If MLK Day makes you uncomfortable, that's a good thing

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 18, 2021, 7:00 PM | comments: 0

I remember in 2010, shortly before Simon was born, thinking on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, how remarkable it was that we had a Black president. The normal that I knew, growing up in the age of desegregation bussing, had effects going all the way to the White House. The gaps in equality that I even a child could observe, in the late 70's and early 80's was slowly closing. Nothing was "solved," per se, but there was measurable progress.

What was less obvious at the time was that the election of Barack Obama would, in many ways, instigate a "last stand" of sorts among the people not content to see the American order involve the inclusion of people of color. For many years, especially during the Obama administration, I thought that the opposition toward anything he did was simple partisanship. While it certainly was that, it was deeper than that, as we now understand famously that the "base" that Republican politicians cater to, themselves now a minority, root their opposition not in conservative policy in the name of Ronald Reagan, but in the old order of white supremacy. That's not some divisive plotline on my part, it's observing the most ardent Trump supporters: If the goal is to "make America great again," they can only be referring to the time prior to the civil rights era. America wasn't that great then. Even when it achieved prosperity and leadership on the world stage, in the decades immediately following World War II, it certainly didn't include women and minorities.

I'm always stirred by MLK's quote from his Letter from Birmingham Jail:

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."

White Americans have always had the power to realize change that would result in a just and equal society among races. It's a power that was abdicated by its founders, kicking the can down the road for future generations to deal with. Wise as they were, I'm sure they never expected it go as many generations as it has. They could not have predicted that in 2021, white people would still hold the cards. There was a particularly striking infographic in The New York Times last fall, showing that in various corridors of power, from police chiefs to senators, those with the power were overwhelmingly white, and did not reflect the population of the United States. One of the annoying things about this is the people who suggest that, "The most qualified people should hold those positions, not those who fit a racial profile." Yeah? Then why do those same people insist they be Republicans, who are overwhelmingly white and male?

We objectively live in a country where, on a per capita basis, you're at greater risk of being singled out by police with cause, being denied access to financial instruments, denied the chance to interview for a better job, etc., if your skin is not white. It's mathematically a fact, and no amount of mental gymnastics can invalidate that fact. As a moral and decent human being, there's little opportunity to be ambiguous about your position in this reality. It's not divisive to say you're for changing this, it just makes you a person who believes in the most basic tenets of human respect.

Don't be the white person who dismisses the presence of injustice.


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