Legacy, Lament, & Learning: Honoring Dr. King

The Christian church wasn’t infallible to grave injustice back then, and it certainly isn’t now. We cannot whitewash Dr. King’s legacy. We as Christians cannot quote him today and then turn our backs & plug our ears against injustice against people of color the other 364 days of the year.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter From Birmingham Jail, 1963

 

This past September, I attended the Brave On conference put on by Red Tent Living, this year hosted in Austin, Texas. Our opening speaker on the first evening was the stunning, powerful, brave, kind, wise LaTasha Morrison. She talked to a room of mostly white women about the importance of racial justice & reconciliation. I wish I could transport you all to that room so you could feel the transformative power of her words. The courage that she (and so many people of color) showed to teach & convict those of us who have gotten it wrong & missed the mark time and time again astounds me. She proclaimed from that stage that there is healing & redemption & restoration in the stretching, in the uncomfortable spaces. She reminded me that just like in our own personal lives when we experience trauma and it informs so much of what we do, that we cannot ignore it & think we can just move on, the same is true about our country’s history with racism.

Friends, there is TRAUMA that has occurred and is still occurring in our country when it comes to racial injustice. LaTasha reminded me that we must acknowledge the truth and we must make room for lament. It’s taken me WAY too long, but I think I am starting to wade into the waters of lament; I must let myself FEEL THE PAIN of what has been done, what is being done.  If we’re not willing to look at that, listen to people of color, repent, and ACTUALLY change our ways that still allow systematic & individualized racism to exist, then we are missing it.

If you believe in the legacy of Dr. King, are you willing to go against the [white] [Christian] [conservative] majority? Dr. King was willing to rock the boat, willing to protest, willing to challenge the status quo, willing to go to jail to protest unjust laws. It’s been less than a year since the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s murder, and the poisonous vitriol that shot him still lives today. If he were still alive today, he would have celebrated his 90th birthday this past week. While there may be some things that have improved, we still have a LONG way to go. That’s why we’re still talking about it, why we MUST keep talking about it. We must keep talking about it with our loved ones and call out racist beliefs & actions when (not if) they occur. We must keep talking about it in our schools and in our politics. We must keep talking about it in our churches, because the work of reconciliation is kingdom work. The Christian church wasn’t infallible to grave injustice back then, and it certainly isn’t now. We cannot whitewash Dr. King’s legacy. We as Christians cannot quote him today and then turn our backs & plug our ears against injustice against people of color the other 364 days of the year.

I wrote this last year on MLK Day but it’s worth repeating:

“As Sarah Bessey reminds us, there is a difference between a peacekeeper and a peacemaker. I want to be a peacemaker, one who is wiling to rock the boat in order to get to real, lasting healing and justice, not just what’s comfortable for me.

Christians and/or white people, you want to know why Black Lives Matter is important? Why they keep calling out for justice? BECAUSE THERE IS STILL SO MUCH INJUSTICE. If black people felt heard and safe and validated and cared for and protected and valued, it would be a much different conversation. When people of color bring up racism, we can’t get our feathers ruffled and shout “Well I’M not a racist; how dare you say such things?!?!?” and then shut them down and invalidate their stories just because we haven’t experienced it or believe that we haven’t perpetrated it, even if it was unintentional. It is our job to sit down, stop talking, and LISTEN. No more justifying our politics, no more clinging to the regurgitated phrases of our own privilege. Now is the time for listening and learning. Now is the time for humble hearts. Now is the time for being an ambassador of reconciliation.”

(If you’re interested in reading last year’s post, you can find it here: https://nicolecliftonblog.wordpress.com/2018/01/15/rejuvenated-justice/ )

So really reflect: If I’m currently annoyed with how much talk is happening about racial injustice, if I don’t get the point of the BLM movement, there’s a pretty decent chance that I may not have actually been an MLK supporter when he was alive.

The reality is, that was true of me for the majority of my life. And most of us don’t want to admit that because we believe that we’re “too nice” to think, say, or do anything racist. And it’s just not true.

