Monday, January 21, 2019

The Comfort of the White, Christian Moderate

There are many amazing quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that have been posted across social media today. This is good, as all of Dr. King's words warrant attention and reflection.

I wonder, though, how many people are sharing his words today but also just recently condemned those who chose to kneel in silent protest at the start of football games? How many deemed these athletes as "ungrateful" or "disrespectful" before taking the time to listen to why they were kneeling? I'm not even stating that everyone had to reach the same conclusion after the conversation - it's a complicated situation - but how many really listened or tried to see the protest from a different perspective before issuing a verdict?

How many want to believe that this country's "real" racial problems are behind us and that we are all hanging out at an equal spot along life's starting line now and that those who proclaim otherwise are just making excuses?

How many of us today are the "white moderates" who frustrated King and whom he considered the biggest impediment to progress?

I heard a white radio talk show host today say that Dr. King would be outraged by the protests and the demonstrations that are taking place these days. He said that Dr. King would not recognize the racial justice movement of today as something in which he ever would take part. Really? I'm not so sure.

I have not, today, seen many people share excerpts from a letter that Dr. King wrote while detained in a Birmingham jail, dated April 16, 1963. I want to share a lengthy portion of it here, while also recommending you read the entire letter.

I must confess that over the past 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 his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler 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 cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. 

There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."

The same talk show host who I mentioned above also shared his love for Dr. King today because King's marches were always "respectful" and "done the right way." By that, I believe this host is meaning to say that Dr. King didn't seem to push things too far. He respected the boundaries of proper protest behavior. He followed "the rules" of how the oppressed were supposed to call for justice.

But, here's the thing. Dr. King didn't operate with the approval and embrace that this talk show host and the rest of us learned in school. Dr. King was vilified. He was told to be quieter by many of those who claimed to support his efforts, though thankfully he did not listen to such requests. He called out whites as being "the oppressor race." He put a mirror in front of the church establishment and told its members that they are failing the call of Jesus!

How do King's words strike me half a century later?

We, (generally speaking) as Christians, are not being extremists in the name of love. We, (generally speaking) as white people, do not want to disturb a position that is safe and comfortable. We just want everything to be OK.

I am guilty on all counts of my own complacency.

I place myself at the front of the line of those who fall short. I know Dr. King is calling me out more than fifty years later from that prison cell, much as Paul called out the early Christians from his own shackles over 2,000 years ago. I am not always willing the be an agitator when I see or hear injustice on my own block or on my television screen. I don't want to be uncomfortable when confronted with my own biases.

I am going to read Dr. King's letter a few more times this evening. And then I need to read more from others whose voices aren't as prolific as that of King. And I want to be able to admit when I don't understand or I don't agree. And I won't always agree with those I read or to whom I listen, but I need to stand in that conclusion as well. I want to WANT to be more uncomfortable. I am really reading this letter with conviction for the first time this year and now it's up to me to do something with it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Which Part Didn't You Like?

Two days ago, Gillette released a piece just under two minutes in length entitled "We Believe: The Best Men Can Be." It has been viewed millions of times. The short film also has received a great deal of backlash from men who think that Gillette is trashing masculinity.

To the men out there who were offended by the ad, who have proclaimed that they never will buy another Gillette product, I have a question - which part of the piece did you not like?

Was it the part where a young man stops his friend from ogling and catcalling a woman on the street and tells him that such behavior is not cool? Was that offensive to you? I get it. There isn't much masculine about defending a woman's honor, I suppose.

Or, was is the part where a man stands in front of a mirror with his preschool daughter, holds her tight, and tells her that she is strong? I guess that was pretty gross.

Maybe you did not like an actor testifying before Congress and declaring that "men must hold other men accountable." You're right to be upset by that, I suppose. If you hear a dude near you bragging about hitting his woman to keep her in line or detailing his latest sexual conquest with a drunk stranger at a party, you need to stay quiet. That's just "locker room talk" and guys are allowed to do that. It's not your business.

Did it upset you when the dad took his young son's hand and ran to the scene where a boy was being beat up by a group of tormenters? Would you have preferred that dad model for his son that standing up for those weaker than you is stupid? That boy stared at his dad with admiration and respect as he helped the scared child, when really he needs to learn that his intervening dad is a pathetic excuse for a real man. Am I right?

I know . . . you didn't like it when the chant "boys will be boys" was portrayed as a bad thing. Guess what? It is bad. And for two reasons. First, that ridiculous phrase has been used to justify awful behavior for generations. Grab a woman's ass at a crowded bar? Pick on or beat up the kid who looks different or acts different? Oh, well. Boys will be boys! Second, the phrase often is used when male children get rowdy or get filthy in mud while playing outside or leave messes all over the house. But here's the thing. I have plenty of evidence to show my daughter is just as capable of such behaviors. (Corollary point - this is why I never have liked the phrase "boy mom" - what does that mean exactly? And what does it mean if your particular son doesn't fit the stereotype? Your son is very tidy and quiet and his feet never smell bad and he never has played with a Lego in his life. Are you then not a "boy mom"?)

I am a single mom. I spend a lot of time thinking about who my son's role models are as he progresses into manhood. (And, while we are focused on Gillette, I will be looking for volunteers in a few years to show him how to shave.) I want my son to know that "being a man" includes being strong and compassionate and protective of those he loves and respectful and kind. I saw nothing in the Gillette piece that made masculinity out to be anything different than that.

If you haven't seen the short film yet or want to watch it again, here it is. I think it's fantastic.