“We will have to repent in this generation…”

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” dated April 16, 1961. Dr. King’s letter contains many powerful and memorable statements, but the sentence that spoke loudly to me is the one I have quoted above. It seems to me, as a white woman, that racism and bigotry is like an ugly beast slumbering under our feet, and that it never went away. Dr. King didn’t slay the beast. Civil rights and voting rights legislation didn’t slay the beast. Baby boomers, who found separate drinking fountains and bathrooms horrific and unacceptable, didn’t slay the beast. The evidence is mounting — as much as we may try to deny it — that the election and re-election of President Obama, stirred the beast of racism and roused it to lumber through our midst. Donald Trump goads the beast both by his words and his embrace of alt-right haters as his base. We must slay the beast. But how? We must look inside ourselves and notice when our thoughts go to a negative stereotype, and stop them. We must say “hello” to people who are different from us. We must speak up when someone glibly claims that an African American person is “playing the race card” when — in fact — race is a very real card that has been dealt to every American of color. We must become familiar with the term “white privilege” and understand that it is very real. We must shun those who make racist jokes or use racial slurs. Remember the closing argument made by Matthew McConaughey in A Time to Kill when he asked the jurors to close their eyes and he took them through the scenario of the rape of a little girl, and — at the very end — he said, “Now imagine she’s white.” I challenge my white friends as you watch videos of police shootings of black boys and men that have become shockingly routine: picture yourself kissing your son good-bye and sending him off with the usual, “I love you;” watching your husband pull out of the driveway; giving your brother a bear hug as you part after a holiday weekend; holding your innocent and beautiful grandson in your lap. Can you see them? Now, imagine they are black.

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