“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today I’m having a hard time. Maybe it’s because I woke up to three wet beds, a kid with a fever, and one who couldn’t make a good choice for the life of himself. Or, maybe it’s because the one with the fever caused a reshuffling in my creative mom plan to celebrate MLK and to teach my kids about diversity and instead has kept us at home, indoors. Maybe it’s because I’m tired from a long weekend and it’s day 4 of solo-parenting, and because we’ve already had some pretty epic adventures this weekend.
But maybe it’s also because I have a hard time celebrating this day of “equality” when I still see so much inequality, hate, racism, ignorance, all around me. Maybe it’s because I feel like the “celebration” of this day, by a lot of us, is more of a pat on the back, a “look how far we’ve come”, “we are so glad that’s not an issue any more” kind of a thing. Maybe it’s because words, without action to go with them, frustrate the heck out of me.
Not too long ago I had a conversation with my 7-year-old daughter along these lines, which I think put some words to this frustration I feel. She was learning in school about Martin Luther King Jr. and about the civil rights movement. She learned about some of the great laws that were passed for equality in voting, in public places, in schools, etc. She was dumfounded by the fact that laws even needed to be made in order for people to have equal rights, but she was glad that they were in place, and that equality was mandated. But there have been a few things in her little life so far that have allowed her to see that despite the laws, everyone is still not treated equally, and this caused her great heart ache (and still does!). To her, the law is a good starting point (like MLK himself said, “(the) law can keep (a man) from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important”), but what she longs for is love*. And this is the important work that is still before us, the great divide between equality on paper and true equality.
So, YES, to good law for equality and for the protection and value of all people (we still have some work to do here, too!). But please, good brothers and sisters, let’s not just stop there. And let’s not just rest on the work of government and legislation and think we have arrived (or that we will through that avenue). We, the people, have our own guilt in this, and our own part that we play.
Which has me thinking: maybe the best way to celebrate Mr. King’s work is not to talk about how great he was and how far we’ve come, but to take a look at our own selves in the mirror. Where are we extending love and crossing boundaries of race? Where are we speaking out for those around us whose voice is diminished or silenced all together? Are we oblivious to the fact that there are people around us who are experiencing that reality still today? I can tell you it happens. I’ll tell you stories of my black friends in Newport Beach who are nervous to drive at night because they get pulled over by the cops for “suspicious” activity. I’ll tell you stories of my Hispanic friends, who are ostracized on their campuses and in places of local business that most of us can step into and receive quality attentive service, no problem. It happens. And unfortunately, our silence and blindness perpetuates it. Inaction and silence is compliance with oppression and so we had better figure out, friends, how to get ourselves involved in a fight that is still very real and very close to home.
So, here’s to a day of critical thinking and hard-question-asking, not just a day to celebrate our arrival at somewhere that we still are a long ways off from. Progress, yes**. Arrival, no. And now, this plea from Mr. King himself: “I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law.” #mayitbeso
*This 7-year-old daughter of mine, in her desire to show her love for her black brother and sister, and her desire to see a different world for them to grow up in (no joke!) has requested to have a “Black Lives Matter shirt.” She will be the whitest, blondest kid to wear one, I think. And it’s going to make some people wonder about what she really knows or cares about all of this, but it’s her authentic expression, and I’m proud to support it.
**Lest you think I am not deeply appreciative of the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and the progress we have made, please be assured, the weight of his work and the distance we have come is not lost on me. Thank you Mr. King, and those who have worked (and do work) tirelessly for freedom and justice for all people. Forgive me for the ways I have made that your work, and not mine.