You need to listen to that speech. Aug 28, 1963. You’ve heard parts of it. You could likely quote some of it, but you need to hear the whole thing. Take 17 min, click here tonight and listen to it.
It is a homiletical masterpiece, a speech that defined a movement. It expresses so poetically the highest ideals of the Civil Rights movement, and the greatest hope of a generation. What I find most depressing about the recent events in the US is that this dream seems further away now than it did a year ago. How could we have moved further from that promised land?
Despite living through the “fierce urgency” of the civil rights movement, despite seeing some progress on racial reconciliation in the past few years, we have fallen back—not forward. How can this be?
There is now no question that the current President of the United States will not be able to move the issue of racial reconciliation forward. His true intent on the issue of race is indistinguishable from white nationalists / white separatists who are calling for a return to separate states, separate societies, separate institutions.
Some of you might argue that I am not giving Trump fair treatment but is actually beside the point. Whether the media is giving him a fair shake or not is irrelevant. What I find most chilling is that leaders of White Nationalists groups and leaders of the Klu Klux Klan are heaping praise on the president’s latest attempt to provide a coherent response to the continuing crisis in Charlottesville VA. It doesn’t matter if it’s “Fake News” or not. The leaders of the KKK are loving it and that should trouble us all.
If you are trying to lead a nation in the direction of racial justice and unity and David Duke, former grand dragon of the KKK is thanking you for your leadership then you are failing spectacularly. Trump’s leadership on this issue is a catastrophe, but for you and me there is something more.
The second thing that I find depressing these days is that our generation has not found our defining gesture yet. We do not have our “I have a dream” moment. Right now, the best we can come up with is to spew outrage and indignation at each other. If the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s had “I have a dream” the 21st century is settling for an offensive tweet or an angry Facebook post.
You’ve got your meme, I’ve got mine. We’ll post angry words on each other’s social media platforms and stomp back into our corners to be soothed by the echo chamber of our choice. Like two dogs barking at each other, neither of them make any sense while the dark night passes.
Whatever your political bent whether you are Republican or Democrat, Canadian or American, we can all agree that we want to move forward. We want to move in the direction of racial justice and peace. We want to be lifted up by a higher ideal or a greater understanding and the best we’ve come up with is increasingly hysterical rhetoric. Two responses that are common among my white friends strike me as far less helpful than they might first appear:
“Taking a Stand against Racism” is a meaningless gesture.
Denouncing hatred is a worthless statement. Here’s why:
The reason is nobody, NOBODY, thinks that they are a racist. Nobody thinks they are spewing hatred. As obvious as that might seem to you, nobody considers themselves to be part of the problem here—and that’s part of the problem! That’s why Trump can say “there were bad people on both sides.” In a sense that statement is true, but it is also completely beside the point. Rather than argue that point or call anyone names I want to move the conversation in a positive direction. We need to do way more than denounce racism and oppose hatred.
While talking about some things that we can do to advance the cause of racial reconciliation, there are three things people are doing right now that are not helping at all. We need to stop saying them if we want to move forward. Three responses to our current racial crisis are getting us further stuck in our corners and unable to hear each other.
- “Whataboutisms.” (The Appeal to Hypocrisy)
- “Nobody is born a Racist.”
- “How come the media is not covering ________” / Fake News.
Each of these is worthy of its own post so I will post an article on each over the next three days. I would invite your feedback here on the blog. Hopefully we can engage in dialogue (which is the point of item #2 in the list) but I will not let name calling or dehumanizing speech go. If you are unable to engage in dialogue without being hateful or abusive I will invite you to contribute somewhere else.
Martin Luther King said that the arc of the moral universe is long but it tends toward justice.” I believe that is true but I also believe that you’ve gotta lean into it hard. Former President Barack Obama added that “the arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own.” We need to insist on justice! Justice for all sides. We need to peacefully, but urgently, insist that we oppose dehumanization of every person and that means engaging in conversation with people that we might not agree with, in order to understand their story. More on that tomorrow.