“…I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate.” -Martin Luther King Jr.
I’ve spent much time over the last couple of months thinking about this quote from Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘Letter at Birmingham Jail’.
This is a thought I’ve often had over the last few years. I was first exposed to Letter at Birmingham Jail when I was in college. It bubbled up recently a few months ago when a friend shared it in response to a cop in America killing an unarmed black man. Then I started thinking about the quote in context to the COVID-19 outbreak. And in yet another public health crisis, I too have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. Broadly speaking, the white moderate is a disappointing specimen. We can be better allies.
Before I go into further detail, let me show this particular segment of the letter in its entirety.
“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”
Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
My thoughts on this began coalescing when our country elected a misogynistic pile of racist trash to the presidency. In the days and weeks that followed, I saw misinformation and inappropriate memes spewing from a family member. I started doing what I’ve started doing and fact-checking that garbage. And fact-checking, and fact-checking. It didn’t do much but the action was cathartic. Eventually, I became frustrated that it didn’t stop. So I became snarky. I sent information on how to Google something implying that my family member was too stupid to do it themselves. Well, that finally got people’s attention. I was told I was rude and inappropriate. My actions were worse than the content I was speaking about. Their reaction is what MLK was talking about. The White Moderate being “More devoted to “order” than to justice”
Too often do I see ‘friends’ and family tolerate the sharing of racist trash. Too often do I see people I know ignore the spread of misinformation about a virus that has killed over 100000 people in our country. Too often do I see people say, “too bad that guy was killed by a cop, but these riots are completely unjustified.” I have heard too many soldiers in the Army comment that “He should have just done what the police said.” I’ve seen teachers share information spreading anti-vaxxer propaganda only to be told: “it’s her right”.
Now, some say that people say certain things just to provoke us. Maybe they’re trying to poke my buttons. OK? So what? Does that suddenly make it appropriate? Not to me, and it shouldn’t to you. We need to be better allies and not bystanders. We need to be brave.
Most anyone reading this knows that I’m proudly and Eagle Scout. The BSA is a flawed organization, but there’s some knowledge in there. I want to talk about the Scout Law Brave. From the Boy Scout Handbook 10th Edition “A Scout is Brave: A Scout can face danger even if he is afraid. He has the courage to stand for what he thinks is right even if others laugh at him or threaten him.”
It’s hard to be brave. It’s hard to take a stand. But it needs to be done. It’s the right thing to do. Sure it’s scary, and doing the right thing will cost you relationships. But that’s OK. You don’t need that negativity in your life.
What can you do? Fact check for one. If someone is spreading lies, correct them. Stand up when you see someone being bullied by those in power. Go to rallies and publicly take a stand (Safely please, there’s a pandemic going on). And if you don’t want to make a scene but feel like you’re not doing enough, boycott these people. Unfriend, unfollow, and stop supporting businesses and websites that enable this cycle of violence and discrimination.
It’s time to prefer justice over your comfort.
As I write this, within the last 24 hours Donald Trump retweeted a man saying “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat”, and my Uncle shared a meme downplaying rape. This is happening today. This is 2020 and you should demand better. We all should.
When I introduce you to my son and tell him about the people in my life, who do you want to be?
For now, support your friends who need it, and consider donating to groups like the Minnesota Freedom Fund who is bailing out protesters who are being locked up. This group also puts up bail for immigrants, so they’re doing good work.
James and his favorite stuffed dog
Thanks for reading this. Here’s a picture of James for your time.