today we stop and recognize the important work and legacy of dr. martin luther king jr. i am always prone to some reflection on this day, as racism has always been something that stirs up a righteous anger in me, even when i detect its subtleties in my own attitudes and behaviors. i've been thinking about dr. king a great deal recently, as i've been working on a sermon series about how Christians sometimes deal with issues in ways that are anything but loving. and then, when i think about how Christians get it right, i often think of dr. king, and his writings and his life's example which i think so often got it right. he is really a great hero for me.
and then yesterday i was privileged to spend some time with a dear friend who, along with her husband adopted a young girl from ethiopia a couple of years ago. we had some great conversation about the kinds of racism that exist which she had not ever thought of before until now, as she is mommy to a little girl with chocolate-colored skin.
this conversation caused me to reflect on my own experience of being a white (peach? tan?) person, part of the privileged, entitled majority my whole life. while racism and it's inequality has always infuriated me, the truth is that, in subtle, almost undetectable ways, racism is still a part of my life. every time i chuckle along at a joke about a particular race; every time i make an assumption about someone based on their name or their melanin; every time i tell a story and describe someone as a "black man," while never thinking to describe another character as a "white m an," i reveal the racism latent within me. it's there. i don't nurture it and feed it. but it's there. in most of us, regardless of how brown or yellow or beige you look. most of us don't want to hear it or deal with it, but we should.
i can't help but think of my son, jack. recently, when he gets reprimanded for anything, he immediately recites his defensive response: i wasn't trying to! so, if i get in jackson's case for not listening to me when i tell him to clean up his dishes, he reacts, "i wasn't trying to." it might go something like this....
daddy: jackson, why are your dishes still on the table? didn't i ask you to take them to the kitchen?
jackson: oh yeah, sorry.
daddy: hey bud, you've got to try and do a better job of listening when your mother and i ask you to do something, k?
jackson: i wasn't trying to.
daddy: you weren't trying to what? ignore me?
jackson: i guess.
daddy: but were you trying to listen?
jackson: huh? what?
daddy: i said, were you tyring to listen?
jackson: daddy, when are we going to pin that stinkbug into my bug collection.
see what i mean? he feels like as long as he wasn't deliberately trying to disobey me that it shouldn't be a very big deal. if he had meant to defy me by leaving his dishes on the table, that would have been problematic. but as it is, he just neglected to listen carefully, failed to follow through and got distracted. so, not a big deal, right?
wrong. doing something wrong, even when you're not trying to do something wrong, is still doing something wrong. get it? how does it apply to martin luther king jr., and the racism that i was talking about? well, the truth is that there is racism in all of us, to some degree, and yet we often let ourselves of the hook, so to speak, because, well, we're not trying to be racists. it's not like we're out joining the kkk or something. and yet, by not trying to see the subtle (or not) racism in our own selves; by not trying to stop; by not trying to learn; by not trying to change, we are engaging in the very injustice that we cringe at when we see some epic film about racism. when we just accept the status quo, enjoying our position of privilege without ever being willing to put ourselves in the shoes of another who is not so entitled, we are racists. "but i'm not trying to," may be your reply. yes, i know. neither am i. but that's not the question. the question, at least for me on this martin luther king jr. day (he would have turned 83 yesterday) is this: am i trying to grow; am i trying to change; am i trying to live for justice for all, not just for some, not just for me? am i trying?