Today is the day when we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. The day when we recognize the progress we’ve made toward racial justice and when we acknowledge how far we have to go. Today is a day brimming with picture quotes on social media—hand-lettered “I have a dream…”s over sandy beaches or rushing brooks.
Today is a day when many of us will post about MLK and then feel good about ourselves. Maybe we’ll even observe the day in some more intentional way. But will we be different tomorrow?
We don’t have to look very far to see that racism is alive and well. Our outrage simmers just below the surface ready to boil over when we read the next headline.
And it’s easy (and appropriate) to be angry when Trump calls for more Norwegian immigrants and fewer from Haiti. How dare he speak such flagrant racism with impunity?
I fear this outrage at others, at racism more flagrant, allows us to deem ourselves more righteous, more loving, more enlightened. It’s easy to think we ourselves don’t have a race problem when we see the alt-right rallying in Charlottesville. We wear our Black Lives Matter shirts and pat ourselves on the back.
What has this cost us? Have we used any of our own power for the sake of others? Have we opened doors for others who have lacked the keys?
I watched this week as a white woman explained how hard she had worked to be heard, to overcome barriers, to be seen. And she seemed to feel threatened when asked to make room for women of color.
I get it. Especially in the church, women do struggle to be heard no matter what color their skin. But we white women have space and power that others don’t. We must be willing to share.
Lisa Sharon Harper chronicles this power-sharing in a recent essay: Ann Voskamp was on a conference stage when she called up Lisa to take her place. Ann realized that Lisa’s voice needed to be heard and was willing to step aside. May I be willing to go and do, likewise.
It’s not fun to admit that I benefit from racist systems. But I do. Acting against racism is a daily journey, not a once-a-year event. I need more than a book, an article, a quote. I need courage. I need stamina. I need Jesus.
Jesus, show me the ways I let myself off the hook with social media activism and quick outrage at the actions of others. Show me my own racial bias and bring me to repentance. Give me courage to participate in this journey toward racial justice. Grant me wisdom for my next steps. Wake me up, Jesus.