thinking about dr. king...

Since the election of President Obama, the temporarily clandestine side of American racism has stepped out from the shadows back into the light of the public square.  What had once been deemed degrading and unacceptable in popular white culture, is now embraced vigorously by angry, working class Caucasians. In the early days of the Tea Party, the ugliest and most vile racist slogans and images of the President began to be resurrected for public consumption. And many, if not most of the national Republican leadership, encouraged this racial rancor among their rank and file base. They perpetuated the careful racist euphemisms perfected by Lee Atwater et al in the application of the "Southern Strategy." And more and more campaigns to "take back America" became commonplace. 

Sadly, too many white allies remained silent during the early ascent of the Tea Party and its ilk. The most opaque or naive white liberals refused to realize that this "taking back" was driven by racial fear and malice. And many of the rest of us wanted to believe that we were beyond such vulgar habits and hatreds. I remember watching the election night returns from Chicago where Jesse Jackson, Oprah Winfrey and countless others of all races gathered to return thanks to God for this incredible moment. Like me at home, they shed tears of joy and awe as well as hugs of hope and gratitude. Watching the inauguration, too during the MLK holiday weekend - where the Boss sang "The Rising" backed up by a huge inter-racial gospel choir, Yo-Yo Ma, U2, Herbie Hancock, Mary J. Blige, Beyonce, Pete Seeger and Garth Brooks played songs of solidarity - felt like a dream come true. This was the America Langston Hughes and Helen Keller had hoped for in their generation. And I did, too.

Indeed,this was the nation of our best selves - the beloved community - a true city on the hill whose light shines into the darkness. I never expected to see it in my life time - and my joy evoked a season of uncritical political amnesia. Because while it was true that this represented our best selves, it was equally true that America's shadow side was already at work ginning up the machine of polarization, antagonism and race hatred. And so too many of us remained too quiet for too long afterwards - and the movement to thwart our first African-American President gained traction. He was a Muslim. He wasn't a legitimate American. He wasn't really a Christian. Or if he was, he favored the belligerence of his former pastor Jeremiah Wright. He was a socialist. He hated Israel.  He favored his own kind but not white Americans. And on and on it went ad nauseam. 

Dr. King once said: "In the end we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." And so seven years after Barack Obama's inauguration, polarization, violence and white silence have given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement - a justice and liberation effort to combat racial violence and hatred (check it out @ - as well as Donald Trump's presidential campaign - the ugliest and most public expression of white fear and bravado on the American political scene. One columnist confessed that Trump is clearly America's "id" - the dangerous and fear-based subconscious that exists just below the surface - for he articulates the vicious and malevolent fears that all too many white Americans feel. The most recent was expressed at this rally that struck me as a 21st century American version of the Hitler Youth Movement.

In preparation for MLK Day, Jim Wallis of Sojourners has spelled-out both the frightening implications of America's race hatred as well as the promise of how we might take another step towards dismantling it in our generation. He writing makes clear what is necessary to move beyond silence:

A recent Public Religion Research Institute survey has revealed a devastating truth: While about 80 percent of black Christians believe police-involved killings — like the ones that killed Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, and so many more — are part of a larger pattern of police treatment of African Americans, around 70 percent of white Christians believe the opposite … that they are simply isolated incidents. And before many begin disassociating with the term "white Christians," we should look deeper. The numbers include 72 percent of white evangelical Protestants, 71 percent of white Catholics, and 73 percent of white mainline Protestants. This is about all white Christians.

What's worse? Take away the moniker of "Christian" and the numbers drop to around 65 percent. White Christians are as a whole less likely to believe the experiences of black Americans than non-Christian whites. This is a shameful indictment of the church. We need to change this — and we can. It's time for white Christians to act more Christian than white.

As I move into the MLK Day remembrances, it is clear to me that Sojourners - and Black Lives Matters - are right. It is equally true that Trump (and Sanders) have tapped into a deep anger and fear throughout much of white America. That reality makes this the hour for our engagement around acts of anti-racism and solidarity in America. This is not a time for bland platitudes about "all lives matter." Of course they do. But not all lives are being systematically destroyed or victimized. So take a look at this insightful clip and see where it leads you.... 


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