“Choose this day whom you will serve…”Joshua 24
“When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”Donald J. Trump, President of the United States, 2020
Walter Headley, Anti-Civil Rights Miami Police Chief, 1967.
“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”– 2 Chronicles 7:14
There are moments in time that force us to come away from our fence-sitting and make a decision of where we truly stand. This past weekend was such a moment in America. It was a weekend when Americans, particularly Christian Americans, had the wonderful opportunity to decide if we would humble ourselves and turn from our ways so there could be healing in the land, or choose, again, to harden our hearts and wonder what’s wrong with “those people.”
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.Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail
These words of Dr. King indicted me on New Year’s Day 2017. Was this me? Was I the white moderate who was part of the problem?
Then came Ahmad Arbery. Then came a group of activists/agitators in my city of Fresno confronting a hispanic elected official on his apartment doorstep. Then came Christian Cooper in Central Park. Then, horribly/terrifyingly came George Floyd. Why all these events at once? Was this a seminal moment to truly find out if I would I be willing to march across the Selma Bridge with the civil rights protestors or to choose “white moderation?”
Then came the president…
He called them “thugs.” He gave those of us trapped in our privilege the excuse needed to point at the looters and to harden our heart to the voices of those calling out for righteousness. He led us in the exact opposite direction we needed to in a moment where positive transformation was at our fingertips.
I’m heartened by many amazing posts I’ve seen in recent days on social media. Many are ignoring the president’s words and, instead, are choosing to swallow the bitter pill of recognition that we’ve been part of the ongoing systemic racism of our culture. Conversely, I’ve been equally disheartened by those who have loudly and publicly chosen to blame the problem on “those people;” on those “thugs.” Never, since the civil rights movement of the ‘60’s, has there been a time when the choice was so stark. Thanks to social media, there has never been a time when the choice was to be made so clearly in the light of day, rather than hidden in our hearts.
Truly it is a dividing line time in America.
I choose today to own that I’ve been part of the problem. I’ve believed myself to be “good” and have relied on my “religious right-ness” to salve my conscience with the narrative that “those people” doing the screaming did so because they weren’t quite as good as me.
I watched the Rodney King riots and wondered why “those people” would destroy their own homes and businesses, never for a second allowing myself to wonder what could drive human beings to this level of anger, frustration and to a sense of injustice.
I watched the O.J. trial and was incensed that “those people” would support a horrible man who’d brutally murdered his white wife, rather than asking myself how I could believe they were either lacking the intelligence or the humanity to understand the situation as I did.
I heard a candidate for president say those immigrants coming from Mexico were “rapists” and didn’t do everything in my power to repudiate that statement nor stop to fully understand the deep violation of relationship those words were to people of color in our community.
I had every excuse in the book:
“My family never owned slaves.”
“I have black/hispanic friends/neighbors/workmates and I treat them well.”
I saw the history: Tommie Smith’s black fist in the air at the ‘68 Olympics, Cesar Chavez marching with farm workers, Muhammed Ali saying he wouldn’t fight the white man’s war in Vietnam and I wondered why those men didn’t love America as much as me.
I wondered why “those people” weren’t just satisfied with what they had in our Christian nation…
Now, I’m indicted by my own thoughts and words.
Today, I choose to lean into the idea that it’s not “those people” who are the problem, it’s me. I choose to demand of myself that I be humbled and turn from my ways before I even think about asking “those people” to change.
Today, I choose to sit with “those people.” I choose to hear their stories and their pain, even if what they share pinches my heart and feels unfair. I choose to mourn with them in their pain and will rejoice with them as we begin to see transformation in our city, region, state and country.
Today, I choose, as much as my heritage and DNA will allow, to no longer see people as “those people,” but instead become one of them.
Today, I am “those people.”
To all my friends of privilege, I say the day of fence-sitting is over. “White moderation” can no longer be a place of comfort. My friends, this is the day to choose this day whom you will be.