I consider myself fortunate to have been raised by parents who spoke about the evils of racial prejudice. I was rightfully appalled when I heard a racial comment spoken by a classmate in 1st grade. I was deeply affected by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when I was eight, so much that I remember what it was like walking to school the following day.
Dr. King’s death was a momentous event in my life. It affected me profoundly, but the darkness I glimpsed in the moment was as far away from me as the clouds way up in the bright morning sky that day as I walked to school.
As fortunate as I was to have had the good example of my parents’ just position on the issue of racism, I have been very slow to realize, personally, the real impact of racism in the routine lives of my brothers and sisters of color. The racism I understand (very incompletely) has has only slowly come into focus for me from the other side of that world.
I have never experienced racism directed at myself. I have not lived with the ever-present reality of racism bearing down on me from seen and, mostly, unseen sources (now).
I have never walked into a retail store knowing that someone, somewhere in that store, was watching me, suspicious of my every move. I have not driven my car in my own neighborhood conscious of the fact that eyes were following me, wondering what I am up to. I have not been stopped multiple times in my life on a pretense, though I was doing nothing wrong.
I do know the fear of being found out when I was doing something wrong, but that isn’t the same thing. I remember as a rebellious youth the fear that gripped me when I encountered a squad car at an intersection or when a squad car pulled behind me while I had an open container of alcohol in my car. But I could control my circumstances and change my ways to eliminate that fear.
I don’t know what it’s like to live in constant fear of circumstances I can’t control or predict – circumstances controlled by the fate of my birth in modern America with dark-colored skin.
As a child, I had hope and faith that we could truly see Dr. King’s dream come true: the dream that is deeply rooted in the American dream – that this nation would rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
We have made great strides, but the racism in this country is deeply rooted and pernicious than I believed it to be when I was child.
The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd are just the most recent examples of decades, generations and centuries of this cancer. The rioting that occurred last year is hard to understand from a purely rational perspective by those who don’t personally know the pain, grief, frustration and anger that wells up in response to injustice. Meanwhile, many people like me, people of good will, sit silently by.
We have not, yet, achieved the goal of the civil rights movement that was inspired by the tragic death of Dr. King. Half a century later, we aren’t colorblind. In fact, colorblindness has become a way of denying the racial disparities that still exist. Racial issues have gone underground and have become more insidious.
How does a white guy like me, who once thought that we had overcome racism with civil rights laws on the books, speak to these largely underground racial strains that remain? How do I conduct myself?
Some would say I have no legitimate voice to speak to these issues, but need to speak.Continue reading “Racial Justice: Having the Same Attitude Jesus Had”