Growing up in southeastern Virginia in the late 80s and early 90s, racism wasn’t a thing. It was how we lived. While much of the United States attempted to take some step toward reconciliation, it seemed like we were caught in some kind of time warp. In some ways, we still are.
When I was a teenager, we hung out in the bowling alley parking lot. It was just a normal night for a group of boys to climb up in the back of their jacked up pick-ups trucks, blaring country music, down South Street (the “other” side of the tracks”), waving a confederate flag from the truck bed, and knocking over n*-word mailboxes with a baseball bat. It was just boys being boys. It’s heritage not hate, right?
Even today, I personally know people who either fly rebel flag proudly or hide it in their houses. I know people who say the n* word publicly, and I know people who whisper it at high schools and in homes like no one hears. I see schools that refuse to mix race, people gawk at mixed race couples and kids, and the most segregated place in the U.S. is at church on Sunday.
If you’ve read this far, congratulations. You might notice, that my words are thick with sarcasm today. They drip with cynicism like molasses on a cold Virginia day. Stick with me though, I can explain. (pun absolutely intentional)
I was taught my entire life that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a criminal, locked up, incarcerated, and put away rightfully for his crimes. But, you can break out of the worldview and times in which you were raised; it requires prayer, research, a side of empathy, and dash of critical thinking. Today, he is one of the people I admire the most.
The same people who would have segregation on Sunday morning, pick neighborhoods for ethnicity ratio, and choose private schools for the same reason, sit behind their keyboards with shameless disregard for who MLK was, and carelessly pluck his quotes out of thin air, caring not for their context, or for “his dream.” We type the words, but only today. Every other day is just a day.
Just a day, where the United States President has no qualms with calling Africa and Haiti, shithole countries, and blatantly calls out a white nation that he “prefers” to accept immigrants.
Just a day, where white evangelicals align with the ideology of deportation and 200,000 brown skinned people – moms, dads, sisters, brothers – will be deported from the home they know to a land they don’t.
Just a day, where we denounce “both sides” for violence after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, but single out black men for kneeling on a football field.
Just a day, where political maneuvering still exists to oppress people.
Just a day, where we build walls and not bridges.
Just a day, where we remain silent.
Just a day, in which Martin Luther King, Jr. could not have lived.
Racism would surely have killed him today, as it did on April 4, 1968. Because, it still is alive and fiercely breathing down our necks. It aligns in courtrooms and churches, boardrooms and blackboards. We have normalized it as a way of life, no differently than we did when MLK lived, or when I was a kid. Today, it lurks in the shadows of dailiness, relishing in the quiet and bemused by the blatancy of our leaders. Failure to acknowledge it or speak against it, is consent and acceptance. Silence for the sake of order is not peace.
I am no MLK, but I cry out in prayer to live a life of reconciliation, and not just the kind that harmonizes, but the kind that goes off key in rebellion against that which does not honor humans as humans. To live life on the fringes, to love recklessly, to sit beside the poor in spirit, to comfort those who mourn, to feed the hungry and the thirsty, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to enable real peace working through the tension. (Matthew 5:1-12) That is the kind of life MLK lived, and the kind of life we are all called to.
Let’s stop posting platitudes and pontification, and start to live our lives that way instead.
Please pray with me…
Search me, oh God. Reveal prejudice wherever it still may be, creeping into my heart or in my brain. Eradicate it. Remove prejudgment and breathe into me a life of Holy Spirit discernment. Help me to know when to love and when to flip tables. Guide me to being a critical thinker, but not a critical spirit. Show me ways to help. Heal our churches, Lord. Mend racial and denominational division and show us how to sit together on a pew and to live life together. Heal our hearts and heal our land. Your Word tells us that you put in place kings and judges for specific times, and I trust you, Jesus. It’s just hard to see hope in the middle of such division. Be our hope, Jesus. Show our leaders a way forward, to the only real peace, the supernatural peace found only in You. In Your Name, Jesus, Amen.
Note to readers: if you’re interested in learning more about MLK for real, read his own words. It’s a great place to start: Letter from a Birmingham Jail
Happy Birthday Dr. King.