On Monday, we went to a march and convocation at Tennessee State University honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the peace and equality he fought for during his life. He is a leader whose courage, whose love, whose kindness, whose fierceness, whose words, and whose faith should be honored. We do well to spend a day remembering the man he was and the fight he fought, but the speakers at this march also reminded us that we would do well to remember this every day. We would do well to engage with the truths of racial inequality every day. And this is where I, and I would so boldly suggest that perhaps you, could improve.
As a white woman, I cannot pretend to understand the suffering of those with a different color of skin. I cannot completely empathize with those who have suffered racially fueled injustice. I cannot experience what others have experienced. But, what I can do, is engage with the tension surrounding racial injustice and choose to lean in with those fighting systematic oppression and microaggressions in their daily lives.
Richard Wright writes in his autobiography Black Boy, “My days and nights were one long, quiet, continuously contained dream of terror, tension, and anxiety. I wondered how long I could bear it.” While Wright grew up in the early 1900’s under Jim Crow laws, I am certain that millions of people around the world still experience this deep-seeded pain and fear. As I made my way through Wright’s works in college (I implore you to pick up Black Boy and Native Son) I couldn’t help but cringe at his raw, vulnerable words. It wasn’t easy to hear the truth of how white American’s have, and continue to, oppress those who are different than them. I too am a culprit when I choose to remain passive, to stoically say “that’s so sad” when I see the news, and then go on with my day. If we preach a Gospel of love, acceptance, and peace for all people, should we not act when love, acceptance, and peace are not being experienced by all?
TSU’s campus was filled with people of all colors marching peacefully for equality. What a beautiful reminder of the promise God gives us in Revelation that every tribe, tongue, and nation will be praising him eternally! As much as we attempt to segregate ourselves based on race, class, gender, church denomination, etc., we cannot separate ourselves from the truth that we are all God’s children and are called to love our neighbor as ourself. It would be so easy to go on with life after this march, high on the cheers and exclamations of a group of differently colored people celebrating life and progress together. It would not be as easy to find ways to continue the conversation around race and enter into the fight for social justice in our city. This would mean continuing to engage in the tension of racial reconciliation after the sun sets on Martin Luther King Day. And that’s a scary, but necessary, thought.
I am no where near close to loving people the way I should. I don’t want to pretend that what I wrote is how I act. But, I believe it is what God calls us to and it is the kind of person I prayerfully desire to become. It is the kind of society and culture I prayerfully hope we can cultivate. As I reflect on ways in which I have seen people I admire fight for justice, in the ways in which Jesus is our perfect advocate, I am reminded of Dr. King’s speech given the day before he was assassinated. I will leave you with his words.
“That’s the question before you tonight. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job.” Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?" The question is not, "If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?" The question is, "If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?" That's the question.”