When you believe niceness disproves the presence of racism, it’s easy to start believing bigotry is rare, and that the label ‘racist’ should be applied only to mean-spirited, intentional acts of discrimination. The problem with this framework besides being a gross misunderstanding of how racism operates in systems and structures enabled by nice people – is that it obligates me to be nice in return, rather than truthful.”
-Austin Channing Brown, I’m Still Here, p. 101

The reality is I’m sure I have both personally acted and also benefit from systems that insist that POC be nice and keep the peace, rather than speak their truth. Which means I have a LONG way to go. There is still SO MUCH I do not understand, places where I am oblivious or say ignorant things, and create unsafe spaces for the people around me. While I want to bring people on this journey of learning, repentance, and reconciliation with me, I cannot make anyone do anything. The only person I have control over is me, so I’m starting there. It starts with me. I cannot look at “those people” over there doing racist things but never look at my own actions, my own ignorance. I have to look at my own privilege, in my personal life, in my job, and ask “Am I making room for voices that have been marginalized? Am I learning from those people? Am I willing to make myself uncomfortable to do those things?” Am I willing to look at how I’ve hired student leaders in the past and realize I could have had some unconscious, or even conscious, bias against people of color? Am I willing to admit I’ve wanted to be the hero when it comes to being so “aware” of diversity issues, when once again I’m freaking missing the point when I think my voice needs to be the most important one that’s heard?

Austin Channing Brown also says this in her book “I’m Still Here”:

“Dialogue is productive toward reconciliation only when it leads to action – when it inverts power and pursues justice for those who are most marginalized. Unfortunately, most ‘reconciliation conversations’ spend more of their time teaching white people about racism. In too many churches and organizations, listening to the hurt and pain of people of color is the end of the road, rather than the beginning…Tone policing takes priority over listening to the pain inflicted on people of color… White people need to listen, to pause so that people of color can clearly articulate both the disappointment they’ve endured and what it would take for reparations to be made. Too often, dialogue functions as a stall tactic, allowing white people to believe they’ve done something heroic when the real work is yet to come.”
p. 169-170

White fragility is REAL, y’all. In the last few years, I’ve finally opened my eyes to see what’s been there all along. So I need to check in with me when something makes me uncomfortable and ask myself what that’s really about, as opposed to balking against someone who said something with a different perspective.

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So today, to honor Dr. King’s legacy, what can you do?

At the very least, commit to changing yourself, to challenging yourself, to learning & exposing yourself to a point of view that you may not have experienced.

 

  1. Go read the entirety of Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (4.16.1963)

https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/documents/Letter_Birmingham_Jail.pdf

Read this amazing, crucial piece of history and realize how pertinent it still is 56 years later.

 

2.  Maybe political speeches aren’t your favorite. Maybe music is your deal. I would challenge you to go listen to “Facts” by Lecrae.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Zy8k19YHFQ

Obviously this particular song of Lecrae’s feels very fitting for today, but listening to him or other artists like India Arie or Tracy Chapman help give me a broader perspective. I don’t want to listen to these artists just because they’re black and to prove “I’m not racist”, but because the truth they sing about is profound and I am a better human to have learned from them.

 

3. Maybe that doesn’t feel like your niche either. Okay, cool. Maybe you’re a TED talk person. Go watch “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie.

https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en

 

4. Maybe you’re a reader?

A. My favorite non-fiction book I read about this topic this past year was:

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made For Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

B. maybe you feel like you need just some basic information on engaging with topics of diversity in general? I’d suggest:

35 Dumb Things Well-Intended People Say: Surprising Things We Say That Widen The Diversity Gap by Dr. Maura Cullen

C. Or maybe you prefer fiction? 2 that have impacted me in the last year or two are:

-The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (also a phenomenal movie that just came out in Oct. 2018)

-Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

D. And the great thing is that there is always more to learn!!!! These are 4 non-fiction books I’ve purchased & are on my 2019 reading list:

Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Asha Bandele

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria? & Other Conversations About Race by Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum

 

5. Or go find a leader in your area or nationally doing this kind of work! Go to their website, follow them on social media, check out their resources, and get involved!

Earlier I mentioned LaTasha Morrison; you can find her at https://beabridgebuilder.com/

Or you can check out Austin Channing Brown’s site at http://austinchanning.com/

 

Commit to learning this year in 2019. Challenging yourself to listen to the stories of those who have been marginalized. Make more room at the table. Start with you, with your areas of influence. The resources exist out there in a lot of forums; don’t leave it up to POC (people of color) to teach us everything about our racist history. We owe it to them to expose & educate ourselves, so that we can come to the table to ACTUALLY have conversations about reconciliation, not making them feel exhausted trying to convince the white majority that there’s even still a problem. Listen to the POC in your life and make room for their voices, their experiences, and their wisdom. Make room in your life, in your workplace, in your places of worship. The soul of our nation depends on it.

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I’ll appropriately end with a MLK quote that my pastor Angie shared this morning and that is this:

One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant, and to face the challenge of change.”

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