Growing up in a small town in the deep South, racisim was not a word I knew or a concept I often thought about, but rather it was like the water I swam around in. Most of the time I could go about my swimming without noticing it or realizing it was there, but every now and then someone would make a splash and I would see it in all its ugliness as it attempted to drown me and everyone else in it.
Like the time an elementary school teacher dared to teach us about MLK and the civil rights movement, and some of the parents complained. I remember a friend's dad saying "She's not supposed to be teaching ya'll that stuff. I hope she tells you what a trouble-maker King was."
Like the time in Junior High, when I was called to the school counselor's office. She was concerned that I was "too friendly" with certain boys. She had seen me talking to a black boy in the hallway.
Like the time a federal judge forced my hometown to integrate the school system. It was 1989! Prior to that there was an all-black high school and another high school that was 70% white.
Like the time I was walking through the dinner line one Wednesday night and realized that was the only time I saw black faces in my church--when they were cooking and serving me dinner or cleaning the bathrooms.
I went to all-white private high school. We sang Dixie, wore the Confederate flag, and the Rebel soldier was our mascot. But even then I didn't realize the reality behind the symbolism, until one day when an African American lady walked on campus during our lunch break. One of the older boys began to yell insults at her, using the most vulgar of language to tell her to leave our campus. Some students snickered, most of us sat in stunned silence, but were SILENT nonetheless.
We must not doubt the pervasive evil that is racism. It tells the other that they are less than human; it denies the biblical truth that each and every individual is created in the image of God; it fuels hatred, violence, and oppression; it leads to slavery, genocide, and holocaust. Racism is a sin that clings to generations of individuals and families and pervades every institution and organization of a society. And like any other form of oppression and injustice, it is fueled by fear. The oppressor fears the "otherness" of the oppressed. The oppressed fear the power of the oppressor. The silent bystander fears the rejection, shame, and potential threat that speaking up may bring about. But speak up we must, because such evil must be faced with courage.
Today is, I believe a most significant day for our nation. As we do every year, we stop to remember and honor the sacrifices and bravery of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his fellow workers in the Civil Rights movement. But this year, we can also look to tomorrow and the inauguration of our first African American president and see just how far we've come in our centuries-long struggle with racism. Yet we must remain vigilant, for the nature of the sin does not allow us to relax our guard.
So today, as has become my tradition every year on MLK day, I am evaluating my life and confessing that I must continue the battle to recognize and fight against the racism that still clings. I'm out of the water, I've dried off as much as I can, but I just can't get completely dry. As I've grown into adulthood I have become more aware of it, more disgusted by its presence, and certainly convinced of its evil-ness, but have I completely eradicated all hints of the racism I learned in my younger years? I'm still surrounded by people who look like me, still participating in segregated social constructs, and even sometimes still silent in the face of racist comments and behavior from people I love.
What better way to spend today than to confess and vow to keep fighting against racism in my society, my church, my school or workplace, my own heart and mind and to never forget the dream of Dr. King nor the words of the apostle Paul: "For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith....There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female--for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:26, 28
Here is a link to Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech; it's well worth the 17 minutes.