Today is a sacred day that we have marked in a definitive way to celebrate and remember a great man. One who inspired the hearts of many, and gave a boldness and dream to those who were overcome with injustice. He incited change in a peaceful way, and was met with death. His life surely deserves attention.
The kind of attention that we tend to lend to this subject matter is completely insufficient. Think back on the celebrations you had in school during this time. You'd read books, color a picture and superficially discuss what racism was and how the life of MLK, Jr, seemingly made it all better. It's a gross misrepresentation of the severity of the race war and does our children a terrible injustice. It gives this illusion that there is nothing more to fight against and can make our level of involvement, nil.
I grew up in a white middle-class family, with very limited ideas and encounters with racism. I never felt prejudice toward African-Americans. I had black cousins, there were numerous black peers in my schools, and very close friends were a bi-racial family. I never had any reason to doubt that black people were equal and good, yet I found myself intimidated by black men that I didn't know. Nobody overtly taught this to me. Yet, the structure of our society, in both arts and culture, portray POC as lesser, more dangerous, and I was suggestive to those undertones. We all are in some way, that's how these subtle innuendos even exist, because they are deep within our core beliefs.
EVERYONE has blind spots, biases of some sort to sift through. The problem though, is that we are taught to disregard and bury them. Don't ever talk about them openly, don't question or confront racist remarks, just pretend that the world is Pangea and move on. Today is a good day to reflect on those very things, but it shouldn't stop there.
In Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," he says:
"I HAVE BEEN GRAVELY DISAPPOINTED WITH THE WHITE MODERATE. THE NEGRO'S GREAT STUMBLING BLOCK IN HIS STRIDE TOWARD FREEDOM IS NOT THE KU KLUX KLAN, BUT THE WHITE MODERATE, WHO IS MORE DEVOTED TO "ORDER" THAN JUSTICE."
What is a white moderate anyway? It is one who has a "shallow understanding" of racial injustice and who is therefore a threat to social progress. It is one who propagates racism by pretending that it is individual and therefore relieving themselves of having to intentionally act against it. Our first shallow understanding comes as we're coloring those pages of MLK, Jr standing behind a podium at the Lincoln Memorial, and thinking that everything is better now. Legal strides have been made for sure, but racism is a strong structure that will only fall with active instigators of peace. Coloring a picture and thinking that we're teaching our children the complex nature of such a heavy matter, is ludicrous. Racial inequality, racial injustices, and personal biases are something that need to be hit heavily all year long.
"ACTUALLY, WE WHO ENGAGE IN NONVIOLENT DIRECT ACTION ARE NOT THE CREATORS OF TENSION. WE MERELY BRING TO THE SURFACE THE HIDDEN TENSION THAT IS ALREADY ALIVE. WE BRING IT OUT IN THE OPEN, WHERE IT CAN BE SEEN AND DEALT WITH."
How many of you look to Colin Kaepernick as a peaceful protestor, and how many of you see him as an instigator, a trouble-maker? How many of you crave for him to just do what is expected for the sake of comfort and order? Can you look at your answer with honesty and realize that maybe, this is another way of viewing your world through the eyes of privilege and with "shallow understanding?" When society chastises Colin's activism more than his oppression, there is something profoundly wrong. We need to start with giving ourselves permission to find the ugly inside. We need to run to POC with questions and misunderstandings, and apologies, and do better so that our children stand a fighting chance. We need to hold hands with our African-American neighbors and let them know that although we aren't perfect allies, we are willing to be there with them, to lend our power to their lack, until the day the scales tip and we can no longer worry about whether we are a white moderate or not.
The "Letter from Birmingham Jail" in its entirety
A Harvard created test for hidden bias
Verna Myers - A powerful and practical way to uncover and walk towards our biases