Monday, January 21, 2013

Let Freedom Ring

A White Man in America:  How to Remember Martin Luther King, Jr.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness.  Only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate.  Only love can do that.
                                                            -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

So the 26th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is upon us and the blogs, commentaries, and social media outlets are once again spouting off the pressure cookers of America’s racist ideologies.  I’m actually relieved I’ve taken a break from social media just so I won’t be exposed to the views of many ‘friends’ who obviously hold resentment over Dr. King’s memorial.  For a host of reasons, there is nothing like MLK, Jr. Day when it comes to pushing the white American male over the edge of insanity, not least the shameful reflection of how qualitatively thin the landscape of white male spirituality.   It’s never easy to look in the mirror and notice an obvious blemish that interferes with the more esteemed way we imagine ourselves to be.  Dr. King is that reflection, and the fact that he lived and died as a testament to establishment inequality casts a continuing shadow over everyone who still holds any form of inequality in heart and/or practice.
            In 1995 I enrolled in Dr. Peter Paris’ class at Princeton Theological Seminary:  “Martin and Malcolm”.  Dr. Paris was the only African American on faculty at the seminary, and Cornel West was one of the token black professors just across the street on the University side of things.  Dr. Paris and Dr. West were friends and in usual fashion, were quite busy around the time MLK, Jr. Day rolled around.  It was the single day on the American calendar where black voices were sought on major media outlets.  That previous autumn, the O.J. Simpson not-guilty verdict revealed the depth of white male resentment towards blacks in America.  For the first time in large-scale fashion, white folks sensed an injustice that was simply an everyday experience for American blacks.  The local result had been several campus debates on Racism in America and the consequential buzz of water-fountain diatribes.
            This morning -- while reading through the online news’ sites – I felt ashamed to be a white man in America.  For 364 days a year, I can pretty much get through my morning world news updates without being exposed to explicit, vehemently hateful white male spew.  On those 364 calendar days, the online spew is more subtle and couched in nuance.  But every MLK, Jr. Day, angry white males come rushing out of their racist closets considering themselves ambassadors for the white race.  They attempt to use logic to dismantle this particular holiday.
            Whatever the internal contradictions of Affirmative Action, or the economic costs of an MLK, Jr. Memorial Day, or the personal shortcomings of Martin Luther King, Jr., it all pales in comparison to the daily confrontation of injustices the American black encounters.  And even more so, this rage of white male insecurity is the very reason this day is still so resoundingly significant because it continues to shine light on the dark spaces of our hearts with regard to racism, sexism, classism, ageism, and homophobism.  This is the one day on the American landscape that confronts every American tactic still actively used to suppress difference:  stereotyping, assumptions of mental inferiority, tactics of invisibility, tokenizing, physical revulsion, and self-segregation.   I know for one that I need this day-- much more than I need any other holiday of the year.  Without it, living in a predominately white rural American town, I am rarely confronted with my own handful of isms still consciously and subconsciously ringing in my spiritual conscience.  Today is a day committed to both action and reflection.  That’s how this white man will remember Martin Luther King, Jr. today.  Not some white-guilt driven token-day annual parade of giving blacks a voice and presence, but rather a white man who understands and needs the presence of a strong moral voice to confront any social injustice I still hold deep in my heart.  Unfortunately few white men exist as this voice for me.  Martin Luther King's voice still rings as a force for my personal freedom from the dark chain of isms.

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