Carrying on King’s Legacy
Over the past week, you have no doubt heard many people quote Martin Luther King Jr. You probably heard stories about the civil rights movement, recounts the heroism that he showed in standing up to bigotry. You probably even saw advertisements invoking his name and using his speech. It’s wonderful that it is popular, even ordinary to hear his name spoken with such fondness.
And yet, racism continues to exist in our country. As much as we would like to tell ourselves the narrative of progress– “Look how bad things were back then! Look how far we’ve come!”– the fact of the matter is that we still have a long way to go. Having spent decades thinking that racism was over, many have failed to recognize that some things are actually worse today for people of color than when I was born.
The first problem, as you will see in the comments, is the outright denial that racism still exists. I suspected that I would receive some of this pushback but not to the extent that I received it. I realize that many people fail to accept (or simply grasp) the concept of communal sin and so the idea of racism as a structure of evil is entirely foreign to them. I plan to address this in a video later this year.
There are, of course, many others who received this video with great defensiveness, responding that they felt attacked. There is an unwillingness to accept that one can contribute to the problem of racism without being a “evil person” themselves. The problem of social structures is that few people willingly or consciously promote evil, but they benefit nonetheless. Believing themselves to be “good people”–and I have no reason to object to that–the idea of racism is flatly rejected without further consideration.
What I wanted to do in this video is to push people beyond the common language of the day to actual action. To look at what they say and ask, “Do I actually oppose racism?” It takes more than quoting Dr. King each year. When racist structures exist in our world, the one who carries on King’s legacy is the one who is humble enough with themselves to recognize their own implicit biases, who resists policies and actions that give advantage to white people at the detriment to others, who put their money where their mouths are and actually support the leaders in the black community today who continue to demand change, who do not think for a second that the fight is over.
How can we quote Martin Luther King today while at the same time opposing those who continue his work? This, to me, is a problem, which is why I ask, “Would you have marched with Dr. King?” Would you have put your safety and reputation on the line for this cause? The only way to know is to ask yourself if you’re doing it with his successors today.
Podcast Trailer next week!
Be sure to check Everyday Liminality for a trailer of our new season this Tuesday. More information to come next week!
By the time you read this, I will be on my way with eight high school students up to Philadelphia where we serve at the Franciscan’s soup kitchen for a week. It will be a challenging new experience for them. I ask that you prayer for our safety as we travel into the cold, but maybe more importantly, that these students have an experience of poverty and “minority” (not necessarily in terms of race but with the “other” and outcast) that draws them deeper to the poor Christ.
Peace and good!
I ached when reading the comments in your last post and hope that you drew at least a measure of comfort and assurance from those who embraced your message. In the school community I worked before retiring last summer, I was part of a committed conversation to address many of the issues and points you raised. It was not easy, but I have found myself gaining fresh insights and openness. I am still a work in progress (as I suspect we all need to be) in grappling with this pernicious set of issues. Thanks for encouraging us to keep working.
Fr. Casey, Our National Animator for Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation for the Seculars have a Zoom call on developing Racial Equity. We have been looking at our bias and trying to see how w can be allies in this situation, I think we need to have more groups like this to begin the conversation and help people see how they benefit from racism. Praying we can find a way to turn this around in our country as it has gotten even worse than during the 60’s. People of color are being killed and in many cases, it is the law enforcement doing the killing. As Franciscans, we are suppose to see all people as brothers and sisters. This is what the task force is trying to helo us do.
May God bless you!
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Strength to Love 1963
Thank you, Father Casey. I’m a black Christian and I have heard so many hurtful things from my non-minority church members. This means so much to me.
And prayers for you and your high school team this week.
Fr. Casey, I applaud your bravery in attacking this volatile topic. I agree that racism is still a problem… it’s one of those “off limits” topics when we get together as a family. In our digital age, truly horrific events are filmed and shared and, shared and, shared. Instead of making us more aware of things that have been going on for eons, I think we become desensitized to to such atrocities. I also feel that, in some way, we can’t accept that treatment of another human being can be so prevalent instead, we fool ourselves into believing it’s a very isolated issue.
I know I have privilege. I have every thing I need and most of what I want. My husband and I have worked very hard for the things we have. I have a few family members who have no financial worries. But, privilege is more than just financial. White-privilege means generally, you have one less obstacle in our society.
I know it’s cliche to say but, we love a very dear family who are African-American and Latino. We have been on trips with them. We’ve been to countless occasions at our their home for celebrations, Black and Brown dinners, watch parties, football games, etc. We all joke that a party at their home is a United Nations event with people literally from all around the world in attendance. Activists, artists, educators, doctors, leaders, disabled, LGBTQ, etc. are always at their home. Even though our friends are a financially privileged and well respected family, the boys were unfortunately taught from a young age to be overly cautious because of the color of their skin. And, on more than one occasion, that horrible scenario was played out in our community.
With all this being said, I wish I could say that I am not a racist but there are times when I feel differently about some people who are different than I am. I would be lying to myself, and to God, to say I’m color blind. I like to believe I am the kind of person who is very empathetic to all genders, religions, socioeconomic levels and, colors. I try very hard to look at others souls as God sees them rather then as soul covers. But, I’m not perfect. I fall short. I pray.
Thank you for being brave enough to encourage people to realistically examine their own hearts.
Ouch! I plead guilty as charged. Thank you. The reference to lukewarmness ties in with Revelation 3:16 (Spew!). It ain’t pretty and I don’t wanna be that way. I’m becoming aware of service clubs that are giving evidence of valuing placidity over goodness. I want to have the courage to value the latter more than the former. Kyrie Eleison!
Thank you for using your voice and position of influence to address these issues. Probably the most powerful and influential thing you can do is what you are doing with these young people. Hands on example and support is the best example. Will keep all of you in my prayers. God’s blessings, protection and peace be with you.
Lots of prayers