Racism. Bigotry. Hate. The Civil Rights Movement put an end to all of this, right?
The Civil Rights Movement was, in many ways, incredibly successful. But let’s be honest: you can’t scroll through an app and not see the word racism. You can’t log into facebook and not see people fighting about inequality, whether it exists, or whether people are just too sensitive.
Today, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Martin Luther King Jr, who he was, and what he stood for. I looked at his life and how he lived. I studied how he treated people. This wasn’t my first time looking at him, but today, I saw him in a different light.
Today, I saw him in 2018. I listened to his words as they pertain to what’s happening now. And as I read, I had a thought: There are lessons that we still haven’t learned.
Lesson One: Neutrality hurts more than it helps.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Scenario #1: Sally went to a store and felt like she was mistreated. Sally asked for the manager, and the manager was rude. Sally posted about it on Facebook. Eight women with different variations of the name Jennifer chimed in about how they too had experienced atrocious service at that store. They offered empathy and support to Sally. Together, they said that they would never shop at that store again.
Scenario #2: Anika feels like she is discriminated against because she’s black, and she’s upset about it. She posted about it on Facebook. Four men with different variations of the name Chris chimed in about how Anika needs to get over it. Anika’s friends tried to speak up, but Chris #2 used that moment to correct their grammar and make fun of them. None of the Jennifers commented because they didn’t want to “stir the pot.” Anika feels alone and concludes that nobody really cares about her point of view.
We see both scenarios online. We interact in both scenarios, too. One interaction is public because how dare they? But the other is private because Facebook isn’t the place for this.
Where is the place for this? Where should we fight against racism and injustice?
Why do we fight in the moments that don’t matter and stay neutral in the moments that do? Why do we push hard for menial justice and intentionally stay neutral when real, actual justice is needed.
Your silence takes a voice that is feeling oppressed and scared and says, “You are alone.” Your silence propels a voice that spews ignorance and says, “I won’t correct you.” Your silence does nothing to provide peace, and it makes your oppressed friends wonder where you stand.
How do we help fix this: We speak up whenever and wherever we see equality being questioned. We do it publicly. We do it with kindness and intelligence. We use our voice to let people know that racism is not welcomed here. It is not tolerated here. It is not accepted here without a fight.
Lesson Two: Injustice affects you, even if it doesn’t.
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
I have a friend who is a black male. When unarmed black males started experiencing gun violence at the hands of the police, my black friend had to sit down his black son and walk him through a process that would help him not get shot.
This is what the process looked like:
- Don’t fight, even if you’re not guilty.
- Don’t disagree, even if they say things that aren’t true.
- Call them Sir or Ma’am, even if they call you things that aren’t your name.
- Don’t speak up, even if they wrongly accuse you.
- Let them take you to jail, even if you don’t belong there.
This feels extreme, doesn’t it? But he said, “This is the world that we’re living in.”
We’re. This is the world that we’re living in. You and me.
One day, my black friend’s black son will grow up, and he will teach his son those things. And his son will teach his son. And that, my friends, is the result of systematic racism- a destructive issue that we put a band-aid on, but never really fixed, because, well, it didn’t really affect us.
When we ignore injustice that doesn’t affect us and when we say “this is not my fight,” we reaffirm to that little black boy that he is not equal and not worth fighting for. When that black boy grows up, because of his experiences, he will have a hard time trusting white people. He will be angry and frustrated. And he will post about it on Facebook. And the four Chris’ will comment. And the Jennifer’s will stay silent.
The cycle repeats. Again and again and again.
The way that we respond to injustice will shape our future.
The way that we don’t respond shapes everyone’s future.
How do we help fix this: We widen our view to include all issues that oppress, not just those that we personally feel oppressed by. We give the plight of others serious thought, and we act accordingly.
Lesson Three: When violence erupts, listen.
“A riot is the language of the unheard.”
When people are angry, they express themselves. From newborn babies to old men, this is human behavior, in us when we were born. Those who are privileged have had people walking them through the process of their frustration. They’ve experienced support in their moments of frustration, and they’ve come out on the other side better.
But have you ever had a moment where you were frustrated, reacted, and came out on the other side worse off? Misunderstood? Ignored?
On a pretty famous talk show, there was a guest who made their living blasting African American protestors. The host asked his guest a simple question:
“What is the right way [to protest]? So here is a black man in America who says I don’t know how to get a message across. If I march in the streets, people say I’m a thug. If I go out and I protest, people say that it’s a riot. If I bend down on one knee, then I’m disrespecting the flag. What is the right way? That is something that I’ve always wanted to know. What is the right way for a black person to get attention in America?”
She didn’t have an answer. Not only that, she looked absolutely dumbfounded, as if she had never before considered it from that perspective.
Have we stopped to consider that protests, riots, sit-ins, and marches are all produced in an attempt to get someone to listen?
What would happen if we invited those people into our space and listened to them?
We don’t have to agree with them, like them, or even support their cause to listen to them. But when we take a minute to really hear them, we say, “You’re a human who has value, and you are frustrated. Tell me why you’re frustrated.”
How do we help fix this: We listen before we correct. We ask questions to understand better. We try to understand.
I will never know what it’s like to have Martin Luther King Jr. physically on this earth. But, although he’s gone, he does walk amongst me. When we take time to hear the struggle of another and when we fight for what’s right, not what’s easy, we embody his life.
Speak Up. Fight Injustice. Listen. Every day, make the world that we’re living in a safer place for those who feel oppressed.