color blindness” is moral blindness, and our fear is compliance with the racial injustices!
It isn’t enough to simply say one is “color blind,” or that one has never said anything racist about another or demeaned anyone for their race and/or ethnicity. It isn’t enough to simply think racism will eventually die out with each successive generation that gets more and more diverse or removed from the ignorance that causes racism.
No, it isn’t enough to do any of that! What we all must do is confront our own white fragility (if we’re white), examine our own prejudices, explore our own bias, and lastly confront systemic racism/oppression that’s clearly engraved in our societal structures of which the penal system, a relic of slavery, is the best example with 1 out of every 3 African American males facing prison time within their life.
We mustn’t be willfully oblivious to what our black brothers and sisters, especially, are saying and experiencing in our country. We mustn’t be afraid to have hard conversations with ourselves and our families and our friends and our neighbors and our church members about racial issues! We mustn’t be afraid to be self-reflective and honest with how we are the moderates MLK Jr. once spoke of long ago and owning that per personal responsibility and proactive action towards justice and equality.
We mustn’t be complacent, silent, dismissive, defensive of our egos and white fragility, weak-willed, ignorant, or afraid any longer! The time for action is now and the time for justice is now. Let us be brave, courageous, daring, introspective, civil, peaceful, and non-violent in the pursuit of justice and equality for all.
MLK Jr. said that the arch of the moral universe is long, but it nonetheless bends towards justice; which way are we helping it to bend? Towards Dr. King’s vision of positive peace or negative peace?
Dr. Martin Luther King continued in the “Letter from Birmingham Jail”:
“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
I use to be one of Dr. King’s “White Moderates,” and in some ways probably still am. Even as I still have racial stereotypes and bias left to explore and undo as I continue my education as a multiculturally-trained counselor focused on social justice. I believe we must listen and ask questions and empathize. We must be courageous enough to explore our own racial biases and views.
That said, my fellow white brothers and sisters, what are we doing to help? Are we asking our black brothers and sisters what we can do to help? Are we being moderates and thus passively contributing to injustice, or doing what we can in the smallest ways to fight for those who are weak and minorities in order to promote a more fair, free, liberated, just, and equal society Dr. King and many others have envisioned?
I don’t care how one acts, but I do 100% believe that if one doesn’t act, myself included, we are Dr. King’s “White Moderates” devoted to order over justice and positive peace. His message is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. Racism is still a cancerous evil whose wounds still fester upon our society; a failure to act towards healing that cancer is compliance! It is a granting of moral and ethical permission to racism, which, in turn, only enables its continued growth; it is this unintentional working against justice that hinders progress and justice, which makes us all less human. Dr. Cornel West said, “To be human is to bear witness to justice. Justice is what love looks in public.” How can we be more human? How can we show justice, which is love, in public with our black brothers and sisters?
“None of us alone can save the nation or the world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.” -Dr. Cornel West “Race Matters”
About The Author
Jonathan Anderson is a counselor-in-training earning his M.Ed. in Counseling and Human Development; he also plans to attend UNC Charlotte for his Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision. He’s an advocate, “social justice warrior,” and supporter of prophetic justice in the face of all injustices and oppression, but especially for African Americans who face racial inequality. Jonathan resides in Johnson City, TN with his wife Emily and blogs at A Daring Existence in his spare time.
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