Grandparents and parents who grew up in a system designed to protect their benefits and raise their preferences at the expense of everyone else taught their children how unfair it was that these people now were getting such large slices of the pie. Looking at the slivers being cut for others, they’d say, “Why, there’s hardly any left for us! We used to have the whole pie, and now these people who didn’t even help bake it get to eat it up. What about us? We’ll starve!” All the while, their eyes remained averted from the kitchen where the pie was made.
We plow on as resolute and relentless individuals, completely unaffected by the portions of the past we find distasteful, and clinging to those portions of the past we think are critical. We have had no lament about where we have been, no place to process any sense of collective shame or guilt. We have had no reconciliation. Given this, is it any surprise that we have elected leaders at multiple levels of government who are individualistic, who have no sense of shame or guilt, who have no ability to weep with those who weep?We could speculate about what King would do or say if he were still here to guide, to be a conscience, but there are only a few people who have studied him enough to be qualified to do that. What I’m more interested in is what I’m going to do and what you’re going to do.
If you are white, ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I in multiple actual relationships with non-white people where we talk about real issues and feelings?
- Am I under the leadership of non-white people in any aspect of my life? Professionally? Spiritually?
- When I disagree with non-white people about where we are on race in this country, do I look for other non-white people to validate my beliefs?
- Have I ever borne an emotional burden about something they’ve experienced regarding race with a non-white brother or sister?
- Have I ever felt shame or guilt, untempered by resentment or resistance, around the way things are in this country, even if they’re not my fault?
If you are not white, ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I in multiple actual relationships with non-white people of different ethnicities than myself where we talk about real issues and feelings?
- Am I under the leadership of someone non-white of a different ethnicity in any aspect of my life? Professionally? Spiritually?
- Do I center the pain of my ethnic group and compare it quantitatively against the pain other ethnic groups have experienced, or do I lament with other stories of injustice?
- To what extent am I complicit in holding up systems of power that unfairly preference those that have historically held power?
The reason why none of these questions are reciprocal toward white people is because since white is the historically dominant group, all of these preference raising questions come naturally. It’s not anything magical about the notion of whiteness; it’s just how cultural dominance works. You will be in relationship with the dominant group in some form. You will be under leadership from someone in the dominant group. You will understand their preferences and cater to them if you want to thrive. So for those of us new to this conversation, please understand this isn’t a finger-wag at something you were born with. This is about being intentional about dismantling imbalances in systems of power.
When I hear King the philosopher and social activist speak, I hear him asking us to seek the Beloved Community. When I hear King the pastor speak, I hear him asking us to lay down our preferences at the Cross and seek the well-being of our brothers and sisters at both an individual and systemic level.
Looking at 2068, what kind of country do we want for our grandchildren? Do we want a country that’s still in a cold Civil War that’s now 200 years old? Do we want a country that sits in resentment, fear, and individualistic separation? Or do we want to make the braver, harder, choice, and plow forward in love, letting lament and a sense of righteous shame break our stone hearts and remake them as flesh, then letting our collective love and intimate knowledge of each other heal and reconcile?
It sounds like a pipe dream when you put it like that. But just sixty years ago, I’m sure someone sat at their dinner table and thought “I appreciate what King is saying, but he’s crazy. Things will never change.”