A couple of weeks ago I was able to interview Marlena Graves and Dennis Edwards after the murder of Ahmaud Arbery was exposed by a leaked video. It was a necessary conversation on race and racism and the reaction of the white believers.
Both of my guests are powerful communicators. Dennis has a piece posted on Christianity Today’s site concerning the latest upheaval in Minneapolis and the issues we really must deal with in this time.
Let these words come straight at you:
The videos (of the cop killing George Floyd) have helped some white people to see a bit of what many black and brown people know: White America has long had its knee on our necks. I am sure that some who just read that sentence are saying, “Not all of white America.” But that’s the problem. It’s hard for people of color to feel that white America is with us and not against us. White America has not demonstrated the collective resolve to repent, rebuke, and reorient itself against racial injustice. That includes Christians. White Christians can opt out of outrage over racial injustice. The status quo works for them.
It is too easy to go back to our quiet lives. We turn on Facebook. We binge on Netflix. This is our comfort and privilege.
Every year I revisit Dr. King’s “Letter From A Birmingham Jail.” I was first introduced to it in high school, but just didn’t get it. I’ve pulled it out again this week to read over his words to “white moderates.” Folks who are “good.” Folks who don’t like racism, but they don’t want to get too loud because it might upset some friends… or something. So, when MLK came to Birmingham, AL to organize the movement, the white moderate pastors wrote a letter asking him to hold off. Take time. Let the powers that be mull it over.
It’s only been in the past few years in re-reading this letter that I’ve felt the deep conviction of my silence. It’s like Dr. King stares right at me with a disapproving glare and writes this letter.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
I am bound to my black brothers and sisters. I may be living in Alabama now, but I am bound the grief and suffering of my black brothers and sisters in Minneapolis, where I lived for 20 years.
Dr. King drills in my mind and spirit as he talks about the need for the movement in Birmingham in his time. There is a need for a new movement in this time. He wrote those words in 1963, but they need to burn in 2020 all over again. This is a moment of change and I cannot allow myself to be offended because how black people are responding doesn’t fit my perfect view.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, 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. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
Every time we, as the majority culture, say “WAIT”… we really mean “NEVER.” I watched people post pictures of Dr. King marching in a suit and saying, “THIS is the kind of protesting we need.” It gave no regard that when Dr. King did it, the result was often riot because the police would show up and beat the living daylights out of protestors. It also gives no regard to the fact that Dr. King did everything “right” in our 21st Century white eyes, but he was still assassinated.
So, we say, “be peaceful.” But LeBron speaks out about Ahmaud Arbery, or shows his house has been vandalized by white supremacists and we say, “Go play basketball. Stay in your lane.”
We say, “be peaceful.” But when Colin Kaepernick knelt to protest police brutality, the NFL ran him out of the game. Fans quit going until players quit kneeling.
It’s like the white moderates in Dr. King’s time saying, “Wait,” when they really mean: NEVER.
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; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
This paragraph truly unnerves me because I feel Dr. King’s icy stare right at me. Too many times we are far more desiring “order” than justice. Justice is messy. It is the long work. It is NOT cheering for the arrest of the first murderer of George Floyd but demanding, “WHERE ARE THE OTHER THREE?” It is not cheering when all four are arrested, but demanding, “WHEN IS THE TRIAL?” It is working, pressing, demanding, until all four are convicted.
And then… we still don’t cheer. We demand better police accountability. In Minneapolis, where I lived for 20 years, it means a complete overhaul of their union, whose boss is a completely corrupt thug. It means voters get out and vote so weak county attorneys don’t hem and haw anymore when a bad cop needs to be prosecuted.
For me, personally, it means when I vote I don’t vote for myself anymore. I constantly seek out friends of color and ask them. I want to know who they like and why. I have decided to vote for them here on out.
As Dennis Edwards points out, the status quo is too easy for me as a white man. As Dr. King points out, “wait” is a dirty four letter word.
I would highly recommend you read over those two pieces by Dr. Edwards and Dr. King this weekend. Let a revolution begin.