January 21st was my birthday and more importantly, the day our nation celebrated Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and I have taken this as an invitation to deeper contemplation on his importance to my life.
Often remembered as a proponent of peace and unity, his journey was far from what he desired for others. Like Jesus in the garden, he seemed to know when his life was close to an end and like Moses, despite seeing the Promised Land, he would not get there. His prayerful and tireless work for justice included being insulted and imprisoned. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16th, 1963, he penned a prophetic call, rooted in righteous frustration:
“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.”*Emphasis added
I’m constantly reminded that just because things might be going well for me and systems seem to be working through the lens of my physical well-being, this does not mean that all is well.
Roxane Gay, in a talk recently at Loyola University, spoke about how she does not endorse the word “Ally” not because it isn’t a well-intentioned attempt but simply because it doesn’t go far enough. She urged those who are white and wish to accompany a person of color, should do so in a way that suffering is shared and felt. There should be less distance.
This spoke to me because right now, by many metrics, my life is good, but since I believe God is in all people and all things, the suffering of one of my brothers or sisters should continually call me to action – compassion, companionship and shared suffering.
Last night I read a short story by Langston Hughes titled “Home” which recounts the homecoming of Roy Williams, a black man who was a musician – a violinist – returning home from Europe, due to illness. On July 28, 1932 – the day he returned – at the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, troops forcibly removed thousands of veterans who were demanding bonus pay for service during WWI.
With the backdrop of the Great Depression which was a communal experience of shared suffering for many, Roy Williams eventually finds himself not welcome in his own hometown due to hatred and racism and ends up being lynched by a mob.
Today I was informed about what happened to Jussie Smollett. The Chicago PD released the following statement,
“Overnight the Chicago Police Department received a report of a possible racially charged assault and battery against a cast member of the television show Empire. Given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime.”
We rarely ever know all the facts, and I know it’s rash to jump to conclusions, but there have been enough of these occurrences to prove hate is alive and well. This is clear.
I know there are so many positive and inspirational stories out there too. Stories of people doing amazing work – advocates who are dedicating their lives to this work, to stopping this hate – this is not to discount any of those.
When wrestling with my emotions after some of the details were reported, including the use of a rope around his neck, I am reminded of the words of Martin, Roxane, and Langston.
I am reminded of the words of Jesus – who experienced life with us, without shying away from suffering.
My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
There is room for ALL in this world, unfortunately, even when some people are “home” they’re still not welcome.
I don’t like giving advice and would rather speak on what I personally need to do about this so all I’ll say is this: I know hatred and racism are not new but that should not diminish, excuse or normalize what is happening and it’s clear – there is no room for moderation.