“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 Citizens Councillor 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 that 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 good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection”
Dr. King wrote these words from prison in what would become known as his Letter From Birmingham Jail. He was helping to organize Nonviolent Resistance in Birmingham when he was arrested. I would highly recommend the letter, especially on today of all days.
But it wasn’t until recent years that I have come to experience such solidarity with Dr. King. He often preached concerning the Great Triplets of Evil.
These were poverty, racism, and militarism.
I first understood the soul of Dr. King in his preaching concerning the last term on that list. Ironically, it was this idea for which he was least remembered, and most likely killed.
Today, I could dissect any number if his sermons, one-liners, or timeless words. The list is truly endless. However, rather than making this post about me, I want to make it about Dr. King.
Instead of using his words to talk about my life, I want to make my life fit into the truth of his words.
The truth: most of my life I have been a paternalistic white moderate male. Meaning I held the most responsibility of any other demographic in this country concerning racism and violence.
My demographic is the mast in the wind, so to speak. Change us, you turn turn the ship.
Most of my life, I have either been ignorant or complicit toward racism, most the of time simultaneously. For this, I repent. I have been so wrong, and I am so sorry.
I am a white moderate, who no longer will accept any form of racism in this nation. I’m not exactly sure what I am going to do about that yet, but it has been in this last year of my life that I believe I truly understand Dr. King’s words.
For too long I have played the double-faced diplomat asking why “we can’t all just get along” while I totally ignore the plight and reality of what it means to black in America.
For too long I have assumed that if I felt a sort of pity toward the black community than I am not a racist. In fact, this only served to accuse me more of my latent racism.
For too long I have shied away from Race tension in my land because it didn’t really apply to me, because we were clearly over all that, and because it was the black community’s fault for keeping this old wound alive (man these confessions are hard to write.)
For too long I have let my palms get sweaty when I see a group of black men pass me by, even though I would wave and smile if they were white men. (How can I let myself feel this way?)
For too long I have looked for ways to blame the black community for their age-old oppression in order to feel better about myself.
For too long I have ignored the obvious history that has caused continued race tension all over the world.
For too long, I have been complicit in keeping the genuine voices of the black community quieted and unheard for the sake of my own peace of my mind. And as Dr. King has said, a riot is the language of the unheard. This is violence, this tension, this drawn out drama is my fault more than any others.
So I must stand and say to these pithy dismissals that I believe the real plight of my black neighbors, that I acknowledge and embrace the genuine struggle of what is means to be black in America, and I will tolerate nothing less than change.
As much as I desire to see a change with the American love affair with militarism, today I want nothing more than reconciliation and ownership of the systemic and long-term oppression of my black neighbors.
Today I want to learn how I can love my neighbor as myself. Because if Dr. King examined my life to this point, he would declare that my shallow understanding has been more harmful than any amount of ill will I could muster.
And so I put my hand to the plow of this awareness, this consciousness, this solidarity with those who are oppressed.
And in the style of Dr. King, in the spirit of Jesus, I won’t resist those who are evil with more evil or more violence. Rather, I will join the movement to love, listen, and serve the world out of its adolescent stupor into something much greater than I could ever envision.
I believe this was Dr. King’s dream.
P.S., I’ve written a bit about Dr. King’s influence on my life in a book I’ve been working on for a few months. Subscribe to my email list or send me a message on the Contact page for an expert from the work in progress.