Our grandson turned four a few weeks back, and was happy to show me the birthday crown he got to wear at pre-school that day. His pre-school is part of a Spanish-immersion elementary school, and his crown had “Feliz Cumpleaños” written across the front. I began to sing Feliz Cumpleaños to him, and he got a quizzical look on his face. His eyes narrowed, he cocked his head, and finally he asked, “Do you go to preschool?”
Dr. King was assassinated 50 years ago today, on April 4, 1968. I was eleven years old and living in Holton, Kansas. I don’t remember a thing about it.
I remember 1968. I remember the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive, and Lyndon Johnson’s announcement that he would not seek re-election. I remember the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, and the presidential election. But I have no memory of Dr. King’s murder. Not a thing.
As we point out elsewhere on this site (See Looking Back, Looking Ahead: Racial Differences in Time Frames), there are many important differences in the ways White people and people of color view race. For example, many White people look back at the past and think about how far we’ve come. Many people of color look toward the future, to a time when we will have reached racial parity, and think about how very far we have to go (Eibach and Erlinger, 2006).
Beyond that, from what I’ve observed, White people and people of color also view the past differently. People of color, quite naturally, are horrified by the past. They take it personally, and often re-live it vicariously through family stories. White people, to the extent they think about it at all, have a distant, muted response. Most White people express a dispassionate disapproval, a tut-tutting, if you will, about events they perceive as . . well . . unfortunate. They think about slavery and the racial terror that followed rather like they think about old-time medical practices, like using leeches to suck blood from sick people—ill-advised, certainly, but unworthy of serious reflection, and unrelated to life today.
“Whiteness, like other forms of domination, is characterized by masking power under a veil of normality.” –Glenn Bracey and Wendy Leo Moore, 2017
My wife is an avid gardener. It’s her favorite thing about summer, and she tends to it daily—planting, watering, pruning, fussing around. Lots of people compliment the yard, but they don’t realize how much time, care, and devotion it requires. If we’re gone even for a week or two, you can tell it has suffered from lack of attention.
The care and upkeep of social organizations requires a lot of attention, too: reinforcing norms, fine-tuning goals, maintaining boundaries. Casual observers don’t realize how much time, care, and devotion it requires.
We observe Dr. King’s birthday today. Those who assume he would be satisfied with the state of the nation today don’t understand his powerful commitment to justice for all, and his constitutional inability to to sit by while people are being oppressed.
Dr. King was deeply unpopular among White people all across the country when he was alive. I remember as a child (living in the Mid-West, before we moved to Tennessee) that he was regularly referred to by White people as “Martin Lucifer Coon.” He is honored today mostly in the breach. Those who believe that his work has been completed, that there is no more injustice, only people unworthy of justice, have rendered him a kindly, enfeebled set of clichés. But he was a fierce and powerful prophet who took up his cross and followed Jesus right into martyrdom. He would do no less today.
Sometimes I wake up early and can’t get back to sleep. This morning, it was 3:44. I learned while making coffee of the shootings in Dallas. Another blow, so soon after the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. After learning what I could from the usual news websites, I turned to twitter.
I present to you some selected screen shots (taken later in the day) without comment. I have nothing else to say.
I’m not a big fan of small steps. I like large steps. Strides. I want a blueprint for Ending Racism in Our Time, and No Later than Tuesday Afternoon. With all that needs to be done, who has the patience for small steps? Besides, small steps often are used as an excuse to declare victory, send everyone home, and insist that those who want more simply can’t be satisfied.
On November 24, 2015, approximately ninety Hope College students met to discuss ways Hope could improve its campus climate so that all students are able to succeed and flourish. In Hope’s new strategic plan, Goal 4 focuses on discovering why some students are marginalized and on identifying ways the college culture could be improved to include these students. The purpose of this strategic planning student forum was to gather student opinions on how best to implement and achieve Goal 4:
Hope College will be a community unified by its inspiring mission, strengthened by its diversity, and committed to the flourishing of every individual as one created and loved by God.
It can be difficult for people in a dominant group to understand the experiences and perspectives of those who are in subordinate groups. If something works really well for me, and others seem to be struggling, my first impulse may be to wonder, “What’s wrong with them?”
In addition, dominant group members may not have many opportunities to get to know those who are subordinate, or to hear first-hand accounts of their experiences. Because those who are dominant nearly always segregate themselves in residential and social enclaves, they often are profoundly ignorant of others’ lives.
I’ve been wondering lately whether we’re moving toward two very different racial tipping points, both at the same time.
Tipping Point Number One: Not Your Mother’s Civil Rights Movement
A student asked me after class Wednesday where I thought the most racial progress is being made today. Interesting question! I told him that the post-Ferguson coming-togethers, loosely organized under the Black Lives Matter hashtag, have the potential to create meaningful, significant progress. It’s a large, distributed network of mostly young, mostly Black people all over the country helping us think about what it would mean if Black lives really did matter to us. There is energy, interest, and vision, as well as thoughtful discussion of ends and means that has the potential to reshape how the nation conceives of racism and, therefore, how we go about ending it.