Photo courtesy Seattle Times As a child growing up in the South, I was rarely aware of the inherent racism of my own society. Mostly because I was not exposed to many integrated situations. The first black child in my elementary school was the child of one of the teachers; the only African-American teacher in my school. I heard racial epithets used on very rare occasions and was quickly taught what was unacceptable. I do not remember “Whites Only” signs, did not travel on city buses or experience situations where whites were given preferential treatment in the presence of African-Americans, mostly because I was in the preferential white world already, I would imagine. But I do remember situations in which racism burned, surprising and scalding me. A University of Kentucky basketball game when a hate-filled voice commented on the fact that all ten players on the court were not white. An insulting term used by a classmate against a rival school’s athletic team. The fearful distaste on a relative’s face when I mentioned a performer or an athlete or a friend who was not white. These events shocked me. They contradicted my relative’s imperative to love all people as the Bible commanded. But, not being of the age, they did not force me to follow Martin Luther King to Montgomery, Birmingham, Selma or to march on Washington. As I watched the movie Selma last weekend, I asked myself whether I would have had the courage to answer the call. I hope I would have, but I do not know. Martin Luther King, Jr., Pulitzer Peace Prize winner, an “Atlanta preacher,” demonstrator of peace for change. A powerful speaker, leader. And a great writer. Here’s a link to his letter from the Birmingham jail to the U.S. clergy who had written to question his path: http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html. It is a persuasive masterpiece of logic, reasoning and demonstration of his guiding principles.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.