It is time once again for me to make my annual comments about Martin Luther King day. Sadly, every year when I do this I get the same sort of responses, no matter how hard I try to be clear on why this day is so important to so many of our African-American brothers and sisters, and, why it is so important for all of us in this nation.
Sure enough there are those quite happy to entirely ignore the point of my post and gas on about how Martin Luther King was this, that, or another thing, about how his theology was bad, or how he was ‘liberal’ and on and on. I’ve even had a Lutheran pastor opine, on this day, about the nature of the Civil War and if owning slaves is a Biblically justified practice. I kid you not.
I will again however say that such comments display an astounding lack of sensitivity and concern about the feelings of our fellow Americans who look to Martin Luther King as a significant figure in advancing civil rights in this nation. And please do not, please, do not say, “Some of my best friends are Black.” Oh, really? Then try to be a bit more sensitive, please. Some of my best friends are left handed, but I don’t go out of my way to offend left-handed people by denigrating honoring a left-handed person for whom they have high regard. But, seriously, some of my best friends are left-handed. I even married a left-handed person. See how hollow that sounds?
I do wonder how many of us with pale skin have ever shared a meal with a Black person, in their home, actually spoken at length with them as people, not as “Blacks.” Similarly, how many Blacks have had Whites into their homes and hosted them for a meal and spoke to them as people, not White? I know the problem cuts both directions, but on MLK day, this is not the appropriate time for White folk to go on and one about their gripes with Black folks.
And then, I hear from people telling me how terrible the civil rights movement has been for African-Americans, and how it has only led to what is now a permanent underclass in this country, etc. etc. There is plenty to talk about here. But that the Civil Rights movement was a good thing in many ways is undeniable.
Would you have preferred the continuation of Jim Crow laws, lynchings and telling people they can’t drink from certain water fountains, use certain bathrooms or ride only in the back of the bus or not be served a meal just because their skin is dark? Would you feel the same if the laws were in reverse and it was the white-skinned who could not do these things? “Good Christians” are not immune are they? I still have a vivid memory of angst being expressed by some members of my home congregation when Black folks showed up once for Holy Communion, from the common cup! And that was only in the late 1960s, not that too far long ago.
After the Civil War and well into the 1960s many, many African-Americans were still treated nearly like slaves in so many places. Despite the Civil War, many states made it impossible for blacks to vote and via indentured servanthood [aka sharecropping] created a serfdom across the South. Can we be a bit sensitive to the bitter, hard and long struggle of a people brought to this country as slaves?” [Yes, yes, I know blacks sold other blacks into slavery in Africa...and yes, African-Americans can be as prejudiced against others because of race as anyone else].
So, I apologize for what appears to be a gloomy post, but it is always sad that whenever anyone tries to say anything about Civil Rights, particularly on MLK day, we have to have a litany from white folks criticizing, whining and complaining, thus quite entirely missing the point of MLK and his meaning for our nation and for so many of our fellow citizens.
I’m actually seeing signs that the times they are a changing. When I was a child it was inevitable that we would refer to African-American children as “that black kid” and no doubt they would refer to us “as that white kid.” My own children have delighted me in that they have spoken of friends by name and never once have referred to them as “that black kid” or “you know, my Chinese friend.” They’ve had friends over to the house that we have heard about from school for weeks and I’ve been delighted to find they are African or Chinese, and not once did our kids refer to them by race, but by their qualities as persons. A good sign indeed and this is where we need to be. No, it is unrealistic to believe we will ever be “color blind.” That’s not what I’m suggesting, but it would be great if we would not always jump to race as the first way to describe a person.
Recently in an interview on 60 minutes one of my favorite actors, Morgan Freeman, laid it out in a blunt way. He just wants to be referred to as a person, not a black man, but as a man. And he thought the notion of a “black history” month to be absurd, and even insulting, trying to suggest his “history” could be reduced to a month on the calendar.
I believe it is a necessary and good thing in the kingdom of the left, to work for that day when across this great nation people will be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. And I suspect that if people’s skin tone was a bit more dark than it may be now they might have some better sense of why this is a dream worthy of our full support, and sympathy. So, I say, “Happy MLK day.”