On MLK Day I'm reflecting on the work that we all have yet to do to become a nation where all people are free.
A nation where every voice is given space to be truly heard.
A nation where no one's life matters more or less through the systemic lens of justice;
and where our nation's heart beats as one with empathy and compassion at the center of public life.
A nation where people are not used for the production of profit to benefit the few, but where the profits being produced are created for the good of the people generating the wealth.
A nation where a poor, brown, transgender teenager's life is as highly valued in the eyes of government as the life of an economically advanced white man on Wall Street.
A nation where black men are not shot down in the streets for doing nothing more than being alive within a darkly pigmented body.
A nation where no child is tried as an adult in the court of law and sentenced to life in an adult prison without the possibility of parole.
A nation whose veterans are given the mental, physical, and material help they need in order to live in safety and security upon returning home from war.
A nation where women solely are in charge of their own bodies and are supported by their government to make whatever choice they think and feel to be best for them.
A nation whose women are paid as well as their male colleagues
A nation where public education exists for the purpose of learning and growing into who one is and wants to become, rather than to creating people who can regurgitate information to properly fill in a bubble on a meaningless exam, implemented for the purpose of determining the school’s budget for the year to come.
We have not come very far in 50 years since the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘60s. The rich and the powerful still capitalize on the oppression of America black’s lives. It looks a little different on the surface than it did 50 years ago, but the reality of the legal execution of men and women living within black and brown bodies lives on. The denial of black and brown folk’s right to vote is still a reality in our time.
I am a white woman who has benefitted from white privilege in more ways than I will ever know. I am a white woman with southern, slave owning, ancestors. I have the blood of the oppressor coursing through my very veins. I claim that not to make myself guilty, but because in doing so I can remain hopeful and work to be able to claim a better future; to be able to shape my own life in a way that bridges the divide those ancestors created between myself and my black and brown brothers and sisters. That truth of my heritage fuels my indignation in the face of continual abuses of power within white America in 2015.
There are more people incarcerated in the United States per capita than in any other industrialized nation in the world. That fact alone is unacceptable to me. Delve a little deeper into the demographics of the incarcerated and you will discover that there are an obscene number of black and brown men behind American prison bars. According to the 2010 U.S. census African Americas account for 13.7% of the total U.S. population. Forty percent of the U.S. prison population is made up of African American males. This fact alone is staggeringly upsetting, but it gets worse. I won’t totally go down the rabbit hole that is the reality of racial disparity in America here, but I wanted to raise a couple statistics.
As a white woman of faith, and of conscience who benefits from white privilege it is my moral and ethical imperative to work to change these realities. I start by writing these words on this page, but I know that that is not enough to change the reality of what it means to be a black or brown-bodied person living in America, today. I know I must, that white-bodied people must, do more to make America the land of freedom and liberty we dream it to be.
What gives me hope when I am looking at history and looking at the present reality of our nation? The fact that I am looking and I refuse to look away, the fact that thousands of people are taking to the streets, once again, to affirm the worth and dignity of black and brown peoples lives. The fact that there are preachers across our country who are using their privilege of having a pulpit to speak out for those who are being murdered by law enforcement officials. All of these are truly good signs of people being willing to stand on the right side of history.
What continues to trouble me is the many in positions of power who are sitting idly by and not having these difficult conversations with their colleagues, friends and loved ones. MLK and many others left unnamed died in pursuit of true justice and equality for all. What are you willing to die for? What are you willing to live for? Would you imagine with me what you would be willing to do if you whole-heartedly believed you have the power within you to change the world in which you live? What would you have to give up to cross the river to reach the Promised Land?
You may be thinking that you would have to give up a lot, but I ask of you one more question. Have you allowed yourself to imagine what you might gain through your sacrifices? That question is much more difficult for me to envision because the gifts that would be received through that process takes a kind of hope most of us have not witnessed in our lives. Particularly, us young people who carry around a lot of cynicism and anger toward a world we have not yet learned how to master. Maybe, if we each endeavor to step in the direction of justice, not the safest direction for ourselves we, together, could discover a world brighter and more beautiful than we have imagined.
To those of you (if there are any of you) who are saying to yourselves, “I want to be involved, but I don’t know how.” or, “I’m white, but I’m poor” and especially if you are saying this, “I’m white, but I am not responsible for this” I want you to take this away from what I’ve written: You do not have to say a word to be apart of progress because showing up and being silent with open ears and an open heart heals the world and it might even heal you too, of brokenness you never even knew you had if you don’t. Please, be a healer, be a peace-maker, be a listener, be a lover whenever and where ever you can. You may just find a gift you never knew you wanted.