It’s 1:45pm on MLK Day and I’m just sitting down to write this post. Oh, it’s been in my head for a month. It’s turned over in my head on every run I have taken in the past 6 days. Maybe I’ll crank this out on the train to work. Maybe I’ll sit down before I go to bed and finish it. I’ll type it up right after the football game. I’ll get it posted the first thing in the morning. After my workout. After I have breakfast. After I run some errands. And it keeps getting put off.
When I think about this day and what it symbolizes for some many people in this world, I cannot help but think of this passage from Dr. King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” I cannot help but to look in the mirror and see who he was speaking to.
First, 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 Council-er 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.
I’m thinking about the times I have waited for the right time for action. For the times I did not speak up and do the right thing for those who needed it most. For the instances when I’ve said, “We’ll address that policy when the time is right” or “when the budget is there.”
I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, attended predominantly white public schools and went to a predominantly white university. Yes, I love ya, Indiana University, but there was far more Cream than Crimson when I attended.
While I know my grandparents grew up in poverty and spent every penny they had to make a better life for my parents, I realize they were at an advantage merely because of the color of their skin. Especially in Indiana. Especially in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
I realize the privilege I have because of the color of my skin and because of my gender. I have no idea what it feels like to be followed in a department store like my African-American friends have experienced.
I have been pulled over multiple times, back in the day, for speeding and other traffic violations. Not once did I fear for my life or even think that something bad would happen.
I can’t believe these things continue to happen in this day and age. And then I turn on the TV. Or go to the internet. And it makes me sad. And angry.
As a “white moderate,” I can no longer wait for the right time to speak up. Doing what’s right doesn’t wait for financial planning or annual budgets. Intervening on behalf of those who need it most isn’t something to schedule through Outlook. As Dr. King states:
Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.
There is no better time than the present to do what is right. We’ve waited far too long for the right time to do something. We can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines while many of our friends and colleagues continue to suffer at the hands of injustice.
To close with a final Dr. King quote:
This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”